Wednesday, May 25, 2016

GOING HOME


GOING HOME

Grass, long grass, spear grass,

Prickly seeds pierce my feet,

My legs, my buttocks.

Ticks, mosquitos, spiders and snakes,

Five-inch “toe-biter” insect,

A giant water bug with pincers!

And a Queensland bird-eating spider.

Sleeping-bag entered slowly!

Moonlit nights, shooting stars,

Southern Cross, crick in neck.

Misty mornings, clenched-fist sun

Then extending fingers, feeling their way

through gumtrees lining the gates of dawn.

Sunday morning bush-worship-service,

God honoured, His Word read,

Proclaimed and applied,

His congregation blessed. Amen!

Packed pack is on my back,

Face set for home,

About to decamp when “ratatatat”,

Enemy with bad-timing and poor manners,

Departure delayed, but dust settles,

Soon I’m off and running!

Nine hours travelling by bus,

Air-con broken, thirty degrees outside,

Steamed-up windows! Is the heater on?

At last, civilization, elation,

McDonalds and a coffee? Yes please!

Back on bus, Kindle reading, day-dreaming,

Sugarcane on the left, cattle on the right,

Hot bitumen underneath,

Gumtrees flashing by,

Hills rolling away into the distance,

Pastel clouds on sky-blue sky,

Sun sparkling on a river

As we speed across a bridge,

A lonely kingfisher stares

Into the clear water from a log.

Well irrigated orchard, all lush and green,

Mangoes, oranges, then fields of pineapples.

A crow pecks at some roadkill,

As cars, caravans and trucks

Flash into then out of view.

Going home, wife, daughters

Grandchildren, comfy chair,

Shower, Guinness, clean sheets.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Where There's Smoke!


WHERE THERE’S SMOKE
 

“On the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram...” Genesis 15:18.

Introduction

I remember working as a plumber in a house in Toronto, Canada. I’d just finished what I thought was a beautiful repair job on a pipe in an awkward place. I’d had the old blow-torch going as I soldered a pipe to another pipe buried in a wall. I was admiring what I thought was a neat job when I saw smoke! Oh, oh! You know the old saying, Where there’s smoke there’s fire! I shudder to think what would have happened if I hadn’t noticed the smoke. I could have burned down the whole house with everyone in it.

Have you ever noticed that the fire-brigade never seems to teach their people to check to see if the door’s open before the break it down? When I was a technical college learning how to be a plumber our instructor used to say: “Always make sure that the flame never leaves the end of your torch!” Apparently the flame had left the end of my torch and run up the pipe inside the wall. It had set fire to some wood-shavings inside the wall of the woman’s house in which I was working The “fierys” managed to put the fire out. But what a mess when it was all over. They had to smash big holes in the bathroom wall to find the fire to put it out.

Adam and Eve, as it were, started a fire in the Garden of Eden. Adam kindled the fiery-anger of God as he brought sin and evil into God’s beautiful creation. He broke the Covenant of Works that God had placed him under. And God pouring out fire and brimstone on places like Sodom and Gomorrah, according to Scripture, are examples of how much God hates sin and evil. However, we are thankful that God has provided sinners an escape from His fiery wrath. We escape through faith in Jesus Christ who rescues us from the wrath to come. But His rescue plan is not like a bunch of firemen smashing holes in walls. No! Christ’s plan to put the fire out is much more carefully planned. And it was all executed with perfect timing and surgical precision. This plan we call The Covenant of Grace. The whole Bible is the revelation of this Covenant. And in Genesis 15 we see the Lord ratify His covenant with Abram the father of all believers.

The general gist of what we’re looking at in the following may be summed up as follows, The Covenant of Grace is God’s plan to rescue His people from the fire. First we’ll put ourselves in Abram’s shoes and consider the covenant from his perspective. Then we’ll put our own shoes back on and consider the covenant as it stands today. Let’s consider this under two heads, first The Little Picture and then The Big Picture.

The Little Picture

We need to look at the content of Genesis 15 through the eyes of Abram. If we’re to understand anything of this passage we need to try to see things the way he saw things So let’s for the moment observe things as did Abram living circa 2,000 BC.

Take note that he didn’t have a New Testament. He didn’t even have an Old Testament. God spoke to him directly in a vision (Genesis 15:1) and then a dream (15:12). Therefore, take note that everything that transpired in Genesis 15 took place in a vision and a dream.

