Tuesday, March 29, 2011

You reap what you sow.

Never before in the history of Australian politics has such an unimpressive uninspiring politician promising so little ever been swept into power in such a dramatic way. The people of NSW have thrown the previous government out of power with a great deal of enthusiasm. And even people who had voted Labor most of their lives deserted one of the most accident prone, inept and arrogant governments ever seen in Australia. The last pathetic act of the Labor government was to sell off part of the power industry, at bargain basement prices against the wishes of the crony boards they had appointed. This was followed by the shameful act of proroguing of parliament early to avoid public scrutiny. In the dying months of the parliament a series of moral and ethical laws were passed, some by the narrowest majority, with the stated intention of social reform but the suspected motive of forming a moral political wedge in their opponents. To make changes which impacted the moral laws of a society just to score points politically was nothing short of a low act.  When the Premier conceded defeat she said the government had moved away from the people but she could have made a simpler conclusion- “you reap what you sow”!
The problem with the conclusion that “you reap what you sow” is that we are tempted to want to add a few caveats.
You reap what you sow- eventually
You reap what you sow – hopefully
You reap what you sow – mostly.
You reap what you sow – at least once every 16 years.
Most of us want the “reap what you sow” principal to apply more consistently.  We want that manipulative and abusive boss to be exposed and removed. We want all the lying, cheating, corrupt politicians to be run out of town- not just the Labor ones. We want the self-seeking, self-advancing crowd to stop making it to the top. We want the tyrants to be toppled. We want thieves to be caught, drug runners to be sent to prison, rapists to be stopped and Manly and Collingwood to stop winning.
However, we do have one exception to the “reap what you sow” principal. Most of us, most of the time, would like a little personal leeway. After all we claim there are extenuating circumstances. We would like an exemption from chocolate leading to weight gain and cigarettes and alcohol being linked to cancer. We need to explain that we are committed to truth telling except in the occasional incidences when really that is just not that practical. We would prefer that the people who are most affected by our work would not have the opportunity to vote on our competency because after all they don’t know all the facts. We would be happy with most of our motives being reviewed as long as our best motives are seen as the dominant ones. We think the word corruption is an exaggeration of the way we deal with people – we would prefer to describe these complex relationships as networking. In short we are generally happy to reap what we sow or more particularly what we perceive or intend, to sow.
Maybe it is more than a little true that we get the politicians we deserve.
Gal. 6:8 The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Stop Digging And Look Up

At times we humans really are a funny lot. So many times in life we get ourselves into trouble and then struggle to have the humility to ask someone for help.

We often find ourselves in a hole – we thrash around in the poor light of our pit until our hand discovers something strong, convenient and maybe even a little shiny. We are sure that what we have found is the answer, so we take this strong, convenient and slightly shiny thing and we start to use it to get us out of the hole we are in. Unfortunately very often that thing we are sure is strong, convenient and maybe a little shiny is in fact nothing less than a shovel. And so in the pit we start to dig, absolutely convinced that if we bend our back, apply ourselves and give our all it will only be a matter of time before we can dig our way out of the hole. But of course all that the digging produces is a deeper hole in the ground that threatens to bury us.
“He who digs a hole and scoops it out falls into the pit he has made.”  Psalm 7: 15

We see this in economics, when the prevailing wisdom to economies slowing under the weight of debt is for governments to borrow more.

We see this in relationships, when a young man convinces himself that through sacrifice, service and persistence he can win back that girl – when in reality his efforts simply drive her further away.

We see this in business, when a man will stay in denial, convinced he can trade his way out of trouble – when in fact his debts simply continue to rise.

We see this in international relationships, when even the 'left' convinces itself that for 'humanitarian reasons' the bombs can (surgically) be released – but when the genie of militarism is released she rarely obeys and is incredibly hard to get back in the bottle.

We see this in a man’s stubbornness to consult a map when he is lost, as he convinces himself that around the next corner will be a street he knows – while all the time he gets more and more lost.

We see this in a woman, whose obsession with body image and control drives her to eat so little that the beauty she once had is literally starved of its vigour and threatens destruction.

We see this in a person of any age addicted to drugs, alcohol, work, fame, popularity or even children, who cannot see that their need can in time destroy them if they don’t get help.

And ultimately we see this in the greatest human folly of all, when in our pit of rebellion we shake our fists at God and say we don’t need him, convinced that we can dig our way out of our spiritual hole.
Importantly, we are wrong if we complain that God doesn’t help or that He is absent altogether, for while we are digging we don’t even notice the rope and ladder that God has provided.

We need the humility to stop digging and look up. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Are We Living In The Last Days?

When you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.” Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.”  Luke 21: 9-11

“Are we living in the last days?” is a question I have been asked repeatedly over the last couple of years. Devastating fires in Victoria in 2009, followed by terrible earthquakes in Christchurch and Chile in 2010, followed by deadly floods in Queensland and Victoria in 2011, then another worse earthquake in Christchurch, and now the images of Japan’s catastrophic earthquake, tsunami and a possible nuclear disaster, leave many people wondering. Throw into the mix revolution, insurgency, demonstration and possibly civil war in places like Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, Libya and Yemen and it is no wonder that people are asking if we are living in the last days.

The simple answer to this question is clearly not simple.

In one sense there seems little doubt that we are living in very difficult days. The trauma experienced now around the globe seems to have escalated. Tragically for many their last days have literally overrun them. For those of us who watch the images over and over again on our TV screens, the reality that this life is at best precarious and at worst fragile is hard to escape.

