Sunday, October 11, 2009

The gospel is for Christians too

If you check my facebook profile you will see that one of my "interests" is holiness.
I put that there as opposed to some of my hobbies, because even though I have them, I am genuinely interested in being holy. The thing is, it seems rather elusive at times in the Christian life. Think about it, holiness means being like God, it means being free from sin.
There have been many times in my life when I have wished to not be enslaved to sin in my life. Take Romans 7 into account, Paul wrestles with the idea that each of us returns to sin, even though we don't want to. One thing he does not do is mention the frequency of return to sin. I would have a guess that overall the Apostle Paul was probably a holy guy. Sin probably did not enslave him very much. I take his word for it when he encourages us to be "slaves to righteousness."
Then my mind drifts to John's first letter. He talks about the person who says they have no sin, as being a liar or essentially having no place in fellowship with God, as they are deceiving themselves. Yet at the same time he says that anyone who continues to sin can not have fellowship with God either. Hold on, isn't this a no win situation?
I do tend to think that there is a way to win. It has more to do with the fact that we no longer need to be slavesto sin. But we therefore have a problem. In my opinion, there is much slavery to sin in the church. There are many people who are burdened down by so many things that are not dealt with. I guess I don't want to go too far with this in one post, because I am a work in progress. But let me say that there is a way for genuine change in our lives. So many of us leave things unconfessed and unforgiven in our lives. These can be hidden sins, or they can simply be things that we refuse to admit to ourselves are actually sin. But when we sit down with the true counselor, the Holy Spirit, He begins to speak to us about these things, and we had better be honest.
Holiness is possible in the church, but not without honesty before God. Why not sit down with your Creator and have a chat together.
Reflect and pray the words of Psalm 139:

Search me, O God, and know my heart
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Point out anything in me that offends you,
and lead me along the path of everlasting life.

God will likely reveal things hidden and people unforgiven. We have a mediator in Christ Jesus who goes before the the Father for us and guarantees us forgiveness for our sins, and victory in our lives.

These words from 1 Corinthians 15 can become true in our lives:

Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?

For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power.
But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Saturday, May 09, 2009

A Trekkie nerd's worst nightmare

I'm still watching the credits as I write this and I must say that I loved the new star trek movie. There's gonna be some very mad purists out there.

Spoiler alert.......

No Trekkie can complain, for the enterprise of the star trek franchise now has an alternative universe.

"Syler" was excellent as Spok. The presence of Leonard Nimoy on the film authenticated the new direction. In fact it was Leonard Nimoy as "future Spok" who gave the logical refute that no Trekkie could disagree with as to why we now have a different star trek universe to the one we have known.

The Romulans are the terrifying evil ones in this 21st reinterpretation of the 1960s classic. The movie starts out with the birth of Kirk but I'll leave some things to mystery by saving the circumstances.

Kirk as a boy driving a speeding car was a hoot, especially with "Sabotage" as the sound track.

Kirk is ever the rebel and a likable character. In fact he is far more likable than the 60s version.

The big spolier.....

The Romulans destroyed the planet Vulcan. 10,000 Vulcans survived, Spok amongst them who is now "the member of an endangered species".

And the brilliant thing is that there was no attempt by the writers to bring Vulcan back by the end of the movie. Poof, it's gone and it ain't coming back either.

Those Trekkie nerds must be pulling their hair out right now!!!!

I can't wait for the next installment.

3.5 stars.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Sound Relief- Midnight Oil reform

Is this a sign of my age? Why was I not at the MCG today to see Midnight Oil play? Well a friend and I considered going but baulked when we were not able to get good tickets, and decided against being up the back somewhere. Frankly, I'm glad that I didn't get drenched all day in the rain, and would probably be coming down with a cold right now if I did.

But I'm still a little disappointed to have missed Midnight Oil play. On one had I console myself from the fact that it would be turning the clock and living in the past to see them play now. I did see them play live 6 times, three of those in spitting distance from Peter Garrett in clubs, so it's not like I never experienced the Oils. And there was no "Oils! Oiiiiils!" encore given tonight, so I think all the younguns didn't have a clue what to do. All the old fans seem to have stayed away. Our credit cards did the talking earlier on.

Still it's worth mentioning their set and what I thought of it as I listened on triple J.

1) Redneck Wonderland- I was pleasantly surprise by this opener. I didn't expect that something more recent in their canon would be given a run. And alas, it was the most recent song they played, released in 1998. Nothing from their ultimate release, "Capricornia" made it into the set. I sure am pleased that I could farewell them after Capricornia in Edmonton in 2002.
2) Read About it (1982)- Certainly kept up the rocking pace of Redneck wonderland. Good choice.
3) Blue Sky Mine (1990)- The pace slowed a bit for the third song, I was hoping they could pull out a trifecta of heavy rockers. "The company takes what the company wants..... (CSR and the Unions have let you down) .... whose gonna save you?" Why the Labor government of course.
4) Star bangled banner/ Advance Australia Fair, instrumental. What gives? Was this an introduction to US Forces? Nope, a politician would never be so brave.
5) One Country (1990) Well this song couldn't have been left out could it. But what about "My country, right or wrong?" (1993)
6) Beds are burning (1987). Another compulsory song, but I wish it wasn't. Anybody who doesn't know Midnight Oil knows this song, and it was far from their best. I'm not saying I dislike, just that it took up space that other songs could have filled.
7) King of the Mountain. (1990) I loved this song in school, but it doesn't stand the test of time, something better could have been chosen.
8) The Dead Heart. (1987) Another compulsory song, but one that deserves to be included. Good choice.
9) The Power and the Passion (1982). Another compulsory song, but also a good choice. I disapprove of the lyrics change though. Apparently Pine Gap is allowed now (no mention in the song) and we should all head of to Mc Donalds for a Big Mac after the show (also no mention). Politics, bleh.
10) Best of both worlds (1984). One of my all time favourites. Excellent choice for the final song, I was waiting for it.
11) Since they had broken the 10:30 curfew anyway, why not play an "encore". Don't know how they knew to without anyone screaming "Oiiiiils!" "Sometimes" (1987) was another excellent choice from Diesel and Dust and ample proof that there are plenty of better songs out there than beds are burning.