As the Lord communicated with Abram and Abram with the Lord the subject of offspring and land arose again. The Lord had already promised Abram offspring and land. So what we see before us is the ratification of this promise. In other words, the Lord in this covenant-cutting ceremony was binding Himself by His Word to Abram. He was confirming, i.e., giving Abram confirmation of His promise of offspring and land. However, if you look at the way the Lord chose to do it, you’d be excused for thinking there was  whole lot more to it than that, what, with bits of dead animals not to mention the smoking oven and burning torch. Like they say, Where there’s smoke there’s fire! So, what’s really going on here? Well, in Genesis 15:1 the LORD told Abram He was his shield and his exceedingly great reward. And in Genesis 15:6 we see that Abram believed in his shield and his exceedingly great reward. For that is who the Lord revealed Himself to be to Abram.

Notice in Genesis 15:1 that the Lord also said to Abram, Do not be afraid.” From those words we might anticipate what the Lord was going to do a little later. For in Genesis 15:12 we’re told that “horror and great darkness feel upon him” – i.e., upon Abram.

So let’s make sure we’re all looking at the same thing here. There’s Abram sitting on an armchair or whatever on his own somewhere. Then he starts to have this vision. The closest any of us will ever come to a vision is perhaps a vivid daydream. Remember when you were off fishing or riding a horse when really you were sitting at your desk staring at the blackboard in school. Well, Abram’s vision would be nothing like that. All his senses would have been heightened. He got to converse with the Lord and the Lord showed him things. The Lord took him outside and showed him the stars in heaven.

Abram also got to carve up a cow, a ram and a goat and place them strategically. He placed one half of the other opposite the other. He placed a pigeon on one side and a dove on the other. He even got to chase some vultures away from the carcasses. All of this took place in a vision. Then a deep sleep fell upon him along with horror and darkness. It was the type of darkness you could plunge a knife into – right up to the hilt! It was a scary darkness; the kind of darkness that gives you the creeps; the kind that makes the hair on the back of your neck bristle with terror. But the Lord has already said to Abram. “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.”

Then we’re told in Genesis 15:17 that the sun had gone down. It was dark. And behold, “A smoking oven and a burning torch passed between the pieces.” This is what Abram saw. This was the revelation that God burned into his heart. Abram personally witnessed the Lord make a covenant with him. This covenant is the Covenant of Grace and is still in force today.

Just before we move on to our second heading let me quote some words of Louis Berkhof. Louis Berkhof is a well-respected Reformed Theologian. He says,

The Bible teaches that there is but a single gospel by which men can be saved. And because the gospel is nothing but the revelation of the covenant of grace, it follows that there is also but one covenant. The gospel was already heard in material promise, Gen. 3:15, was preached unto Abraham, Gal. 3:8, and may not be supplanted by any Judaistic gospel, Gal. 1:8,9.[1]

Let’s hang onto his line, “The Gospel is nothing but the revelation of the Covenant of Grace.” Therefore this covenant-making ceremony must be full of the Gospel! Abraham has already heard and had already believed in the Gospel. For in Genesis 15:6 we’re told that Abram has received through faith the righteousness he needs to save him from the fires of hell. For, he has believed in the Lord who is his shield and his exceedingly great reward.

He has been justified, i.e., declared righteous, which is evidenced by his faith in the Lord. He believes in the Lord – the Lord who rescues us by His Gospel. The Lord rescues us as a fire-man might rescue someone from a burning building, someone who is about to be engulfed in the flames!

The Big Picture

Now, again, let’s be reminded that Abram didn’t have a copy of the New Testament under his arm. He didn’t have a copy of the Apostle’s Creed or the Westminster Confession of Faith. However, by the same token, the Bible tells us that Abram heard the Gospel, (cf. Galatians 3:8). So he wasn’t some Neanderthal. He wasn’t some Evolutionist’s cave-man! Abram had a true knowledge of God revealed to him. He had the righteousness of God revealed to him. And he had the holiness of God revealed to him. And all these things were revealed to him by the Lord Himself!

How can we say this? Because Abram heard and believed in the Gospel. And by believing in the Gospel Abram was embracing the true knowledge of God, His righteousness and His holiness, i.e., the things Adam lost in the Fall. In short, God was at work in Abram’s heart. God was busy reforming Abram back into the true image and likeness of God. For the Covenant of Grace, i.e., the Gospel, is the true Knowledge of God, His Righteousness and Holiness. So Abram would be seeing and understanding much more than todays’ Christian credits him.

So, let’s consider what Abram would be seeing and understanding. What was Abram doing while the Lord was confirming his covenant with him? Well, keep in mind that this was, first off, taking place in a vision. Then the vision intensified into a dream as Abram went into a deep sleep which fell upon him. The deep sleep and the darkness that fell upon him were supernatural.