Having said that, it would be foolish to forget the suffering and hardship of past generations and think that our era is in some way special. As bad as things are in the Middle East at the moment, we need to remember that over 50 million people perished in the Second World War. As tragic as the suffering has been in recent earthquakes, we can only imagine how people in previous centuries recovered from such catastrophes, without modern building codes, without power, without telecommunications and without cranes and earthmoving equipment. Earthquakes in previous centuries have resulted in fires that often led to total destruction of cities. We should weep when thousands or tens of thousands lose their lives in Japan, but remember that the Spanish Flu epidemic which started in 1918 killed at least 20 million people and Europe’s deadly Bubonic Plague raged on an off for hundreds of years. So yes, things are tough, but we are not the first generations to experience suffering, natural disasters and war. 

The Bible's view on the last days is a little different to ours. It describes the days between Jesus' first coming and His second coming as the last days. The Bible indicates that life is finite and thus we are all on an inevitable countdown. We have no exact clarity on God’s timetable but we are all warned to prepare.

Our days are precious, finite and numbered. Our existence on this planet is dependent on the Creator’s favour. We are called to live well and to know that our hope is not in this world but in the One who has conquered death and has called us to follow Him. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Safe As Houses?

Are Australian house prices over valued - that is the question.
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to complain
The slings and arrows of an outrageous market
Or to take up arms against a sea of greedy vendors
And by opposing them? To give up and rent
No more and by rent to refuse to buy
The heartache of a thousand offers rejected ……

Sound familiar? Everyone agrees that property in Australia has never been less affordable and young people, even on good incomes, are finding it harder and harder to buy their first home. But are the prices over valued? Is the market in a bubble that eventually has to burst? 

Well if you listen to most property and building industry people in Australia, the answer is no - our market is the result of undersupply, so high house prices are here to stay. The theory goes that high immigration means prices will continue to be high and may well go higher.

But there is another theory. A report published last week in The Economist, following similar reports from the IMF and OECD, has argued that Australia has the most over valued real estate, compared to income levels, of any country in the world. In the report The Economist noted that the ratio of house prices to rents in Australia is 56 per cent above its long-run average between 1975 and 2010.

So who is right and more importantly how much are Governments, both State and Federal, prepared to keep throwing at the property markets to keep them high? If you look at graphs of property prices in recent history, every time they tend to dip the Reserve Bank slashes interest rates, the Governments throw more money at first home buyers and somehow prices resume their upward march.
Surely sometime in the next five years we are going to see who is right.

Recently I chatted with a guy who has cancer and is nearing the end of his battle to live. Not surprisingly we discussed things that mean a lot more eternally than the price of houses.  We talked about the Christian Hope: that as Jesus died and rose from the dead, so all who put their trust in Him will also one day die and then rise again. He asked me the obvious question - “How can you know for certain what will happen after you die?" I admitted that I did not have definitive proof but my confidence was in the One who died and rose again - Jesus.

We can speculate forever on the future or trust the One who has the experience to know.

In the end whatever happens to the value of assets is unknown and will depend on a whole lot of variables. I base my expectations on the most reliable forecasters with the least to gain from their speculation.

People often say real estate is 'safe as houses', but in the last few years all sorts of people around the world have found that even houses can be financially risky in certain markets.

Eternally we can put our certain trust in the One who has lived through death and prepared a way for all who trust in Him.

““Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”  John 14:1-3

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Uneducated Christians ?

A public meeting held in Parliament House this week gained quite a lot of attention on a prominent atheist website. The meeting was designed to support the teaching of SRE (Scripture) in schools, in the midst of the current debate about the introduction of Ethics Classes. The atheist website encouraged their members to attend to “keep one step ahead of these uneducated Christians”. Another respondent to the website agreed, accusing this rally of promoting 'flat earthers'. By way of contrast, the Atheist Foundation of Australia on their website proudly display their slogan: Atheism: celebrate reason!
It is true that some believers are uneducated. It is also true that at times believers have been slow to abandon views that they held to entirely because of tradition rather than reason. But to slag all believers with these sorts of slurs is just plain ignorant. Prominent atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens have encouraged this sort of rhetoric in recent years, but it ignores a great deal of evidence. It is also fair to say that some pretty irrational things have been inflicted on the world in the name of atheism in the last hundred years.
To my great surprise when I first investigated Christianity thirty odd years ago, Christians actually think very deeply about their faith and the world. Christianity has always been an advocate for learning and Christians have often been at the forefront of the development of schools and universities. I was also surprised when I read Nelson Mandela’s autobiography that he received his education as a grant, because a group of Christians spotted his intelligence and offered his mother a free education for him in a private Christian School. To my surprise I discovered as a theological college student that the extent of critical, thoughtful and analytical study of the Bible is vast. Sure there have been anti-intellectual strains of Christianity, but there are also many examples where Christians have been prepared to engage at all sorts of levels with people of other religions and no religion. When Antony Flew, one of the world’s most impressive atheists, abandoned his atheism in 2004 to embrace theism, he did so, not because he had abandoned reason and joined the 'flat earthers', but because his mind led him to new conclusions.
Interestingly when the Bible criticizes the godless, it does not accuse them of being uneducated but immoral. I have long been convinced that reason covers some other very important factors as to why people do not believe. Human pride convinces many that unbelief is the only reasonable choice. To acknowledge God is not just intellectual - it’s personal. 
One prominent atheist journalist in Sydney was criticized when it was pointed out that the reason that this man could not believe in God, was that he could, after all, have no other god than himself!
You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  Jeremiah 29: 13