Noticeable absences- nothing form "Earth and Sun and Moon" (1993) or "Capricornia" (2002). (I have no illusions that "Breathe" (1996) was popular. The set started out as promising, and finished off well, but was a little weak in the middle. US Forces should have been in, as should have the lyric "Flat chat, Pine Gap, in every home a Big Mac." It seems politics has softened Peter Garrett too much. I understand his need to tow the party line, and that he is pragmatic in trying to reach some of his goals instead of none of them, but this gig surely was a conflict of interest from the guts that old Pete used to have.

Oh well, I guess we are both showing our age.

Friday, March 06, 2009

No Line on the Horizon- U2 spell out l-o-v-e (review)

I was born, I was born to sing for you, 
I didn't have a choice but to lift you up, 
And sing whatever song you wanted me to, 
I give you back my voice,
From the womb my first cry,
It was a joyful noise

Only love, only love, can leave such a mark
But only love, only love can heal such a scar
Justified till we die,
You and I will magnify The Magnificent, Magnificent

Who said that U2 were irrelevant? Who said that a rock band has to stop producing records because they are no longer in their 20s or 30s? At 49, U2 have matured to a new level, and I am so glad that they haven't stopped producing and creating new music. Bono has previously said that "if they make two crap albums in a row, then they will quit." Well the new album is pure brilliance and is captivating me so quickly I am falling in love with music and God all over again.

Their latest album No line on the horizon, came out this week. It is brooding, dark and deeply, deeply spiritual. Much of it is written in haunting melancholy, minor scales with melodies that soar above the mountains through the clouds and up into heaven itself. There is sooo much in this record that I can not begin to possibly justify it here with the review it deserves.

The album is full of powerful harmonies that just seem that much deeper than before. Bono and The Edge have formed their own gospel choir, this is most evident on "Moment of Surrender." They seem intent on leading the "girl with the hole in her heart" into eternity, or as they call it, the place with "no line on the horizon." From this rocking opening, yet minor scale track, we are jerked into a pounding yet ominous bass line that is not unlike the church bells or shofar.... a call to worship, as the lyrics above are written.
Bono is more and more unabashed of his love for Jesus with every record that U2 put out, and from the lyrical contributors it appears that some currents are moving through the other band members too. The lyrics to "Magnificent" hark back to "All because of you" but they are just so much more mature. In the former he sings "I was born a child of grace, nothing else about the place" in the latter this grows into "I was born to be with you, I was born to sing for you." It is a realisation that we are created to worship God. The song pulls me deep into worship, and for those who don't it surely highlights the hole in their heart.
Moment of surrender is Bono's attempt at soul. Bono always claimed that he wanted to be a soul singer, and as hard as this has been for him, "Surrender" is a valiant effort in which U2 come very close. The chorus line sees Edge and Bono filling out the soul choir nicely, trying to express "the rhythm of their soul". My favourite lyric in this song is "I was speeding on the subway through the stations of the cross, every eye looking every other way, counted down 'til the Pentecost, at the moment of surrender...."
I have yet to connect deeply with "Unknown caller", it is still growing on me.

Bono continues to implore us to see the truth "how can you stand next to the truth and not see it?" which seems to be a reference to when Pilate said to Jesus, "what is truth?" when he was standing right next to him. But Bono is careful not to spell out the truth too clearly, so as not to spill the beans. I appreciate this approach, and think it is a powerful way to draw people to God, to leave some mystery in the search. But if one were to think that Bono is ashamed of God then think again, he is somehow at once very clear but still cryptic on Stand Up Comedy.
"Get on your boots" seemed like a throw away song as a single. It appeared to be a simple rock song, that U2 were determined to keep the rock genre alive and well, a basic "Vertigo part 2", but as a part of "No line..." it fits better. The harmonies of the chorus "You don't know how beautiful you are" are consistent with the rest of the record. The lyric is a call of love from God to the listener. The fun rock song that it is, it leads into another fun rock song with the key to much of Bono's lyrics over the years.
"Stand up Comedy" keeps you believing that this band will rock on for another generation, and that with every passing moment Bono is about to explode with the gospel. "I can stand up for hope, faith, love, but while I'm getting over certainty, stop helping God across the street like a little old lady." As if to say 'look out world I'm gonna get even more bold for my God', "come on you people stand up for your love." And in a moment Bono surprised me, because he did something I wasn't expecting, he lifted the lid on his favourite lyrical euphemism, as he sings "God is love". Apply this formula often in a U2 song and the lyrics will read in a revolutionary way, as in "Window in the Skies"- The schackles are undone, the rule has been disproved, the stone it has been moved, all debts are removed, O can't you see what our love has done, love left a window in the skies. But there are so many other songs that have God as the centre of them for 'those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.'
"Fez- being born" is almost a musical track. U2 have only come close on one other occasion "October". Don't ask me to explain the lyrics to this song, except it is a powerful lead in to "White as snow."

"White as snow" is my favourite song on the album at the moment. It is supposed to be the words of a dying soldier in Afghanistan. It reaches deep inside of you and yanks your heart out, leaving the desire to find a heart as white as snow.

Where I came from there were no hills at all
The land was flat, the highway straight and wide
My brother and I would drive for hours
Like we had years instead of days
Our faces as pale as the dirty snow

Once I knew there was a love divine*
Then came a time I thought it knew me not
Who can forgive forgiveness where forgiveness is not
Only the lamb* as white as snow

And the water, it was icy
As it washed over me*
And the moon shone above me
Now this dry ground it bears no fruit at all
Only poppies laugh under the crescent moon*

The road refuses strangers
The land the seeds we sow
Where might we find the lamb as white as snow*

As boys we would go hunting in the woods
To sleep the night shooting out the stars
Now the wolves are every passing stranger
Every face we cannot know
If only a heart* could be as white as snow
If only a heart could be as white as snow

Love divine is God himself, the lamb as white as snow is Jesus the perfect sacrifice, the waters washing over are baptism, the poppies are the opium fields in Afghanistan, the road refusing strangers is the Taliban as wolves attacking the lamb. "If only a heart could be as white as snow" is multi-layered, it's a prayer for the Taliban that they would find Jesus, it's a seed of longing for all who listen to U2 but don't know Jesus, it's a desire of longing for Bono who wants to be as pure as Jesus, and for every believer who listens who wants to be pure too. Only the lamb as white as snow can make our hearts white too.