It was the Lord who came seeking Abram. It was the Lord who had called him out of Ur of the Chaldeans, Genesis 15:7. It was the Lord who had come to him in this vision. He’d come now to confirm the covenant or Gospel He had already revealed to Abram. Abram was already believing in the Gospel. He was trusting in the Lord as his shield – his exceedingly great reward. So far, Abram, would have had the same basic knowledge of God stated in our own Westminster Confession of Faith. Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 7 under the head “God’s Covenant with Man” states,

The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto Him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of Him as their blessedness and REWARD, but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which He has been pleased to express by way of covenant.[2]

God has condescended to reveal Himself in His covenant to Abram. So Abram would have understood something of the great humility of God. For he saw Almighty God humble Himself to talk to him and show him His covenant. And also, as he waited for the Lord, he would have contemplated the meaning of the carcasses. They were graphic pictures of sin and death.

These were the very types of animals that were to be used in the future sacrificial system. These were “clean” animals. Even Noah, years before this event, knew about clean birds and animals. How did Abram know he was supposed to cut them in half? Well, that’s how you cut a covenant in those days. The same ceremony was still going on in Jeremiah the Prophet’s day, “And I will give the men who have transgressed My covenant, who have not performed the words of the covenant which they made before Me, when they cut the calf in two and passed between the parts of it–the princes of Judah, the princes of Jerusalem, the eunuchs, the priests, and all the people of the land who passed between the parts of the calf–I will give them into the hand of their enemies and into the hand of those who seek their life. Their dead bodies shall be for meat for the birds of the heaven and the beasts of the earth.” Jeremiah 34:18-19.

Abram had to drive away the vultures from the carcasses. He knew that those dead animals were there instead of him. He could see that God would accept a substitute sacrifice on his behalf. But he knew that that substitute would need to be worth more than a cow, a ram, goat, a dove and a pigeon! He knew that his substitute sin offering would need to be a man – a special man. There was coming a time when the Lord would say to Abram, “Take your son, your ONLY son Isaac, whom you love … and offer him as a burnt offering” Genesis 22:2.

So Abram knew that the blood of goats and heifers and sheep wouldn’t satisfy the justice of God. He knew that these things were just picture symbols of the real thing; just as in the future Moses would sprinkle the blood of the everlasting covenant on the people; just as we today sprinkle the blood of the everlasting covenant symbolized in water baptism. But Abram knew his substitute needed to be a man righteous in the eyes of God. He knew he needed to be child from heaven, a child from God Himself – a child of promise, even the conditional promise – a child of the covenant. He knew his substitute needed to be his exceedingly great reward – the blessing of the covenant; the One who would shield him from all his enemies; the One who would cover his sins against the fiery wrath of God – against death itself.

And yet what a terrible dilemma the Lord placed Abram in – IF – IF... if He had promised him descendants as numerous as the stars – destined for the fires of hell! But Abram knew, as we shall see as we follow his life, that God’s love is a covenantal love. He knew according to His covenant, God would save him and his whole house. Just as the Lord saved Noah and his whole house, so the Lord would save Abram and his whole house to which you and I today belong. For, as Peter says in Acts 2:38, “For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” And the condition of the Covenant is that we believe in the Lord and His Covenant, i.e., the Gospel. Abram, we’re told in Romans 4:11, is the father of all who will believe – in the Gospel.

So Abram sat there contemplating death as he looked at the blood and the carcasses. And as the sun had set and horror and great darkness fell upon him he would have tasted something of the terrors of hell. For hell is in outer darkness as the Lord informs us in Matthew 8:12. But hell is more than that. It’s the place where the burning wrath of God abides forever on those who do not believe in the same Lord in whom Abram believed, John 3:36.

But Abram didn’t have to worry about hell, for he believed in the Lord. The Lord who had already told him he’d be buried at a good old age. He’d been told that he’d go to his fathers in peace – not in torment, Genesis 15:15. But what a terrible and awesome sight it must have been for Abram to see the Lord appear as a smoking furnace and a burning torch! How he must have sensed the holiness and the righteousness of God in this sight. For Abram saw God reveal Himself as a consuming fire! Hebrews 12:29 says, “Our God is a consuming fire.”

We take it that the sacrificed animals were consumed as the Lord passed between the pieces, consumed by the same righteous holiness which consumes, burns up, all sin in its path! As the holiness and righteousness of God was manifested to Abram, he would have been acutely aware of his own unholy unrighteousness. However, as the torch and the pitcher meant victory for Gideon’s army over the enemies of the Lord, so the smoking oven and torch meant victory for Abram over sin and the last enemy which is death. For here Abram could see clearly that the Lord was rescuing him from his sins, from sin and death. Here he could see that this covenant was completely and utterly a covenant of grace.

