Another post in my “Amazing Meetings” series: It’s about a meeting Jesus had with a Pharisee.

Sir, you had an interesting meeting with Jesus. I get the impression that you weren’t actually expecting it to be a good meeting.  You’ve been described as a Pharisee. Can you please tell us what a Pharisee is?

Some people would call us a political party, others a religious sect. We see ourselves as the protectors and upholders of the Rabbinic law. Judaism as you know it depends on our faithfulness over the years to upholding the law.

In my reading of the Bible I get the impression the Pharisees weren’t too supportive of Jesus.  Is that right?

You’re right there. The religious law was given to us by Moses and when people break that law or come up with their own forms of morality or religion our whole society is in danger of collapse.

So this meeting you had with Jesus was because you and your friends wanted to challenge him about the way he seemed to be a little loose in his interpretation of the law?

Loose? Man, we figured this guy was an out and out libertarian.   The fourth commandment in the law Moses gave us was to observe the Sabbath Day and keep it holy.  We developed all sorts of rules and regulations to make sure that this commandment was kept. But this day we spotted Jesus and his disciples walking through this paddock on the Sabbath Day plucking off the heads of grain and eating them.

So this was considered by you to be breaking the Sabbath law?

Well, not so much the rabbinic law, but we had very clear oral laws about the Sabbath. We considered what they were doing as harvesting. They were working on the Sabbath and we didn’t appreciate the way they seemed to be flaunting our authority.

It sounds like it wasn’t the breaking of the law that upset you. It was more to do with your authority being questioned?

Come on, let’s get on with this interview.

OK, what did Jesus say to you when you challenged him and his disciples for plucking grain and eating it on the Sabbath?

He mentioned the story we knew about King David, and how we went into the house of God and ate the holy bread  . He even said it wasn’t lawful for David to do that, but he still used it as an example for why he and his disciples were breaking the Sabbath law.

Did you understand the significance of the story about David?

Yes, I did. He made sense.  He didn’t excuse David for what he did. He still said it was unlawful, but he pointed out that David was hungry and I think what he was getting at was that there was another law at work here that was probably greater than Moses’ law.

What do you mean? did he explain himself?

Well, then he talked about the priests who work on the Sabbath.  He had a point. Someone has to work on the Sabbath, and that’s what the priests did.  We were able to get around the law for that one, so I guess we weren’t all that consistent. I suppose that’s the problem with being so fixed on law. If you’re not consistent on everything, you end up getting yourself pretty mixed up.

And was that all Jesus had to say?

He added that something greater than the temple was here. He said he desired mercy not sacrifice.

It sounds to me he was saying that the teachings of Jesus represented a new way of looking at the old law. The emphasis of the new approach was more about mercy than about following rules and regulations? Is that how you understand it?

Listen mate, I’m a Pharisee and my job is to uphold the law. Unfortunately, what Jesus said actually makes sense. It’s left me pretty confused. There’s no freedom or hope in the approach that I take, whereas Jesus and his friends seem to be so happy. Maybe there is something in Jesus teachings…

I agree, it’s worth investigating further.

To read the account for yourself in the Bible see Matthew 12:1-8  ; Mark 2:23-28  ; Luke 6:1-5.

rootsI re-potted a pot plant recently because the leaves were looking brown and the plant didn’t look at all healthy. I took it out of the pot, replaced the potting mix, tickled the roots and I’m hoping it will look a lot better in a short time.

When something goes wrong with plants and the answer isn’t evident quite often it’s got something to do with the roots. And I think for most of us, when we’re facing problems in life, it’s worth checking the roots. Here’s four poossible root problems:

Some of us have become drain-cloggers – you know what it’s like when a tree is growing too close to the pipes and you discover that the roots have gone into the pipes and broken them open? Sometimes we go searching for new ideas and philosophies and we become misled and confused when it would have been better for us to trust God’s Word. There are lots of great ideas out there, but God’s Word is trustworthy.