"Breathe" sees Bono throwing himself into the task with abandon, stuck in the dirty gutters but staring at the sky remembering the "grace that I found, I can breathe." "Cedars of Lebanon" is the story of a reporter in the middle east, told in the first person.

The records "All that you can't leave behind" and "How to dismantle an atomic bomb" were full of joyous major chords, with songs such as "Beautiful Day" and "City of Blinding Lights." But the world is a darker place now. It is descending into confusion, with no apparent light at the end of the tunnel. "No line on the horizon" reflects this mood. Perhaps the title is as much referring to the fact that there seems to be no end in sight to the world's troubles. But it is not a hopeless message of despair, it is reflective grief, with much hope hidden within. It resonates with the way I feel about the world today, that so many can ignore the truth when it is staring them in the face. At the end of the 20th century, we looked back on a century of death and destruction, and as we have entered the 21st, we are teetering in uncertainty. Certainty can be found in only one way, in the lamb as white as snow.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

What in the world is going on? (Terrorism, natural disasters etc)

For Australians this Summer has been a terrifying one. We have faced the worst bushfires indeed natural disaster this nation has ever known. Three hundred people perished in these fires. Whole towns were wiped out. These communities are still trying to process this tragedy and are still living in a state of emergency. The fire danger however is now over. People will begin to try to return to a normal life. Much of urban society will now return to a normal life.

At a community level people are really hurting. Recently in King Lake a Christian service held in a tent saw 400 people turn out. For a population of 1400, many of them dislocated to other parts, this was a huge turn out. I have no doubt that the need and hunger for God has greatly grown in Kinglake and in Marysville too. It is my particular prayer for both these communities, that as they rebuild Jesus would be at their centre, and I have every confident hope that this will actually happen.

But at a national level we have completely rejected God. Have a read of this in my previous article Australia, I call on you to turn to your God. I fully believe that God is loving and compassionate and that he calls out to Australia. As St Peter writes: The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. God waits for the day that Australia will turn to Him, and that he will be glorified. I think there are arguments that the gospel has never permeated Australia. (See my article: The gospel in my heart language.

There is a lot more going on than bushfires in Australia though. There is a world economic crisis that has everyone spooked, and there are now genuine fears that the world is heading for an economic depression. If this follows the trends of the 1930s, then I think that animosities between nations will rise to the surface, and the differences will be pronounced. Former economic partners will become military enemies. This is the breeding ground for war. As yet, people have not turned to God as a result of economic concerns. During world war 2 in Australia, churches were packed as people became concerned about what the future held. In times of serious hardship people called out to God. I wonder how bad things have to get before people will turn to God this time.

Earlier this week the bushfire crisis in Victoria came to an end. There had been significant shame on the part of the government that they felt they had not done enough to warn Victorians about Black Saturday. I do remember the warnings though, and no blame is necessary for these fires. They are a natural tragedy of the world we live in. This week however, high winds were predicted for Monday evening, Tuesday and Wednesday. I had been following the progress of the fires, so as to know how to keep my family safe if they should move toward where we are living. On Monday morning, amidst all the media hype on the bushfires I went down to the CFA control centre in person, to seek further advice on conditions the following day. I learnt that they were hopeful of containing the fires very soon, and that although they had concerns about the wind, the media were blowing things out of proportion and causing people to unnecessarily panic. They were annoyed about this. I took a different perspective on the fires from that point onwards. I knew their location about 30 kms away, and would still keep an eye on things, but I was a lot more calm.

The media were not calm though. They were hysterical. I wonder if the Victorian Premier was overcome with fear also. He is a man who refuses to call on God for help. On Monday evening the Victoria Police sent out an SMS to 5 million Victorians warning them about the bushfire dangers. In my mind this was mass hysteria. People were afraid. I turned on the radio, that was supposed to be broadcasting the cricket, to hear the emergency broadcast instead. Their job was to report on potential dangers, but there wasn't enough to report, because things were more calm than they would admit. I was annoyed that I could not listen to the cricket. Then I heard talkback callers calling in about their fears of job losses. A large Australian clothing company is moving their operation to China, and laying off 1800 workers. Hold on a minute, this was supposed to be an emergency broadcast but instead they were talking about job losses. It was at this point I realised that people needed a way to express their fears, but still not calling on God.

Government had been boasting at the memorial service about how well we pull together, but did not call on God for help at all. Essentially as a nation and a state we were saying "we don't need your help God, we can go it alone." This of course saddens God. But I believe his response was "Oh really, you think you don't need my help, well I will show you that you really do." Then God sent high winds, but they calmed down. People were afraid and in his grace he has now sent us three days of rain, and the fires are all but extinguished. It was God's way of saying "see, you do need my help, you can't do this alone." It has only been since the rain has come that the fires are ending. God is waiting for us to come back to him.

Two days ago a huge tragedy struck international cricket. International cricket teams have stayed away from Pakistan for over a year now for fear of terrorist attacks. They were justified in doing so. Two days ago terrorists directly attacked the Sri Lankan cricket team as they were on their way to a stadium in Lahore Pakistan. This shows an escalation on the part of the Taliban in their boldness to destabilise Pakistan. The Taliban control around 75% of Afghanistan, and the mountainous region of Pakistan. They are determined to control both countries and to get their hands on nuclear weapons that the Pakistan government how hold. On one level this is highly alarming, as the Taliban begin to be gaining the upper hand. But on a spiritual level something else is occurring I believe.

When God's kingdom advances the spiritual enemy gets scared. Demonic forces believe that they control a piece of ground and all people who live there. They have done so for millenia. These same demons know that their punishment is coming at the end of this world, and that they will suffer eternally in hell. So long as they can delay that time, they can delay their punishment. How can they delay this time? By preventing the nations from worshipping Jesus. For as Jesus promised, that when all nations come to know him, the end will come and he will return.