God had condescended to make, i.e., to cut, a covenant with him to save him and his faithful house from the consuming justice of God. Abram could see the Gospel, the good news of his salvation as he fixed his eyes upon the Lord.

How is it with you dear reader? Is the Gospel just some billowing smoke to you? Have you at least noticed the smoke? Remember, where there’s smoke there’s fire!

Our God is a consuming fire, but His Covenant of Grace is our shield. For the Gospel reveals the One who is our shield, One who is our exceedingly great reward. However, the Covenant is the thing that stops our whole house burning down, for the Gospel deflects the wrath of God from Abram and his whole house to which we belong. It is as it were the blood painted on the lintel that protected Israel from the destroying angel at Passover in Egypt.

The Covenant the Lord cut with Abram signified what happens to unrepentant covenant breakers. They are to be consumed by the fiery wrath of God. Jesus received the fiery wrath of God as it was poured out upon Him on the cross, but not as a covenant breaker, but for covenant breakers such as us. For, He perfectly kept the Covenant by which we are condemned, i.e., the Covenant of Works (as revealed to pre-Fall Adam).

Jesus, as the Second Adam and the Last Man, kept the Covenant of Works as our representative, and even unto death He perfectly did the will of the Father. However, since the Covenant of Grace is from everlasting, God justice was satisfied by the death of Christ our substitute. Therefore, He was consumed by the fiery wrath of God not for His own sin but for the sins of His people a people as numerous as the stars! “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” John 3:16.

Jesus asked for our forgiveness and He said He was going to prepare a place for us. For in His Father’s house there are many mansions. It’s a land of milk and honey. It’s a place with no sin, pain, crying, sorrow or death, (Revelation 21:4). It’s a place in which righteousness dwells.

The Lord kept Abram waiting as Abram sat contemplating the meaning of what he was witnessing. He pondered the dead carcasses, torn in half. He pondered their poured out blood. As Jesus ate the Passover Lamb with His disciples He took bread, gave thanks and broke it. With the cross waiting for Him outside the door, He said, “Take, eat; this is MY body broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me. In         the same manner He also took the cup after supper saying, ‘This is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”

The Lord says to Christ as recorded by His Prophet Isaiah, “I will preserve You and give You as a covenant to the people, to restore the earth.” Isaiah 49:8. Make no mistake, our covenant is IN Christ. Nay, God’s covenant with Abram and us IS Christ! Christ our covenant hung on a cross between two divided places. He hung between the two places that were torn apart by Adam’s sin, heaven and earth. And He hung on the cross between a divided humanity, i.e., an unrepentant thief on one side and a repentant thief of the other, one destined for pangs in the utter darkness and the black fires of hell and the other for bliss and light in Paradise.

As He hung there contemplating what it all meant supernatural darkness fell upon Him and over the whole land and the sun was darkened, Luke 23:44-45. Horror and great darkness fell upon Him as, and like Abram, God kept Him waiting. He experienced the utter darkness of hell, “My God, My God why have You forsaken Me?” Then the fiery wrath of God consumed Him, “My heart is like wax; it has melted within Me.” Then, when His work was finished, a deep sleep fell upon Him, even the sleep of death. Then, by the Spirit, Christ entered into the Holy of Holies with His own blood, Hebrews 9:14. This was signified by the curtain of separation in the Temple, being cut or torn in two, Mark 15:38. The tearing in half of that veil means that we are reconciled to God by Christ’s blood. It means that we are no longer separated from God, that we are now joined together again. The Apostle says, “[He] was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification” Romans 4:25.

The Gospel declares that you must believe in the Lord to be saved from your sins. Therefore you must believe in the same Lord in whom Abram believed. Jesus Christ was his shield, his exceedingly great reward, for He is the sum and substance of the Gospel. For in Him and His Gospel the righteousness of God is revealed, Romans 1:17. Jesus says that Abraham rejoiced to see His day, and saw it and was glad, John 8:56.

Along with Abram Jesus rescues all who by God’s grace call on Him. He delivers us from the wrath to come (1 Thessalonians 1:10), and believe the Scriptures when they tell us about wrath to come. Abram shooed the birds of prey away from the carcasses as he waited patiently for the Lord to come. Then the Lord appeared as a smoking oven and a burning torch. The Lord is coming in like manner again. But let us not grow impatient. For “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is long suffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” 2 Peter 3:9. And the verses following say, “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with a fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”

Our God is indeed a consuming fire. And He’s going to purge the whole universe of unrighteousness. He’ll do this as He comes which is when He comes to confirm His covenant with the world, even the cosmos! He’ll separate the sheep from the goats. As the pillar of smoke and fire separated His people from the Egyptians, so the Son of God will stand between His own people and those who belong to the world. A river of fire separate them, even a lake of fire, into which the devil and his followers will be thrown.

