Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Were The Premier's Words Unforgivable?

Last week the NSW Government was plunged into another scandal and ministerial resignation. The Channel 7 News team filmed a Senior Minister as he was exiting what was described as a gay club. The Minister resigned his portfolio and apoligised to his family for the trauma these events had caused. The hypocrisy of a news service becoming the standard of morality has been widely and rightly debated. The embattled Premier of NSW, Kristina Keneally, at times must have regretted ever taking on the leadership of such an accident-prone team, but her choice of words in describing the incident were, to say the least, very regrettable.

The day after the release of the footage, Premier Keneally explained to a press conference that the disconnect between the public face and the private life of her former Minister and colleague was unforgivable. She lamented the pain caused, not to her Government but to the family of the minister, when she used the word ‘unforgivable’. Unfortunately the Premier should have consulted her diary before she decided to use ‘unforgivable’ to describe the behaviour of her former colleague. If she had checked her diary she would have noticed that later that same week she had been booked to lead a “Moderated Conversation” at the Sydney Writers Festival with the writer Stephanie Dowrick, on the difficult and emotionally charged subject of forgiveness. Following a late withdrawal from the conference by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, Dowrick had been booked along with Keneally to discuss the topic of forgiveness.

The Premier had to show up at the Festival and apoligise for her poor choice of words. Maybe she even asked for forgiveness herself! She was especially wrong to use the word because the forgiveness really was not hers to determine. The Premier arguably had a role to play in the forgiveness or not of the Minister’s action when it came to his office, but when it came to his private life the issue of forgiveness could be settled only by the ones he had wronged - his family.

Judged by the standards of the Channel 7 News, many of us have secrets we are not keen to have filmed and we have thoughts that would destroy our public image if they were all published and revealed. Judged by the pure and holy standards of the true and living God, we all need to bow before His throne and seek forgiveness from the One we have really offended. God’s investigative skills make Channel 7 look like a bunch of hypocritical amateurs!

Before the throne of God we are all guilty and our only hope is in His forgiveness.

Unforgivable is reserved for the unrepentant.

“This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Romans 3: 22-24

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Tale of Two Teenagers

The Australian media is awash with the stories of two teenagers. Both are stories about risk. Both are a little hard to come to grips with. Both in their own way are shocking. One has a wonderful happy end - the other has ended in the worst tragedy.

Over 7 months ago Jessica Watson, a teenager not yet 17, set out alone in a small boat to sail nonstop around the world. The risks involved were incalculable. The first night of this journey exposed these risks as Jessica amazingly survived a collision with a tanker. Many followed the adventure of this teenager as she survived storms, knockdowns and many other challenges. Last Saturday, the Prime Minister and thousands of waiting fans welcomed her home as a hero. Most are amazed at the courage and skill of this young woman. But the critics remain asking how a parent could allow a 16 year old to take such extraordinary risks.

Nona Belomesoff was probably a much more cautious teenager. She didn't have a dream to sail around the world, but she too had a dream. Her dream was to work with animals. As an 18 year old woman she had an admirable passion to work with injured animals, to nurse them back to health. She chatted to a person on Facebook who offered her a job working for the reputable Australian Wildlife Rescue Organisation known as WIRES. The problem was it now seems that the person had no connection with WIRES and last weekend the body of Nona Belomesoff was found after she had been murdered, presumably by the man who contacted her on Facebook.

The moral of this tale of two teenagers is really not that simple. Risk is complicated and present in everything we do. One would think that sailing around the world was more risky than chatting with a stranger on Facebook. But in this instance, it seems the 'e-world' was way more dangerous than the sea world.

The Old Book, the Bible, does not solve the vexed problems of risk, but it does promote the virtue of seeking the best wisdom we can find. Arrogance says, "I can do this!" Humility seeks the advice of those who know best. With humility we can still drown at sea, but the best advice, the wisest council and the surest guidance are ignored at out peril. Risk is unavoidable and our tolerance for risk will vary with our temperament, character and family background. But for all of us, good advice is essential.

Seeking wisdom from wise heads and ultimately from God are the best ways we can assess the risks that we cannot altogether ignore or avoid.

“Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise.” Proverbs 19: 20

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The iPhone Generation

A phenomenon of social research in the last few decades has been to give the generations a name. Generation 'X' and then 'Y' and so on have followed the 'Baby Boomers'. If you had to name a generation the 'iPhone Generation', I wonder which age group you would describe. At church last Sunday I observed something that leads me to believe that the title 'iPhone Generation' should go to a group you would probably not immediately equate with this title.

During our service I watched two kids playing with an iPhone that belonged to the mother of one of the children. I was pretty amazed as the young girl turned the phone on, flicked to the applications' (apps) page, flicked left to another set of apps, clicked on the app icon, and then scrolled down the page to browse some photos. Then after a few photos the little girl chose a video and enjoyed watching this record of her playing at her cousin’s place. Eventually another boy of the same age came over and borrowed the phone. He reset the phone using the button at the bottom and likewise searched and flicked through the apps until he discovered what he was looking for. He then opened the game and proceeded to try and shoot a ball into a basket on the screen. The young girl watched and was impressed by the boy’s ball skills.

What was really, really amazing about this scene was that these two children are both only two years of age. Yes I checked and they are both only two! I guess it says something about the quality of the technology and the ease of use of the interface, but it also says something about the wonder and marvel of childlike faith. Children learn so quickly as they lack the ego that resists change and don’t mind making mistakes. Their fear of the unknown is tiny compared to their sense of adventure to learn. I must admit that twenty years olds have frightened me in the past with their assimilation and adoption of the latest technology. My comfort now is that those a generation younger than them will one day make them look like cranky old-timers.

When Jesus praised the idea of childlike faith, He did not mean to advocate an immature, uncritical acceptance of spiritual things. What He was praising, I believe, was that childlike sense of adventure that accepts the idea of a loving God without being threatened or undermined. To know God is to open ourselves up to an adventure filled with the unknown. Things we don’t understand or things that question the way we have always done things threaten wise old adults. God calls us to open ourselves to Him, to cast off our pride and to accept that He alone is God.

To humble ourselves before God is never childish, but ever childlike.

But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”” Luke 18: 16-17

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Caleb and Henry

Years ago I knew a church that did a thorough consultant-driven review of the effectiveness and plans for their church. It was a great idea and consumed quite a lot of energy and resources. When I heard about what this church had planned, I was impressed at their courage and humility to commit to such a review. But when I heard the name they gave the process, 'Operation Caleb', I began to worry. Caleb was a researcher a few thousand years ago who was asked by a guy you might have heard of called Moses, to investigate whether it might be a good idea or not to do exactly what God told them. Caleb ended up being in the minority within his review panel, when they out-voted him and recommended that God’s ideas were a little impractical and unpalatable. Moses and his fellow leaders obviously took the safe route and much to Caleb’s disappointment, they ended up literally walking around aimlessly in a desert for 40 years.

This week Ken Henry must know how Caleb felt. Henry was charged by the Australian Government to comprehensively review the Australian Taxation System, which everyone knows has developed like a patchwork quilt sown together by a group of drunken women. Henry’s review (or at least the executive summary) is bold, comprehensive, innovative and even at times quite responsibly aware of the needs of all sections of society, including the poor. The response of the Government has been to pick up a couple of ideas which would raise more tax without losing votes, while offering a few carrots (some of which even contradict Henry’s recommendations) to electors, who they hope will be persuaded to vote for them in an election year. The Opposition’s response has been just as bad, as they have missed an opportunity to champion more innovation and reform and have instead taken the opportunity to be negative and obstructionist. In all likelihood, the net result of a comprehensive review will be that the Government will adopt a handful of revenue raisers and sweeteners, which will be defeated in the Senate. Poor Dr. Henry will watch as Australians continue to wander around in the taxation wilderness.

But let's not be too hard on the pollies. The rest of us also ignore the wisdom of those around us. As a nation we drink too much, smoke a great deal, gamble much more than we can afford, eat more of the wrong food and less of the right food, and generally complain when someone tells us to put on a hat and shirt whilst in the sun. We continue to use credit to live beyond our means. It gets even worse when it comes to God. We rubbish the Bible, or worse, we say we believe in it but then fail to read it. Finally, even if we do read it, we tend to ignore its comprehensive, detailed and revolutionary message, while preferring to 'cherry pick' a few palatable ideas.

“What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God — through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.” Romans 7: 24-25