Some of us have developed root rot. When a plant is overwatered and the drainage isn’t too good it gets root rot. We sometimes allow ourselves to be over-watered by other people’s opinions and instead of owning our faith and our decisions, we become clogged up with our attempts to keep other people happy. What’s the result? We lose the vitality of our faith.

Some of us have become root-bound by legalism. When a plant becomes root-bound the roots run round and round inside the pot and eventually they have nowhere to go. Rules and regulations have stopped us from being able to put our roots down deep into the word of God. Legalism is a real trap because we feel very secure within all our rules and regulations, but ultimately we go round and round the pot controlled by our own arguments, very comfortable with where we are, but no longer growing.

Another root problem that gardeners experience is nematodes. There are about a million species of nematodes, microscopic round worms, and if parasitic nematodes get into the roots of your plants, they suck the life out of them. Some of us have allowed nematodes to congregate around the roots of our faith and to suck us dry.

We’ve allowed anger and resentment to influence our thinking, inappropriate thoughts and words have become a part of our lives; we’ve given into little temptations and have justified why we shouldn’t give into another.

And each of these nematodes of sin have sucked a little bit more life out of us and we’ve allowed them to congregate and grow and our lives have become ineffective.

The apostle Paul said: just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

Take the opportunity to establish a health root system in your life: Read God’s word and study it, get together with other believers and discuss what you have read. Read the Bible with another person. Pray with someone else. Don’t give up the habit of meeting together to worship God.

 

 

lemon-treeI’ve got a young lemon tree in my backyard. It’s not very strong yet, but it’s got lemons. Only a few, but they’re lemons. I know it’s a lemon tree because I can see lemons hanging from the branches. If I was doubtful at all that it was a lemon tree I could cut those lemons off the tree and suck the juice and I would be convince that it was a lemon tree.

I’ve got another bush in my backyard. The leaves suggest it may be an apple, but it may be something completely different. It was in a pot in someone else’s backyard when I got it and for a couple of years I’ve watched but there’ve been no flowers, and certainly no fruit. I can’t really tell what it is.

When a tree produces fruit it seems to be the ultimate statement. A kind of announcement: “I’m a lemon tree and I can prove it. I produce lemons.”

 

How do you know if I’m a follower of Jesus? Well you can take my word for it. But ultimately, you’re looking for fruit. You want to see some sort of evidence that convinces you that I’m a follower of Jesus. After all, if I say I’m a follower of Jesus, but you see me breaking the law of behaving badly you would probably doubt my word.

The Apostle Paul said:  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Now that makes sense. Here are some pieces of fruit, some outcomes from being a follower of Jesus. When people see these virtues working out in another person’s life they want to ask the question, how can a person be like this?

When a person uses bad language all the time, they’re constantly aggressive, they’re vindictive or hurtful to others, it’s like bad fruit. And bad fruit suggests there’s something wrong with the tree. So the problem is not just with the outward appearance. There’s a deeper problem.

So while my lemon tree is only small and a little spindly, the healthy lemons that it is producing, say to me that this is a lemon tree and it’s OK. People are always looking for fruit in our lives, and we can’t produce good fruit if there’s something wrong with the roots.

Fruit like love and joy and peace, forbearance, kindness; you know … all those great virtues that Paul talked about, don’t come naturally. He called them the fruit of the Spirit. They’re the result of Jesus being present in our lives; they’re the result of a person living in harmony with the Holy Spirit.

What’s your fruit like? Can people see the fruit and know that you’re a follower of Jesus. Or is it still a secret?

 

Interview on Sonshine fm

Posted: August 18, 2014 in Uncategorized

CroppedImage300140-Logo-2014-Thumb2I’d like to thank those who have read my book, “He Speaks Our Language”, and those who have expressed appreciation for what was written. I am hoping to get it up onto Kindle at some stage in the future, but in the meantime it is available at Koorong Bookstore. I notice they’ve sold out at the Perth store, but are renewing their stock, and will re-order if people are asking for it.

This was a co-publishing exercise with Ark House Press and I value their support in this project. It’s been an interesting exercise in writing and publishing and I have enjoyed the process. Who knows, there may be something else on the way!