Our God is a just God He punishes iniquity. But praise be to His name, He is also merciful! The smoking oven and the burning torch must have been a terrifying sight on a dreadfully dark night. However, the Good News is that it was simply the LORD’s way of showing Abram that sometime in the future He was going to cauterize the gaping, festering wound of our sin. It was a picture of what He was going to do to His only begotten Son Jesus Christ at Calvary. This is what was being confirmed to Abram, as we see recorded here in Genesis chapter fifteen.

It was Abram who shed the blood of these animals. God accepted his sacrifice. It was Christ who shed His own blood. God accepted His sacrifice. Therefore the LORD, Abram’s shield, his exceedingly great reward, kept His covenant He had cut with Abram. He kept it unto death, even His own death upon a cross.

Conclusion

If you’ve read this and all you’ve seen is a bit of smoke, then remember: Where there’s smoke there’s fire! Just pray that it’s the fire of the Gospel that’s burning in your heart. But don’t call on the fire-brigade to come and put it out. Call on the Lord Jesus Christ to come and set your whole house on fire. Call on Him to come and set your whole street on fire. Call on Him to set your whole country on fire. Call on Him to set the whole world ablaze with His glorious Gospel of Grace!

Father we give You thanks that You have revealed Your Covenant of Grace to us, Abram’s children. We thank You that You spared His household, to which we belong, from the fires of hell. Kindle in us anew, a fiery zeal for the advancement of Your kingdom, that Your kingdom would come, that Your will would be done on earth as it is in heaven.

May the Gospel light up the darkness of our hearts and may You make, as the Psalmist says, “Your minister’s a flame of fire”. May each of us be consumed, not by Your justice (for that is hell), but rather may each of us be consumed by Your burning love for sinners such as us. In the Mediator of the Covenant’s name, even Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.


[1] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p. 279.
[2] Westminster Confession of Faith 7:1.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Civilisations


Civilizations

If we were to think of civilisations I’m sure most of us would have a picture in mind of Greek architecture with pillars and Roman armies with banners. Indeed ancient Greco-Roman architecture has had no small influence on the character and design of many modern-day buildings in most Western cities. Doric, Ionic and Corinthian columns are legion as a façade for government buildings, and also churches!

Civilisation refers to the advancement and social development of society. But where did civilisation begin? Who started it?

Though the making of bronze and iron tools and stringed and wind musical instruments took place pre-Flood (e.g. Genesis 4:21-22), the most ancient of civilisations was that which built the post-Flood Tower of Babel as part of an expanding city in the land of Shinar. ‘They had brick for stone, and they had asphalt for mortar. And they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens.”’ Genesis 11:3b-4a. A possible and credible date for this is 2233 BC, some 115 years after the global flood. Thus, after the LORD confused their language in Babylonia, ‘from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth’ Genesis 11:9b.

Shem, Ham and Japheth, the three sons of Noah, gave their names to the three main branches of humanity, viz., Semites, Hamites and Japhethites, (see e.g. Genesis 10). ‘Regarding the division of earth among his three sons, it may be said generally, that Asia was given to Shem, Africa to Ham, and Europe to Japheth.’ Albert Edersheim. Generally speaking, Japheth produced that which would become Greco-Roman civilisation, Ham Egyptian, and Shem the Arab and Hebrew civilisations.

All civilisations would have arrived in their respective geographical locations with (albeit distorted) memories of the Flood as part of their folklore. Nimrod, the founder of Babylonian Empire, was a Hamite. Ham was his grandfather (Genesis 10-6-8). Mizraim, the founder of Egypt, was Ham’s son (Genesis 10:6). The Jebusites, conquered by the Hebrews at Jerusalem, were descended from Ham (Genesis 10:16; Joshua 15:63). The source of the Indians of the Americas, including the Mayan, Inca and Aztec civilisations, is perhaps answered by reference to the ‘Sinite’, i.e., a people descended from Ham (Genesis 10:17; Isaiah 49:12). Says Henry M Morris, ‘It is significant that the Chinese people have always been identified by the prefix “Sino-” (e.g., Sino-Japanese War; Sinology, the study of Chinese history). The name “Sin” is frequently encountered in Chinese names in the form “Siang” or its equivalent… It is reasonable to conclude that the Mongoloid peoples (and therefore also the American Indians) have come mostly from the Hamitic line.’
Civilisations come and civilisations go. However, the civilisation that Jesus is in the process of building will last forever. In the words of the writer of Onward! Christian Soldiers, ‘Crowns and thrones may perish, kingdoms rise and wane, But the church of Jesus constant will remain. Gates of hell can never ’gainst that church prevail; We have Christ’s own promise, and that cannot fail.’ Sabine Baring-Gould.