There are changes happening in the Muslim world, but they are beneath the surface. More and more come to believe in Jesus as their Saviour, but they have to be careful for their lives. There have been many stories of people having visions of Jesus and coming to faith. God is drawing the Muslim world to himself. I once heard the story of a husband and wife in Afghanistan. They were both Christians, but neither knew of the other's faith. One day they both turned up to the same underground meeting and discovered they both believed. They were joyously able to share their faith with one another, even if they have to be very careful in public.

I liken the Muslim world to a mountain. Inside the mountain there are many little ants eating away at it. Each time a new person in the Muslim world becomes a Christian, an ant digs another tunnel in the mountain. Each time two believers discover each other another tunnel is joined up. The veneer is still Muslim and people still have to be very careful. One day though, there will be more Christians than not. The mountain will be riddled with tunnels and it will eventually collapse. The veneer will be gone and people will have the freedom to believe. The same will happen in China, but I do not know which will happen first. But I actually think that there are some exciting things happening in the Muslim world, and that it could happen sooner than we think. Have a look at this exciting set of stories from Afghanistan.

When God's kingdom advances, the enemy gets afraid. The spiritual enemy reacts the only way they know how, they lash out in physical violence. These are the kinds of actions we see happening from the Taliban and Al Qaeda in terrorists attacks around the world, whether that be in New York, London, Mumbai or Lahore. This violence is terrible, but it is also a manifestation of a spiritual battle that is even hotter. One day the regime of violence will end and God's kingdom will come.

God is calling to the Muslim world, and I believe that people are responding. God is calling people in Australia too, people in King Lake are beginning to respond. When will the nation? When will other western nations respond? I don't know, but much of what is happening today in the world is one of two things: (1) God calling to people to turn to him (economic disaster) or (2) a violent manifestation of the spiritual battle (terrorism).

Monday, February 23, 2009

National Day of Mourning- Australia, a nation found wanting (Black Saturday bush fire tragedy)

For the last two weeks I have been grieving for the loss of life and suffering here in Victoria, due to the tragic bushfires that struck on February 7th, known as Black Saturday. 209 people have officially died in the fires, although it is thought that the final death count will be well above 300 people.

Many have grieved in this time. Many would ask about God's role in all of this suffering. I know without a doubt that God has been grieving too in this time. God is well acquainted with suffering. God entered this world in a very real and human way. He became a human in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus died a very cruel death, and faced much suffering in the lead up to his death. He suffered for our sake to pay the price for our sin.

God has not been absent in this time of suffering for Victoria. Every time that people have called out a desparate prayer in the last two weeks, he has been near and acting to answer people's prayers. But why did God allow such suffering then? At once this is a complex and simple question. Complex, because suffering is always so hard to understand. It is even hard to understand how Jesus' suffering could be effectual for us, but it is. Simple because there is an explanation, even if it is not pretty. I see the simple explanation as this: Long ago people sinned, and God could not allow sin in his presence; this sin brought decay and death into the world; the planet earth is sick as a result, not all is as it should be. Tragedies and natural disasters occur because the world is sick, it has a disease, suffering is inevitable. This does not mean that God does not care. God does care and has indeed intervened for there to be an end to suffering. That is a complete story in itself, that I have only alluded to here.

But I want to draw the attention to Australia as a nation. There can be no doubting that Australia is a post-Christian country and is far from God. I have a thesis however that Australia (the quintessential working class, descended from the convict spirit Australia) has never really heard the gospel. The church has always been known as a distant authoritarian structure of the upper and eventually some of the middle class. The church has never been something that working class Australia has been able to relate to, nor has the church ever taken the time to relate to working class Australia. So in a sense it is not strange that much of Australia does not have a good relationship with God. In the words of Kenny (recent Australian comedy movie) "if God shows up mate, I will give him my full attention." This could easily be extrapolated that the evangelical church in Australia has taken little time to show up in the culture of working class Australia. There is certainly a large cultural divide there.

It would have been my hope that people would turn to God through the tragedy of the horrifying bush fires that struck two weeks ago. The response of Australian society though has been that "we can and we will rebuild." Don't get me wrong, yes it is good and right to rebuild, but it is not good to have the pride to think we can do this all by ourselves.

I attended the memorial service at the Rod Laver arena yesterday. It was an important opportunity for Australia as a nation to grieve the loss of so many lives. However, there was almost less grieving and pausing than there were affirmations of human strength and our ability to rise above any adversity that strikes us. If we stop for a moment though, we have to remember that some of these fires could not be stopped. We did not have the human strength to stop fires leaping 30 kms in 6 minutes. We were exposed as vulnerable and fragile. We are weak on this planet, and do not have the strength to face every danger.

My heart has been grieving for the last two weeks for the loss of so many lives, and the pain of so many families. God has been grieving too. But yesterday my heart grieved on a deeper level, for a nation without God. God was given only cursory mentions yesterday. No mention was made of the fact that he too has suffered. No mention was made of the fact that he shares our pain in this time. In short, God was not allowed to fully participate and show his love and compassion for us as a nation. God was censored yesterday. But it goes deeper than that.

My wife turned to me during the service and said "what does it take for a nation to turn to God?" What does it take for people to admit that we are weak and that we can not do it without God's help. The over riding religious paradigm yesterday was that we as humans can triumph without God's help. The presence of various religions were there, but they were ALL impotent. None of them actually offered a voice of true hope in God's love. They were found wanting. I found it particularly embarrassing that neither the Catholic or Anglican Archbishops could not actually offer a message of hope. Kevin Rudd himself actually had more positive things to say than them. Of course I expected nothing of the Uniting Church moderator who could not even bother to take the time to mention the name of Jesus (surely their realisation as a humanist liberal religion has come), nor a Buddhist abbess who neither had a message of hope.

I don't actually expect that the nation of Australia would somehow have miraculously fallen on its knees and worshipped God with abandon yesterday. But surely a simple cry of "help!" would have been enough. I actually think that if as a nation yesterday some leaders (any leader, please) had taken the time to simply ask God for help in getting us through this crisis, that something special would have happened. A simple cry of help from the Prime Minister or one of the Archsbishops (even the Buddhist, but that wouldn't be possible as Buddhists are atheists) would have started a transaction with God that would have opened a new day for our nation.