I did an interview with JD on Sonshine Radio 98.5 on the weekend. You can hear the interview here on podcast. I appreciate your continue support in telling people about the book. This is a story that I think needed to be told.

Adding Growth Rings

Posted: August 17, 2014 in Uncategorized

KurrajongAs a child I loved climbing trees. The mulberry tree was a favourite for obvious reasons, and so was the tall Cape Lilac in the front yard. But my favourite was a huge Kurrajong tree in our backyard. An ancient steel ladder rested on the trunk, making it possible for a little boy to get to the lowest branches and pull myself into a private place high above the ground.

I set up a pulley system to take pieces of timber high into the branches to become a tree house.The Jacaranda was a place where I could be alone with my imagination.  It became a place of solace throughout my childhood.

As I think about that tree I think about something that was stable and strong, but something that continued to grow. It faced all kinds of weather for many decades, continuing to grow through wind and rain, searing heat and shivering cold. The old house has gone now, and I suspect the tree has been cut down to make way for townhouses. If they cared, those who cut it would have seen growth rings representing the many years of growth.

In his letter to the church in Colossae, the apostle Paul talked about growth and maturity and draws a picture of people adding growth rings when he says:

…clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

As I grow older it’s my desire to add growth rings … growth rings of compassion and kindness and gentleness. To these growth rings I want to add, patience and forgiveness. And to these I want to add love, which binds them all together.

No matter what storms and hardship we may face, we continue to grow and add growth rings. They may be growth rings of regret and disappointment, anger and resentment. Or they may be growth rings of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

I know which I prefer. How about you?

How do we maintain security in a changing world? According to Tevye, the Jewish Milkman in the famous musical, Fiddler on the Roof, the answer is “tradition, tradition, tradition”.

I think there was a time when I thought Christianity was protected by tradition, and that the traditions of Christianity could protect me from the evils of the world.  My post today is another in my “Amazing Meetings” series. It’s an interview with someone who puts a different slant on tradition in the amazing meeting he had with Jesus.

As you read this interview, please share your thoughts in the comments box, and refer this blog to your friends.

fiddlerHello. You’re described in Matthew’s Gospel as a disciple of John. Who is John and how did this meeting with Jesus develop?

Hi, John is actually Jesus’s cousin. But his mission in the early days was to prepare people for the coming of the Messiah. He was what you may call a hippy. He lived in the desert, didn’t shave or cut his hair, wore alternative clothing and had a diet that was something else. There were a group of us who became his followers. We got into the alternative stuff like him and we were very serious about all the Jewish laws. Especially fasting.

Why was that?

Well, John believed that if we were serious about our religion we should follow the law right down to the last jot.

So why did you go to see Jesus?

Well, that’s the thing. John was really strong on keeping the law, but we watched Jesus and his disciples and they seemed to be the very opposite. They didn’t fast, and in fact they kept going to these parties with people like Levi and his slimy mates.

So a couple of us went to see Jesus’ and ask him what was going on. We wanted to know why John expected us to follow the law in everything, but Jesus didn’t seem to have the same constraints on his disciples.

So what did he say?

It was a fascinating answer. He basically told three short stories. First of all he said, how can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while is with them. Then he talked about putting a new patch on a piece of old clothing, and how the new patch is likely to stretch and pull away from the clothing. Then his third illustration was about not pouring new wine into old wineskins.

So was he talking about himself when referred to the first story?

Yes, I think so. As I watched his disciples I could see that being with Jesus was so good, that the religious traditions actually didn’t make any sense. He wasn’t bound by the law at all – really free – but he didn’t do anything wrong. He maintained a lifestyle that was enjoyable, but there was nothing about it that was offensive, or destructive, or selfish.

So what do you think he meant about the patch on the clothing and the wineskins?

What I thought he was saying was that the Jewish law wasn’t to be thrown out; the traditions of the past had their place. But if you’re introducing something new, it had to be brand new, and not influenced by the past.