Jesus said, ‘In my Father’s house there are many mansions … I go to prepare a place for you’ John 14:2. ‘Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God’ Revelation 21:2a.

Monday, April 25, 2016

JEFF'S STORY

(The following is the beginning my attempt to write biography. My intention was simply to compile some notes with a view to finding a ghostwriter or other to tell Jeff's amazing story. That may yet happen. However, I couldn't help myself from weaving my interview notes into what I've posted below. I may even end up writing the book! I posted the following with a view to receiving comments from my friends. Thank you to those who have taken the time to read and to respond to this article already. Your comments have been helpful to me.)


JEFF’S STORY

Introduction

Jefferson ... has a story to tell, a true story, a harrowing story. To meet Jefferson is to like him. His smile is warm and his eyes are bright. His manner is friendly and his voice is quiet. Who could guess the hurt this man carries in his heart or the hellfire he’s passed through? His broad shoulders appear capable of carrying the weight of the world. Let us begin by introducing this remarkable man.

I heard about Jeff from one of his workmates. “This man has an amazing story! Someone should write a book,” he said. I was intrigued. I had bumped into Jeff when I was “scouting” for the work’s soccer team. After a hiatus of many years I had rediscovered and had somewhat recaptured the glory of my youth (at age 59) while playing indoor soccer, which is fast and furious, energetic and frenetic when compared to the outdoor version of the game. Anyway, Jeff expressed super-keenness about becoming involved. Of course, and as these things go, because of busyness at work any participation in “the beautiful game” has yet to happen! “O well then Jeff, in the meantime we can always try to write down your story.

A Bit of Background   

I met with Jeff formally and began scribbling down a pile of notes as we talked. In soft-spoken tones he began telling me his story. I would interrupt and get him to elaborate on certain points. Upon hearing it from the horse’s mouth I became even more intrigued by Jeff’s story (and also the country of Liberia) as I began piecing it all together.

Jefferson has enjoyed breathing the fresh air of freedom since touching down on the red earth of Australia in 2010. He came as a refugee from his native Africa. Drawing his first breath in 1985 in the West African country of Liberia, both whose flag (which was modelled after The Star-spangled Banner) and his name betray Liberia’s connection with the United States of America. “Jefferson” is a tipping-of-the-hat to one of the founding fathers of America and principle author of the Declaration of Independence, viz., Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826). Indeed, as per the line in the American National Anthem, “Liberia” means “Land of the Free” in Latin.

“So you’re named after one of the presidents of the United States of America? I love Thomas Jefferson and all that Declaration of Independence stuff!” “So do I,” Jeff replied. I had noticed that his workmates call him by his last name, Kollie. “Which do you prefer,” I enquired, “Kollie or Jefferson?” “Call me Jeff,” he smiled. After Jeff had left I just had to learn more about Liberia.

Let’s paint a bit more background on the canvas of Jeff’s story. The Republic of Liberia declared its independence from American colonisation on 26 July, 1847. However, it was not until during the America Civil War, (on 5 February 1862), that the United States recognised Liberian independence. From 1822 onwards, and particularly from the time of the War Between the States, Jefferson’s old country began to receive an influx of over fifteen thousand freeborn Black Americans and over three thousand Afro-Caribbeans, and freed slaves. Thus the American influences on Liberia, which included Republicanism and the freedom ideal.

In a letter to James Monroe (1758-1831) Jefferson’s namesake once said,

But it proves more forcibly the necessity of obliging every citizen to be a soldier; this was the case with the Greeks and Romans, and must be that of every free state. Where there is no oppressor there will be no pauper hirelings[1]

It seems as if Jefferson has acted upon this free advice of the third President of the United States of America to her fifth president, becoming a private in the Australian Army in February 2015. Jefferson wears his uniform proudly. I saw him marching through Brisbane with his battalion on ANZAC Day.

Annual Patriotism

There is one day of each year when Australians become ultra-patriotic flag-wavers, i.e., ANZAC Day. Apart from that one special day, as a general rule, Aussies tend be somewhat more reserved than, say, the Americans when it comes to visibly expressing love for country.

In some ways migrants, such as Jefferson, can become more patriotic than native born Australians. No doubt this may be because most native born Australians know nothing other than the peace and freedom Australia has afforded them. This creates a tendency to take these things for granted. Whereas the migrant, knowing what he or she has given up and left behind, fully embraces and appreciates the protection and freedom Australia affords them. This in turn gives an added incentive for them to thrive and to prosper as they forge a new life in their new country. But, Jefferson is not just any-old migrant. He is a refugee. He fled to Australia for safety from murderous pursuers…

Fighting For What?