We are found wanting as a nation. Kevin Rudd says that we passed the test, because we have pulled together in unity. But that unity can never be complete until we ask God for help. If we think we can go it alone, then we are found wanting.

The most telling moment for me was an eerie one. In the thick midst of pluralism a young man was called forward to play the Jewish Shofar. A watered down description was given, platitudes about the Jewish new year and a call to prayer were given as an explanation of its purpose. This is inaccurate. The Jewish Shofar is used as a call to Worship. I have played a Jewish Shofar before, and I have gotten a sound from it. It fills the room, with an all encompassing trumpet call that speaks to the deepest depths of our souls. When the young man stood yesterday to blow the Shofar, he tried at least ten times to get a sound from it, but nothing but sputters came. Now I am sure that they would not have asked someone to play it that was unable. At first I thought it was embarrassing that he could not play it. But nobody in the arena (well very few) would have known that he failed to make the Shofar play. I then realised what was happening. The Shofar is a call to worship the LORD. As a nation it would have been a call to worship. It would have been the beginning of the transation of which I spoke. If we had have called on God as a nation for help, then he would have responded by calling on us to worship Him. But we could not call out for help. Sadly, (but I completely understand why) God would not call us to worship either. I fully believe that God did not allow the Shofar to blow. It was eerie. Most people in the arena would have had no idea.

God is not punishing our nation. I don't believe that his time for judgment is now. There will be a time for judgement, but I actually think that God reserves this for the end of our lives. Hebrews 9:27 explains this simply : "Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgement." God is waiting for our nation to call to Him. He loves us and has compassion for us in our suffering, but he will not force himself upon us, he will wait patiently. Again the question remains, "what will it take for us to turn to God as a nation?" Perhaps war, or economic depression?

Last evening we had a time of prayer and worship back at Kangaroo Ground with some of the other students. We took some time to pray for Australia, a nation without God. As my wife prayed, she admitted that she would like to pray for rain, but that she had a sense that God is even more concerned that Australia would turn to him. There is a very telling promise in scripture, that I think is timely for Australia. It comes from 2 Chronicles 7:14 "If my people who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land." This is a promise of good things, not of punishment. But it will first take humility from Australia, not pride as we have been showing recently. God is waiting and will act when we turn to him.

We have now had 12 years of drought in Victoria. Our water reserves in Victoria are below 30%. The fires have furthered damaged our water catchment areas. We are facing a dire time, of potential water shortage. Water is the essence of physical life. Our spiritual lives as a nation, at least in Victoria are progressively void. In a symbiotic kind of way, the sicker we get spiritually as a nation, the sicker the land gets.

How long will we wait before we turn to God? I hope not too long. The land is getting sicker. What will it take for us to turn to God as a nation? I hope that it will not take more suffering for us to wake up. But I fear we are quite deaf, and that worse tragedies are yet to come, be that economic depression or even war (that seems to follow such trends).

Australia I call on you, turn to your God.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Australia's darkest hour- Black Saturday bushfire tragedy

I have hesitated to write about this because I don't in anyway want to sensationalise this horrible tragedy. Victoria and indeed Australia is in the midst of its worst ever tragedy and national disaster. I have lived in Russia and Canada and at times felt that I was becoming something other than just Australian, but at the moment I feel the pain of being an Australian in a very deep way.

We have had drought for some years now. The land is very parched and dry. Just recently we had the worst heat wave in 100 years. Then to top it off on Saturday we had the highest temperature record for a capital city in Australia at 46.4 C. Where we are living it almost certainly was 48 degrees in the shade. There were high northerly winds of around 80 km/h, basically coming from the desert regions of Australia. With these kinds of conditions it almost inevitable that there will be fires somewhere.

I have grown up with a psyche of bushfires in my mind. I was in grade 3 when the last tragedy struck, the "Ash Wednesday" fires of 1983. But as a city boy, I never really connected. I felt safe. The fires were never going to reach us, deep in suburbia. This was always my subconscious thought through the years. I felt sorry for people who faced bushfires. But in some way they accepted the risk, as part of the location of where they lived.

On Saturday, it was just too hot for us to stay at home. It was too hot to be outside so we did not go to the swimming pool. We drove to the Greensborough library, and funnily enough did some study in the air conditioning. The AC was struggling to keep up, but it was ok. At 5pm we went for pizza at La Porchetta. It was still burning hot. The winds were burning Abigail as we walked from the car to the restaurant, and she really didn't like that. We sat for an hour and a half, relieved in air conditioning again, enjoying a nice meal with gelato. Some 20 kilometres away, people were facing hell.

At 6:30pm we left the restaurant, the air had cooled to about 30 degrees, and there were some drops of rain in the air. Melody looked in the sky and said "is that dust or smoke?" I replied, "oh, I hope it's not bushfires."

We drove back to our home in Kangaroo Ground. At 30 degrees, I was moaning about the "fake cool change." But some 20 minutes drive north of us, people were burning, literally.

It wasn't until I sat down on Facebook, that I noticed someone had written in their status, "I can't believe that 14 have died today in the bushfires. "Oh my goodness" I realised, "something bad has happened".

I turned on the radio that evening as I often do, and it was wall to wall bushfire coverage. Warnings were being given about imminent urgent threats. People had to decide whether to stay and defend their properties, or to leave and flee. By this point the towns of King Lake and Marysville were completely ablaze. People knew that there could be bushfires, but it actually happened so suddenly, that some had no chance of escaping. In the high winds, burning embers covered 30 kilometres in 6 minutes. This was akin to an earthquake. The people caught in the epicentre of the fire were completely stuck.

I stayed awake half the night listening to the radio, and thinking that it wasn't that far from where we lived. I began to connect with people's stories, in a way that I never had when I lived in the city. "This could have been my family" I began to realise. I was terribly confused and starting to feel people's pain.