The new movement that Jesus was introducing – he called it the Kingdom of Heaven – was so radically different and new that it wouldn’t be effective if it was tied down by traditional thinking and legalities.

Does that mean we should throw out all the old traditions?

No, Jesus was really showing that his teaching should interpet the traditions and old laws and not the other way around. If you pour new wine into old wineskins the old wineskins will burst and you’ll lose all the wine.  If Jesus new teaching was made to fit the old traditions and laws, it would irreparably damage all that was good in the past.

Instead, Jesus preserved the past as a way of preparing for the future, and implemented a whole new way of thinking about life.

Thanks for that insight. I’m looking forward to finding out more about the new ways of Jesus.

To read the story for yourself see Matthew 9:14-17, Mark 2:18-22, Luke 5:33-39

I thought it was time to dig back on some old posts on a previous blog I was writing for a while.  Coming from the background of a journalist, I thought I’d tell the stories of Jesus from the perspective of someone interviewing one of the people who was with Jesus at the time. Hope you find this helpful:

189 - Jesus is Anointed by the Sinful WomanHey Simon, thanks for the opportunity to talk to you. I’m told you had a rather interesting meeting with Jesus.  How did it come about?

I invited Jesus over to my place for dinner with a few friends.

But you’re a pharisee. Your lot aren’t exactly Jesus’ biggest fans

You’re right there. I’ve given him my fair share of criticism over the years, but there’s something about Jesus that I wanted to know more about.  I thought that if I had him over to dinner, we may get to understand where he was at.

Were you surprised that he accepted your invitation.

You bet. He has dinner with all the low life in town, but he doesn’t usually eat with us. Probably because we’re usually trying to trick him with our philosophical questions. It was a real honour that he accepted my invitation.

So I believe you had a gatecrasher?

Yes this woman walked in, right in front of us all. She was a real mess. She was crying as though something really bad had happened. I figured she must have been abused or something.

Did you know her?

Er… well… I didn’t actually know her.  But the other guys said she was a sex worker. They said she was pretty well known …that is … known by reputation.

So what did she do?

She went straight over to Jesus, got down on her knees and started washing his feet with her tears. Then she brings out this bottle of perfume. It wasn’t a little bottle, must have cost quite a lot, and began pouring it on him.

How did you feel about that?

I was mad as a cut snake. I mean I live in a respectable neighbourhood.  A nice dinner party with good friends. Everything was just right and in walks someone who I wouldn’t normally let anywhere near my house, and Jesus just allows her to blubber all over him. It was disgusting.  Funny thing, his friends didn’t seem to be worried about who the woman was.  They just complained about the waste of money because of the expensive perfume she was using.

Did Jesus say anything about what was going on?

Well he didn’t stop the woman. He just let her go, but he leaned over to me and tells me a story.

A story? What sort of story?

Well he said there was this businessman who was owed money by two people. One of them owed him five hundred denarii and the other 50. When they couldn’t pay, he said he would overlook the bill and let them both off. Then he asks, now which of them will respect the businessman more?

Did you answer him?

Yes, of course, I said it would be the person who was let off the biggest amount.

Did he agree with you?

He points to the woman and says, I’ve been in your house for dinner, you didn’t give me anything to wash my feet, but this woman has washed my feet with her tears. You didn’t offer any sort of affection but this woman has been kissing my feet ever since she walked in the door. You didn’t anoint my head with oil, as the custom is, but she hasn’t stopped anointing my head with perfume.

That must have hurt?

Funny thing is it didn’t hurt. It just made me realise that here was someone who didn’t have any of the privileges I had, but she was offering Jesus a whole lot more than I was. When he said: “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little loves little,”  I suddenly realised how little I was prepared to give to Jesus.

Will this meeting with Jesus have any ongoing effect on your life?

I’ve got to think about this a bit more. I feel as if there is something really special about Jesus. I’ve been pretty mean to him over the years, but he just accepted me, and seemed to really care about me.  He was quite right about how I had treated him. I gave him dinner, but it was probably more about the social acceptance than anything else. But this woman who had nothing going for her, expressed herself in a way I couldn’t. I think there must be something else that I need to do for Jesus.