I used to cynically believe that many Australian soldiers fight for the two Ms, viz., money and medals. It seems I need to add a third and more important M to my list, viz., mates. It seems to me that mates are more worthy of fighting for than money and medals.

Jefferson has become a soldier in an army that fights for peace, viz., the Australian Army. One Australian Army General (ret.) wrote a book in which he relates his war experiences and his own subsequent suffering of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Major General John Cantwell stated therein that,

Australian soldiers do not fight for lofty ideals of democracy or freedom. Australian soldiers, it has been said many times and with great truth, fight for their mates.[2]

Though Jefferson no doubt loves his mates, and would zealously fight for them, to the contrary, Jefferson ... wanted to sign-up with the Australian Army primarily to fight for the lofty ideals of democracy and freedom. He originally wanted to join as an Infantryman but colour-blindness precluded his fulfilling this ambition. He signed-up on 10 February, 2015. This young man who speaks English with an African accent – and, while living in Ghana, learnt to speak Ga, Twi and Hausa, and also who understands Kru, Ewé and Fante – is currently employed as a Storeman, and drives forklifts both great and small.

Thank you for bearing with Jeff’s story thus far. We were about to part company when, thinking of the trauma he must have gone through, I asked him how all of his past had affected him. There was pain etched on windows of his soul. But as a small cloud blows past the face of the sun so his eyes brightened and a wide smile lit up the room. “I’m fine!”

Resilience

Before we enter with him into the valley of the shadow of death Jeff would like you to know (“spoiler alert!”) that his story has a happy ending of sorts – lest he leave you traumatised!

First off, you need to know that Jefferson is unashamedly Christian, (as is his biographer). Indeed, like every good fairytale, Jefferson is now as it were living happily ever after with beautiful wife, and their three lovely children. His wife is originally from Liberia too, but they met in the humble circumstances of living in a refugee camp in Ghana where they subsequently got married. However, just as every good fairytale contains its share of make-believe evil witches and malevolent goblins, so Jefferson’s story describes battles against the evil forces of darkness, only, unlike fairytales, this is in the real world. As Scripture says,

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.[3]

Jeff and his family currently attend a church in Brisbane.

During the day sometimes Jefferson is attacked in a surprise ambush by the odd flashback of past traumatic events, and, in bed the occasional nightmare gallops roughshod echoing through the dark alleys of his mind. There is always something panting behind Jefferson, something that darts off into the shadows whenever he turns around to confront it. For one who has experienced trauma stacked upon trauma Jefferson has been remarkably resilient, (a quality the Australian Army craves). When it comes to resilience Jefferson, by the grace of God, is one of the fortunate ones, as General Cantwell writes,

Not everyone who experiences the traumas of war will develop PTSD, but in some people, especially if the trauma is intense, the horror and fear can become imprinted in the memory. This is a natural process; it’s okay not to feel okay.[4]

Thank God Jefferson is safe now and he is feeling okay.


[1] Thomas Jefferson, in an 1813 letter to James Monroe
[2] Major General John Cantwell, Exit Wounds: One Man’s War of Terror, Melbourne University Publishing, Kindle version 2013.
[3] The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Ephesians 6:12 (KJV).
[4] Major General John Cantwell, Exit Wounds: One Man’s War of Terror, Melbourne University Publishing, Kindle version, 2013.

 

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Rats of Tobruk 2016

The Rats of Tobruk Annual Luncheon 2016
75th Anniversary of the Siege of Tobruk
 
I read somewhere that,

All that stopped the Germans’ march on Egypt was the defiant garrison at Tobruk. For eight long months, surrounded by German and Italian forces, the men of the Tobruk garrison, mostly Australians, withstood tank attacks, artillery barrages, and daily bombings. They endured the desert’s searing heat, the bitterly cold nights, and hellish dust storms. They lived in dug-outs, caves and crevasses.

As you know, the “Rats” were called ‘rats” by the Germans because “They lived in [those] dug-outs, caves and crevasses.” I don’t know how true it is but it has been said that there are no atheists in foxholes, or, in our case in point, “rat-holes”! Regardless, I’m sure that many prayers, even fervent prayers would’ve been sent up to God from those dugouts, caves and crevasses seventy five years ago during the eight months’ siege of Tobruk! – prayers for personal safety, for mates, for families and loved-ones and prayers for peace.