In the morning before leaving for church, I heard that there was an alert message for Hurstbridge. This meant that they could possibly face fires within a few hours. On Sunday morning the temperature had dropped to 20 degrees and the winds had died down. But the major damage had already been done, and there were many fires still burning. We packed a bag with our computers and passports and a box of photos not yet scanned. (Our lives are so minimal that it was so easy to decide what to take.) We would not return that day until we knew it was safe.

At church, yes we prayed for victims of the fires. But I had this sense that the reality had not really hit. Throughout the day the death toll started to climb. 26, 45, 66, even up to 100. What kind of tragedy had just struck? There was a ring of fires circling Melbourne and many other dangerous fires throughout the state. In the afternoon, we were at my parents, and I was making calls to the CFA and looking at their website trying to understand the situation.

We did return later that evening when it became clear that Kangaroo Ground was safe. There were still and indeed are fires to the north of us. Some of them are becoming contained, and the wind is blowing from the south.

The last couple of days I have been quite shaken. I feel people's pain. I feel like I can hear the cries coming down the road from the north. There are so many people who have lost loved ones. I have felt a deeper love for my own wife and daughter than I have known before as I realise how precious they are and I how blessed I am to have them alive with me. I have found it quite difficult to concentrate on my studies.

The national response has been swift and appropriate. Both the Premier John Brumby and the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd have poured out emotion to people and on tv. They have been fine leaders and I can not fault them at all in how they have handled this tragedy. Kevin Rudd has been hugging people and having them cry on his shoulder. The Aussie "sentimental bloke" (a famous Aussie poem) is alive and well.

The Country Fire Authority made up of volunteers has worked ceaselessly and tirelessly to combat the fires. They are heroes of immense proportion. There have been many personal heroic stories, such as an 18 year old taking a bulldozer through the bush to rescue his trapped family.

Australians band well together in tough times, and this is surely a cultural strength. But it is also a weakness. The effort to help those suffering has been unanimous. People have given a lot of material goods and money. But there is also a temptation to cope with the suffering by getting to work. I am afraid that we will not mourn properly as a nation. I have contacted a key person in the Anglican church to get a message through to the Archbishop, that perhaps we could have a day of mourning for the sufferers. We need to pause and feel their pain. It would be an equal tragedy, if we just got on with our lives and forgot their loss. Up to 300 people are thought to have perished now. The official toll is close to 200.

My hope is that all international people I know would be able to identify with Australia's pain. Please pray for our nation. Please pray for people who have lost loved ones. Please pray that people would find God in their loss.

We are ok, we continue to keep an eye on things. Our biggest concern is for the ones who are victims.

This is truly Australia's darkest hour.

Monday, February 02, 2009

I knew I wasn't out of touch

In recent years I have tried keeping up with modern music and have found it increasingly more difficult to do so. Truthfully I have lacked the desire. I have often wondered if this is because I am aging or because there is nothing of real quality out there. Some would argue that it is because of my age, but I will lay out my case.

Groups like Jet and the White Stripes just don't do it for me. All they are doing is rehashing 60s music. Today's i-generation may not have heard 60s music and so it is new to them, but really it's uncreative. I just asked a 23 year old today what she listens to, and the first thing she mentioned was Michael Franti. "Well" I replied, "I was watching him play when he was "The Disposable heroes of hipropisy," that gained an impressed response from her, and validated my sense of not feeling 'out of it'.

In 2008 the only music I added to my collection was the latest albums from- King's X, Delirious? and Coldplay. In 2007 it was Radiohead (barely listened to In Rainbows), Silverchair (loved Young Modern) and Vineyard UK's "Love Divine." This year I'll add U2's "No line on the horizon" in March, and maybe not much else.

It's not that I don't want to listen to new music. I do. I have enjoyed a bit of Snow Patrol over the last couple of years, some Jack Johnson and some Audioslave. But let's face it, none of them are from the younger generation. Silverchair are probably the only musicians who are younger than me that I listen to. Perhaps the younger generation don't cut, or simply are not mature enough.

Then I stumbled on this short article in yesterdays Herald Sun called "Today's music is dull" by Eleni Hale:

Generation X thinks today's music is rubbish. Baby boomers are angry that songs from their youth are repeatedly ripped off and ruined.

And even Generation Y thinks their parents' music is more meaningful than theirs.

A study into the music views of each generation by McCrindle Research found many believed today's tunes lacked staying power.

More than 50 per cent of 1300 people surveyed said today's artists and their music would be forgotten in a decade.

The study was launched to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the plane crash that killed Ritchie Valens, the Big Bopper and Buddy Holly on February 3, 1959.

The crash inspired Don McLean to write the very successful song American Pie.

The study found most Australians, including Gen-Yers, believed songs from the '60s and '70s were more memorable and meaningful than today's music.

Baby boomers said they deplored hearing songs from their youth remade by modern bands - the most hated cover song was Madonna's version of American Pie.

I feel validated. Maybe that is why U2 are still as big as they are. They have no competition. Although I must admit that "All along the watchtower" was the lowest point of the career, which is a good lesson in being creative with your own material instead of trying to rehash old stuff.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Global financial crisis- where has all the money gone?

The global financial crisis has got many thinking. In fact it has many worrying quite a lot. It has got me thinking, but thankfully not worrying. Where did all the money go?
There have been great losses on share markets across the world. This apparently was brought about my financial institutions collapsing due to bad losses on credit. Simply put they lent out too much money, or more accurately lent out money to people who could not repay the loans. These bad debts have triggered the crisis. There is no doubt that the greed of many banks in the US is to blame.

I have always thought of money as a finite resource. I am sure that many have thought the same. But I am coming to change the way I understand that concept. It used to be that a nation would only print as much money as represented the gold that they had in reserve. Back in those times, money was a finite concept. To go even further back in history, people had gold and silver coins, and there were no banks. Of course they could always find more gold in the ground. How things have changed in todays world.

Money is now a relative concept, not finite. It is fitting that such a concept has come about in a post modern world. The house of cards that is the US economy is crashing down. The rest of the world have been attaching our own economies to the US economy, and now the whole thing seems to be crashing down. Recent news reports have said that the global economy has now come to a complete stand still. This means that there is no net economic growth in the world, in fact there are losses, and this is what economic recession is.