Simon, thanks for sharing your story.

Read the story for yourself at Luke 7:36-50; Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9

Some great stories on pages 6 and 7 of this month’s Advocate…

PilgrimConsumerism, according to Wikipedia, is a “social and economic order and ideology that encourages the acquisition of goods and services in ever-greater amounts.” Consumerism has become a way of life for us to the point that those of us who live in western society really don’t know anything else. More than ever we become discontent very quickly.

Whether it is the car we drive, the cereal we eat, the supermarket we use, the church we attend, the clothes we wear, or the computer we use … it doesn’t take much for us to be looking over the fence to see if the grass is greener in someone else’s backyard.

You’d think this ideology of consumerism was just a product of the industrial revolution, but references in the Bible to contentment suggest that the desire for something bigger, better and prettier has been around for a very long time.

This morning I talked at church about the fourth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippians and used the theme, Joy in Community. Paul was in prison in Rome at the time and was writing to a church at Philippi in eastern Macedonia. Despite his own circumstances Paul expressed joy at the church in Philippi and all it was doing. He noticed that a couple of women in the church, key people who he described as fellow-workers, had a difference of opinion, but he called for gentleness in dealing with this issue, and it seemed even this didn’t stop his sense of joy.

What I found significant is that Paul seemed have a very lay-back approach to life. He called for gentleness, appealed for the disputing women to get together and sort out their issues, he reminded the people of the presence of Christ, and told them not to be anxious. Paul was a pretty serious person but on this occasion, at least, he seemed to be keen to help the church to take their foot off the accelerator.

One of the things he had to say to the church was that he had learned “the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”  In a consumer society that sounds like a secret worth knowing. Paul went on to let his readers in on his secret: I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” It seems that his trust in Jesus gave him the capacity to appreciate what he had and to enjoy his circumstances without getting anxious.

It took me back to John’s Bunyan’s allegory published in 1678 called “Pilgrim’s Progress“. Without telling the whole story, the key character, Christian, is carrying a heavy burden on his back and in his search to find a solution to his problem comes to the “place of deliverance” where the straps that hold the burden on to his back are released and the burden rolls into an open grave.

John Bunyan’s allegorical story about “Christian” was the same as Paul’s: Consumerism and all the other pressures of modern life are like a heavy backpack that create constant anxiety. By throwing that backpack down at the foot of Jesus’ cross we can be released from anxiety and experience peace and contentment.

 

 

Screen Shot 2014-07-19 at 7.37.00 pmWell, after many years of procrastinating I have finally published the biography of my dad, “He Speaks Our Language”. My Dad, Wilf Douglas, passed away more than 10 years ago and prior to that I asked his permission to write his story, so it has been a long time coming. We had a fantastic time yesterday with many people from all walks of life coming together to honour dad’s life. It was particularly nice that my brother John from Tasmania was the MC for the event.

The highlight for me was to interview Noongar elder, Myrtle Yarran (pictured left, above) and Wongi elder, Laurel Cooper from Kalgoorlie.  Amongst other things the book tells the story about how Myrtle’s dad, Bob Mead taught my dad his first Noongar words nearly 80 years ago. Dad went on from that humble beginning on a dusty track at Badjaling in Western Australia’s wheatbelt to play a significant role in preserving Aboriginal languages in various parts of Australia.

Keith Truscott the Pastor of the Mt Zion Aussie Indigenous Church in Perth spoke about how Dad had taught him Pitjantjatjara and introduced him to his cultural roots, and the first Aboriginal member of the House of Representatives, Federal Member for Hasluck, Ken Wyatt AM officially launched the book.

It’s been a great privilege to be able to write this book and tell a story that has been waiting to be told.

Hopefully the book will be available on Kindle at some stage, but in the meantime it is available at Koorong Bookshops and online at the website of the publisher Ark House Press.