When you think about it, countless prayers have gone up over the centuries seeking for God to bring about peace among the nations so that we can all live in safety. The so called Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven…” Those are the words Jesus taught His disciples to pray. Those are the words we have just prayed. Therefore, it is the promise of God that there will be a time of world peace, for God cannot break His Word!

We already heard that “[God] shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many people; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.

This is the Word of the LORD through His prophet Isaiah. It says somewhat of the same thing as Jesus teaches us in The Lord’s Prayer only using different words: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” – an extension of this surely is that “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.

To be sure, swords and spears have long given way to more sophisticated instruments of war. It may be true that there are only so many ways you can skin a cat but it seems that they’re always finding new ways how to kill human beings!  Even in the seventy five years since the Siege of Tobruk there has been a significant improvement (if we can call it that) in the efficiency of killing-devices. However, the point remains the same: There is a time coming, and I don’t know when, but there is a time coming when our prayers for peace will be fully answered.

Swords and spears, guns and grenades, bayonet’s and bombs, machineguns and missiles, tanks and torpedos, bombers and battleships, will all be assigned to the great scrapheap of history,  for “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.

The Rats of Tobruk at the Siege of Tobruk did their part in defeating an enemy of peace seventy five years ago. To those Rats living and dead we say a grateful thank you! To those who lost their lives at Tobruk Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this, to lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Jesus ought to know the truth of these words!

Freedom never comes for free. There’s always a price to pay. Let us never forget those who paid the ultimate price in purchasing us the freedom we still enjoy, freedom to come and go as we please, freedom to disagree with our government without being taken away in the middle of the night. Freedom comes in many forms, national and individual, but The Rats of Tobruk helped to purchase our freedom to raise our families under the Southern Cross in our home that is girt by sea.

As we hear the kookaburra laugh on the old gumtree,
As we camp by a billabong in the “lucky country”
As we stroll in the city or we swim in the sea,
Let us never forget those who died to keep us free!

Friday, April 8, 2016

THE WAY WE WERE


The Way We Were

At my ‘farewell do’ back in 1977, as I was saying ‘cheerio’ to Scotland and about to say ‘hi’ to Canada, my sister beautifully sang a popular song, ‘The Way We Were’ – ‘Memories, light the corners of my mind, misty water-coloured memories of the way we were. Scattered pictures, of the smiles we left behind, smiles we gave to one another, for the way we were’ (Barbra Streisand). For years afterwards whenever I heard that song tears of homesickness would freshly bubble up like a hillside spring after heavy rain. Yes, the way we were – I was a slightly melancholic young man heading to the ‘New World’ to start a new life.

Like a Manitoban prairie thunderstorm the ominous dark clouds of depression finally caught up with me and broke on my head some ten years later. I began to drown in a paradox of self-loathing mixed with self-pity. Who am I? What am I? Where am I? What does it all mean? I was sinking deeper into the whirlpool of the abyss. It was then that God rescued me, dragging me onto solid ground, giving me mouth to mouth, breathing new life into me and purging me of all the dirty water I had swallowed.

This year I will be returning to Scotland to celebrate my 60th at a function hall a stone’s throw from where my friends and family farewelled me almost forty years ago. It will be the first time I’ve caught up with a lot of them since then. No doubt there will be some reminiscing about the way we were. How much have I and they changed? Age has dyed my jet black hair light grey. Gravity has sculpted a few lines into the clay of my face giving me a more tired look. So much for my aging body. However, the main changes have been internal. My mind has been renewed. My soul has been restored.

Now I have a completely different relationship with Jesus Christ. I no longer use His name as a curse word. I freely speak of Him with praise. Some of my old friends may be embarrassed to hear me talk about Jesus, just as I was back in the day whenever anyone else would gush about Him. I remember being embarrassed for Cliff Richard whenever he spoke of Jesus as his Saviour on the TV back in the 70s. The way we were and the way we are now. For me it’s defined in terms of pre-conversion and post-conversion.

A Scottish friend of mine moved to New York City for a year. She was homesick. One of her aunts began to email her just one word every Sunday. My friend began to look forward to receiving a word each Sunday. It was her connection with home. She looked forward to Sundays. As I read her recollection of that time I began to be reminded of my life at present: As a church-attending Christian, I receive a word from home every Sunday – in the form of a sermon. It is my connection with my true home. Of course, I fill up from the nosebag of God’s Word every morning, but I really look forward to hearing His Word every Sunday.

Things change. People change. I’ve changed. However, God and His Word remain the same. ‘Memories may be beautiful and yet, what’s too painful to remember, we simply choose to forget, so it’s the laughter we will remember, whenever we remember the way we were.’

I look to the future; ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away’ Revelation 21:4.