But what is economic growth anyway? Well it represents productivity in a society, be that national or global. So there are some tangible things to attach the concept to. On a tangible level we have seen factories closing all over Russia and China. They are no longer productive. (India is still productive and I believe Canada is too.) If there is no product then there is no money. It's a little like if there is no wheat then there is no food for us to eat. Just like there can be a bumper crop of wheat some years, there can also be a bumper crop of money.

A bumper crop of money is when banks reap big dividends. People pay back their loans. Companies post big profits and their value soars. Essentially this means there is more money around to work with. Yes it is true that banks fictitiously create money, but this is only a part of the picture. In today's global economy money needs to be circulated. None of us need to hold on to the money all the time, so it is circulated around for some one else to use. It's a bit like a game of musical chairs. And just recently a whole bunch of chairs have been taken away.

Where did all the money go? Not into the hands of some other person. The money simply disappeared, burned in a fire, got washed away out to sea. Since there is less money to circulate, companies can not afford to pay their staff. This means that productivity goes down. Since there is less money to circulate, people become afraid to spend and then consumer demand drops, so productivity is in essence no longer needed.

Three quarters of Australia's economy depends on consumer spending. I am confident that many other western economies are built on similar principles. If we all spend our money happily then it will circulate and demand for productivity will go up.

Recently Kevin Rudd (Australian prime minister) thinks he knows the solution. He says that it is time to bring an end to traditional capitalism, and that a new age of social capitalism needs to begin. It sounds like a big experiment to me. Somehow I think the SRC School president does not know what he is talking about. Australia's economy is headed for a major deficit and a deep recession. The word depression is not on people's lips yet. But I think that is now a possibility.

Spend your money happily. It may be worth nothing tomorrow anyway.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Cheating in the game of Twenty 20

What the heck are NSW thinking? Brendan Mc Cullum has never played a single game for NSW before, but now they feel they can recruit him for the Twenty 20 final this Saturday. Yes it is true that a state can select one international player, but that was really a rule intended for when a player would stay a whole season, such as Imran Khan and Ian Botham did in the past.
Twenty 20 is still at representative level, but the competition is a little like a league. There is a bluriness between the two at the moment. It is my guess that the rule will change after they are given a big stretch by NSW this week. Still they have gotten away with it this time, and gone against the spirit of the game.

Australia, South Africa and New Zealand are in talks about starting a Twenty 20 Super League in 2011. If all players are available for all of the competition it should be a huge hit. There will be 3 teams from RSA, 3 from Australia and 2 from New Zealand. I am glad that something will finally happen. The stocks in cricket will go up in Australia over the next decade. The Super League may start out small, probably with teams in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, but will undoubtedly expand when there are more media friendly stars known to the public.

When such a league starts NSW can recruit Brendan Mc Cullum, but in the mean time, they are practically cheats.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Vertigo part II..... oops "Get on your boots" (U2 review)

It's that time again, it comes around every four years or so. It's U2 time. I always love the day when the new U2 single comes out. I get a hold of it as soon as possible (in the past that meant waiting to record it on to a tape off the radio; I did this for "The Fly", "Beautiful Day", "Electrical Storm" and "Vertigo") but now it means downloading and putting it on the iPod. Then I proceed to listen to the song 50 times over or so, to the amusement of my wife.

Actually my first listen this time was on U2's website. It disappointed at first, because it just wasn't loud enough on my computer. But as soon as I transferred it to the iPod and plugged into the stereo at full volume, it impressed immediately.

This song is really in exactly the same vein as Vertigo. But hey, Vertigo was a fun song, and the rest of Atomic Bomb was a serious album. Boots, is just as fun a rock song, with a few meaningful lyrics thrown in..... to boot. I sometimes wonder if U2 are the last rock band on the planet when I look at the charts these days. Thank God for 'em, they're keeping it alive, and Boots actually truly does rock, hard and fast. I don't have to explain the music much, just give it a spin, oh I mean a mouse click.

My favourite lyrics at the moment are- "Satan loves a bomb scare, but it won't scare you." It seems to me that Bono is suggesting Satan is behind all those scary things out there in the media a la military and terrorist action. Metaphorically the devil does try to create bombscares in our lives, but with the love of Jesus, he's all talk. This leads me to the chorus- "You don't know how beautiful you are." Immediately this lyric said to me, that God's love for us is much bigger than we can imagine. Bono has found a way to weave God's love and protection into his lyrics once again, in a way that sneaks up on most.

This song itself gives us no indication of what the record "No line on the horizon" will be like. Apparently we are to expect the epic, weird and Arabic style scales in the album. Most U2 albums come with a lot of pre-hype, but still I will be pre-ordering mine. (Otherwise I'll miss out on the bonus tracks).

Rock on!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Can you hold down the Pleiades?

Have a look at these stars for a minute. How beautiful they are, how huge they are. This is the Pleiades constellation. God challenged Job, "can you bind the chains of the Pleiades?" The Psalmist declared of God, "He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name."
I sat and watched a documentary tonight about the stars. The Milky Way itself is full of hundreds of billions of stars. If each star were counted, 1 per second then it would take 2500 years to count them all. That is how huge our own galaxy is. Yet there are hundreds of billions of galaxies in the Universe. How huge is God, that he created all of this? As I sat and watched the documentary and took in some of the numbers and images and realised how small I am, and yet how great God is, things fell back into perspective for me. This amazing and great Creator God loves me and the whole world so much that he gave himself as Jesus on the cross to pay for my awful sin.
His love is so great, he has made me clean. And he is so great that as my life is in his hands I have absolutely nothing to worry about.
Now that's perspective.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Mugabe must go

It's been quite a while since I have talked about Mugabe. Every day he makes me sicker.

Dear Lord, please bring an end to this evil man's regime and do it soon, any way that you must.

Where to start? Thousands are dying daily from cholera now. Eighty percent of the country are in abject poverty. The only people who have any money are his army. Just today he has issued the "trillion dollar banknote" series. If you think that sounds crazy, it was just last week that the billion dollar bank not series was released, but those notes have already lost value.

