Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Popularity is overrated!

As a keen student of Australian politics I have noticed a subtle change - and I kind of like it. Polls have come out in recent times suggesting the current government is not popular, and one poll came out this week and actually suggested the opposition leader is more popular than the PM. Of course the media salivate over every poll, and spend an inordinate amount of time asking politicians all sorts of questions about the polls. And the standard responses we hear from politicians are predictable and dull - “The only poll that counts is election day.”, and “Of course we are listening to the concerns of the Australian people.” etc.
What I have noticed in recent times are a new series of responses from the Prime Minister and her ministers that go a little like this - “We don’t really care about the polls. We are actually trying to do some difficult and important things. We want to get them right. There is a lot of popularist noisy opposition, but we are going to do what we believe to be the right thing, whether it is popular or not”. I kind of like that approach to leadership. I am not sure if I agree or not with the policies, but there is something refreshing when leaders say that they want to do what they think is right - not just what they think will make them popular.
Think of all the things in Australia, that at the time, popular opinion was opposed to, but in the end did turn out to be a real benefit. From the building of the Sydney Opera House to the introduction of a universal health system, to the introduction of a GST, to the welcoming of thousands of Indo-Chinese boat people in the Seventies, to the purchase of Blue Poles, to the floating of the Australian Dollar, we find a list of unpopular policies that history has judged very favourably. Now of course, we can all then list off a range of unpopular policies which did turn out to be a disaster, but still, leadership should be about leadership, and not just doing the things that will make us popular.

Great CEOs are not always universally liked. Teenagers are not designed to agree with their parents all the time, that is, if the parents are actually doing a good job.

Preachers are not called to always be popular or they have lost their prophetic edge. 

Even Jesus did not lead his followers by consensus. In fact, one famous time when he told his disciples that he had to suffer and die, one of them took his leader aside and told him in no uncertain terms that Jesus was losing their support. Jesus’ reaction to Peter showed little regard for the disciple’s polling.  

“Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”” Matthew 16:23
In the end we will get the chance to vote on our politicians, but I for one would rather they lead than follow. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

When the Big Men Fall

It is common to hear of the death of famous people whose lives in some way have helped shaped ours. Last weekend saw the death of three such big men. 
Dave Brockhoff was one of the great men of Australian Rugby Union. I do not remember him has a champion player, but I do remember him as the dreaded coach of the Sydney Uni in my youth. He also coached NSW and Australia in a very different era, when five-eights kicked 'into the box' and 10 man rugby was all the go. Brockhoff was part of the old culture amateur rugby elite and I am told in recent years was still found every week at NSW Waratahs training and regularly on tour with both the Waratahs and Australian Wallabies. 
Rex Mossop was a dual international player (Rugby Union and League), but was also the man who really established rugby league on TV. As a kid I watched Rex’s Sunday morning 'footy show', in a day when such shows were actually about sport. The famous Controversy Corner with Rex, Ferris Ashton, Noel Kelly and others used to argue passionately every week about the game. About the only exotic thing on the show was a football passing competition.
The third death in the last week was Clarence Clemons. Clarence, at 6 foot 5 inches, was big enough to play rugby but was instead, amongst other things, the saxophone player for Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. Springsteen once described his band as one modeled on the show bands of his youth. Clarence was the show in any show band. Springsteen fans around the world will be sad that never again can they see Bruce in concert with the Big Man. As Springsteen himself commented: “He was my great friend, my partner and with Clarence at my side, my band and I were able to tell a story far deeper than those simply contained in our music.”
These three individuals were unique, irreplaceable, precious, different, but far from perfect. Brockhoff was villain just as much as hero. On the field Mossop was known for his thuggery and on TV and real life he was not much better. Clarence could make a sax soar, but when 5 ex-wives gather at his funeral, life’s complexity will be evident to all.
There will be all sorts of cliches to follow about rugby heaven and the great rock and roll of the sky, but they are only words if we have no real hope. Jesus' death on the cross was for believers, the death of death. The only hope we have of true immortality is to take the hand of the One who passed through life to death and through death to life. Our human achievements, no matter how glorious, will hardly impress a holy God who sees and knows all.
Death remains the great enemy.
Christ, who died and rose again, remains our only hope.
“When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  1Corinthians 15: 54-57