Recently Mugabe told a gathering of African leaders that he would never give up Zimbabwe, and that he "owns it". We have long suspected that he believes that, but to hear it is the absolute pits. I guess the west is standing by wanting African leaders to do something about him. South Africa have dropped the ball. Jacob Zuma is implicitly to blame. Desmond Tutu has even admitted that South Africa have lost international credibility for doing nothing.

I didn't write on this topic during the last Zimbabwe election, because I hoped beyond hope that Mugabe would step down, but he did not. The power sharing arrangement has been a farce.

I really don't want to write about this again until he is gone, and I pray that is very soon.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Thank you Matty... and goodbye

I said I would be happy when Matthew Hayden retired. Relieved is a more accurate word. I thoroughly enjoyed his career. His career was a brilliant one. It would be fair to say that he was in the top 3 batsmen for Australia over the last two decades along with Ricky Ponting and Steve Waugh. That's a fair call, considering he never captained Australia. So no hard feelings Matty, thanks for all the good times, and thanks for stepping aside to give the young blokes a chance.

Speaking of young blokes the question now falls as to who should fill Hayden's shoes. An obvious choice would be Phil Jaques at 29, going on 30, although that's not very young, but has been the common age of selection for the test side in the recent era. Jaques was the opener who replaced Langer when he retired. He has played 11 test matches for 902 runs with an average of 47 and a high score of 150. These are very dependable figures. Jaques is currently out on injury and has not played much cricket this season.

Katich has played well in recent times and should happily keep his spot. He is 33 now, and probably only has 3 years left in him. But this may be perfect timing for David Warner who will then be 25 to replace him.

Phil Hughes is the exciting option in my estimation. At 20 years of age, he has already played 16 matches for NSW at shield level, with a very handy average of 53.48. Everyone knows that Sheffield Shield cricket in Australia is serious stuff, so his average should count for something. I wonder if the Australian selectors will take a risk and go for youth. I hope they do, but my bet is they will choose Jaques.

There are exciting days ahead for Australian cricket, if the right choices are made.

Monday, January 12, 2009

David Warner than Shane?

Wow, I really enjoyed myself at the MCG last night. I think the award should be changed from "player of the match" to "entertainer of the match." Warner's innings was so entertaining last night, that I have been completely won over to the Twenty20 concept. I am still a test purist at heart, but I have to say that Twenty 20 is ready to take on the world with games last night, that was frankly far more entertaining than any baseball match. Look out America!

I really enjoyed watching an Australian team with so many young players in it. It was right of the selectors to take some risks with their choices. I actually think that the selectors do not yet believe that Twenty 20 cricket counts, and are therefore happy to take risks. For the time being this is good for Australian cricket. It gives young players a chance to show their stuff.

David Warner is 22 years old. He has only plated a handful of games at Twenty 20 and List A level for NSW, but never a first class game. It's obvious that it is too early for him to play in the test side for the simple reason that he has no Shield first class experience. But it's still a shame that he has none, because he would be an exciting opener at test level. Maybe in a couple years time.

Apparently David Warner has already been picked up in the Indian Premier League by the Delhi Devils. This does pose an interesting question. Are we seeing the first of a new generation to specialise in Twenty 20, and never to play test cricket. I certainly hope not, but we will have to see which way the revolution goes.

Last night's Australian team had two test players in it. Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey both looked like they needn't be there last night. Both were ineffectual with the bat, although Hussey did take a brilliant catch. Shaun Tait has played tests before. It was good to see him warm up again. It was extremely entertaining to see him knock AB De Villiers over at 156 kph and force a hit wicket.

For my brain, I still like to think of the future of the test team. The third test in Sydney and the Twenty 20 last night both give a lot of food for thought. Doug Bollinger and Andrew Mac Donald both had good debuts in Sydney. Peter Siddle is staking his claim for a spot in the side. David Warner has also staked his claim, but perhaps not for a year or two. My only two large disappointments now surround the omission of Jason Krejza and the inclusion of Matthew Hayden. Hayden, I have already talked about. Krejza had a fantastic debut with 12 wickets in India. He was then bowled on the flattest of wickets in Perth, and subsequently left out of the team. He needs to be brought back as quickly as possible. With Johnson, Siddle, Bollinger, Hilfenhaus and Jason Krejza the future of Australian bowling looks bright.

With David Warner's performance last night, the future of Twenty 20 looks hot, and the future of Aussie cricket looks bright too. Is he Warner than Warne?

Next time.... when is Australia getting a Twenty 20 Premier League.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Time to go Matty (Hayden)

I remember many years back watching Matthew Hayden with a friend of mine on Boxing Day. Australia was playing the West Indies. It was early in Hayden's career. I was an advocate of his position in the test side. My mate argued incessantly that Hayden should not be in the team. To prove my mate's point Matty Hayden went on to leave a ball that clean bowled him. It was an embarrassing dismissal for Hayden and I had egg on my face for sticking up for him. Nevertheless I argued that he should be in the test side. Over all I have been the correct judge as Hayden has had a wonderful career. He has been a highly dependable player. 8625 runs at 50.37 with 30 centuries is solid.

We are thankful for the player that Hayden has been, but it is time for him to retire. Over the last 6 test matches he has averaged 22 runs. His failures at the crease have been all too consistent this Summer. The icing on the cake was when he dropped Ntini at second slip in the third test in Sydney, which would have won the match. The catch was simple and straight forward, yet his head was just not in the zone.

Over the last two years Shane Warne, Glen Mc Grath, Damien Martyn, Justin Langer and Adam Gilchrist have all retired from the Australian team. As each player has retired the public have been sad to see them go. They all left on a high note. Many times people have wished that Shane Warne would come back to the side. He has happily refused knowing that his legend will be remembered.

If Matthew Hayden does not retire soon then nobody will miss him when he is gone. In fact I will be happy when he is gone, and I have always spoken up for him during his career. I wish he would know when his time has come. He now seems out of place in the side. It seems that we have a new team now of younger players who are capable of winning. It is time to build the next generation test side and sadly Hayden is now just getting in the way.