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Bad Investments

'An anonymous bidder on eBay has agreed to pay $2.5 million for a lunch date with billionaire investor, Warren Buffett.' How utterly absurd! Buffett’s fundraiser to raise money for his late wife’s charity is not a new thing, but this year the amount raised has far exceeded any previous figure. What makes the whole thing more unusual is that Buffett is the quintessential mega rich guy who does not believe in throwing his money around. He drives an old Lincoln car, he lives in the same house he bought on a corner block next to traffic lights in the 1970s, and years ago he refused his adult daughter a loan to remodel her kitchen. In more recent years he has relented and now pays his middle aged kids a modest allowance every few years of a few million, and though he does still own a second hand car, he has also bought himself a private jet (for business reasons of course).
In one sense Buffett would be appalled that someone would waste $2.5 million on having lunch with him. Buffett would figure that surely the money could be more wisely invested. Imagine paying all that money to lunch with the man they call the Oracle of Omaha, only to sit down and have Warren laugh at you for being such a fool to waste millions of dollars having lunch with him. 
In the Old Book we read a story of a rich investor who met the Oracle of Nazareth, Jesus Christ. This meeting was a free consultation, when a rich man asked the poor prophet what he could do to inherit eternal life. Unlike Buffett, who has planned to give away all his money when he dies, this rich guy was keen to hang onto his money and find if there was a way to maybe even buy his way to immortality. Jesus offered the rich guy some sagely spiritual advice, which proved a little too expensive. After a question, which exposed the rich man's inability to determine his own true spiritual bankruptcy, Jesus' advice was simple:
“You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”  (Luke 18: 22)
Jesus' words were tailored for this specific man, whose success financially was a bi-product of his worship of all things material. On many occasions Jesus warned that to know God was to forsake all other false gods, and for the rich man his eternal future was in peril if his confidence was in money alone. Tragically for this rich man, and for many since, the cost of giving up his gods of gold was too great.
When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth.  Luke 18: 23 

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Plan B

"Things are inevitably going to go WRONG but what will make or break your trip is how you REACT". Ben Groundwater is the author of these words that I found in last Sunday's travel section of The Sun Herald. They are certainly true for travel. The best travel involves a sense of adventure and that sense of adventure normally involves some risk. And with risks come mistakes and inevitably the consequences of the mistakes that demand a reaction one way or another.

Some friends recently travelled to Europe and suffered a feared, but not entirely unheard of, misadventure. After 24 hours plus of travel they arrived in Germany, only to discover that their bags did not meet them at the airport. I have never experienced this sort of luggage separation anxiety, but my friends were philosophical and survived for a few days on their carry on luggage and the clothes on their backs. They were undeterred and determined to enjoy their trip. After a few more days it seemed their luggage separation was indeed permanent and after repeated phone calls to the travel insurance company and airline they were assured that their compensation was imminent. Again rather than fretting they went out and bought new clothes with their compensation, enjoying the opportunity of replacing their tired Aussie travel wardrobe with a more European flair. They enjoyed their trip, surviving this inconvenience and arrived home many weeks later, still philosophical that their new European threads compensated their momentary apparel deprival. A few days after arriving home the airline delivered their very lost but recently found luggage, which was a rather unexpected bonus.
A lot more can go wrong in travel than the loss of a couple of bags and often happy endings are only for movies, not reality.  Of course a lot more can go wrong in life than a few travel inconveniences. A very together life can unravel surprisingly quickly when misadventure strikes, often without warning. We can fool ourselves into believing that those sorts of things only happen to other people, but that deception can only last so long. We cannot avoid things going wrong and our reaction is key to surviving the uncertainty. Knowing that there is a God who loves us and knows our plight and continues to have plans and purposes for our lives, can be strangely comforting and reassuring in all manner of circumstances.
George Verwer, the founder of Operation Mobilisation, explains this uncertainty from God’s perspective. Verwer explains that God has a Plan A for our lives. The problem is that because of our mistakes and foolishness, the mistakes and foolishness of others and a whole lot of completely random things, we often end up with Plan B. And actually, quite often we end up with Plan C, or D, or E and not that rarely, Plan F. Verwer’s simple conclusion is strangely comforting: “Praise God for a big alphabet!”.
““Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?  Matthew 6: 25-28