The lonely barber

It was time for a haircut.  I’ve been to this barber before and was impressed by his old-style professionalism.  His wealth of local knowledge was another drawcard.

The narrow alley to his shop was almost void of any pedestrian traffic, and as I walked into his shop I found the old man sitting on an old leather couch, bent forward as he read the daily newspaper.  Or had he nodded off?

“Do you have time to cut my hair today?” I asked.

“My customers have deserted me.  I’ve been open for two hours already and no one has come in yet.”

I remembered seeing the hand-written sign out on the kerb.  “Barber open Sundays and Tuesdays. 9.00am – Noon.”  The letters in different colours of chalk seemed to be written by a hand who knew the spelling, but lost its steadiness between points.

“Well, then I’m the lucky guy today,” and followed his gesture to sit in the grand old leather chair with shiny steel lattice footrest.

In front of me an array of scissors, combs and brushes were neatly arranged on dark green narrow pieces of towels.

He took my glasses off, carefully collapsed the sides and rested them on an open space on the towels.

The mirror in front of my reflected the face of a man well over seventy behind me.

“I’ve been in this business for more than forty five years now.  I choose to keep working, but have cut it back to two days per week.  I’m seventy seven this year.”

The way he selected and handled the scissors surely tells the story of a master of the trade.

“How do you want me to cut it?”

“There’s not much on top, but don’t cut the rest too short, thanks.”

He draped the barber’s mantle over my shoulder, took a sheet of paper towel, folded it neatly and tucked it between the mantle and my neck before he pulled the velcro tight.

With remarkable speed he sniped-sniped-sniped the scissors – all in the air.  That was just the warm-up.

“I used to have enough customers to have the shop open for six days a week.  People came in from the smaller towns too, but they have deserted me.  I wonder if I should just shut the doors and walk away.”

I tried to comfort him.  “May people do not even cut their hair these days; the styles changed. It’s become fashion to have one’s hair unkempt.  And others just do it themselves.  You can tell by the untidiness of the young folk’s hair, can’t you.”

He was not fishing for comfort, neither was he looking for an solution to his problem.

For a while the only sound was the clicking of the blades of the scissors.

He broke the silence by telling me and abbreviated version of his life story.  After migrating from Italy following the war, the two newly weds settled in one of our of capital cities, but later, for the good of the two children, they decided to move out to our town.

“It was good then.  It took some time to get to know people, but we were well received.  And the kids loved it.”

He carefully selected another pair of scissors, and even chose another comb.

“They finished school and left to go back to the big smoke, leaving us alone.”

Alone.  Deserted.  The words rang in my ears.

From what I saw in the mirror he should have been finished by now.  But there were apparently some hair on the back of my head that needed more attention.

“One came to visit us last week.  She just left this morning.  It was terrible!”

“I know. We always find it hard to see our lot go after a visit”, I chipped in.

“No, not that.  The whole week with her here was terrible.   We quarrelled all the time.  All of the past and all the mistakes we make rearing them were brought up, over and over again.”

I was beginning to wonder if my ears were safe in the way of the sharp blades of the scissors, now markedly unsteady in his hands.

“It happens all the time.  My wife stopped talking, and I am left to do the fending.  I’m tired of doing it.  Maybe if it’s better if she does not come to visit again.  Just leave us alone.”

It’s funny how the Lord sometimes put you in a position where you don’t have a choice but pastorally care for people.

I tried, “Well, you have some grandchildren.”

“No!”  I traced helplessness in his voice.  “There is only one, but we may not contact him, and he is barred from contacting us.  We haven’t  seen him in four years.  We can only sent money for Christmas presents.”

Why me, Lord?, I secretly asked.  Why do I have to listen to this angry tirade of a lonely barber?  I gathered my thoughts as I heard the words of the apostle, “Make the best of every opportunity …”

“This is where we have to apply our faith,” I said.  “God is a God of the lonely and forgotten.  He is always listening when we pour our our grief and sorrow at his feet.”

“I do go to mass from time to time, but I think I should stop doing that too.  My wife is nagging me to go every day.  Why?  God is not listening. And He abandoned my children!”

I was sure there was nothing on my head to be cut any shorter, yet he picked up another smaller pair of scissors, which disappeared in my ears and my nose.

“Oh, boy,” I thought.  “Just take it slow.  At least I visited your shop today!”

“I’m ready to give it all away.  A life of hard work, rearing children who now turn their backs on us, relatives who died in my homeland, and customers who left me alone.”

Maybe he should ask someone else to write more steadily on his chalkboard; the shaky handwriting might scare some customers away, especially if one keeps in mind the sharp scissors and the barbers razor.

Speaking of it.  He gave a step towards mirror and picked up the sharpest instrument in his shop.  With remarkable skill he unfolded the blade, grabbed what seemed like a leather belt hanging from a hook and swiped the blade forwards and backwards over the belt to give it an even better cutting edge.

It was time for me to say something, not only to help him not to injure me, but to calm his heart.  As he was scraping the blade to line the edges down the hairlines of my neck, I said, “Christmas is coming.  And it’s the story of God showing mercy to lonely and lost sinners by giving us his Son.  Perhaps you have reached a point in your life where you need to put your hand in the hand of Him who died and was raised to make us His children and give us joy.  You now that carol, ‘Joy to the world’, don’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Well, trust Him who knew loneliness better than any of us.”

I could also tell Him about Christ who cried out, “Why have You forsaken Me!”, but left it to the Spirit of God to convince my old barber that a living faith in Christ is what his heart was crying out for.

With a tearing sound he undid the velcro of the mantle, removed the paper towel, puffed some powder onto my neck and brushed it away.

At the counter our hands exchanged money, and I noticed that the till was empty.

And so was his heart.  And mine.

May the words of the Gospel reverberate in his mind when he hears, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!”

Written by D. Rudi Schwartz

 

Climbing peas

Unlike other years, the seeds got into the ground on time this season.  As expected, in about a week’s time they pushed up and started to show their little heads. Same packet of seeds, same soil, same time, same water.  All got fertiliser at the same time.  Yet, some grow faster than others. Along the trellis the leaves of all of them looks healthy and strong, but some pushed out their tendrils in search for something to anchor the plant as it climbs. It’s amazing how strong these little squiggly ten tacles are. IMG_0871 Then, some growing next to the one who succeeded in climbing the trellis, twist their tendrils around their strong-growing neighbour, and so they get help to mature and bear fruit. But other plants just fall over, not achieving the same result.  Instead of growing up, they remain low.  They too have tendrils.  These little anchors get tangled up with those of the neighbouring plant, and together they hold one another back from growing upwards.  They still look healthy, but they need help to grow upwards to bear fruit. I visit my garden everyday to marvel at the growth of those who found the the way upwards.  But most of the time I spend with fallen over the peas.  Because they are not anchored, they choke the growth of those next to them. It’s the same way with Christians, even those growing up in the same environment. God gives the growth, and He provides the fast growing, strong and mature members of his family to provide the anchor for the others to help them up and reach the top, producing fruit to the glory of God. Others just keep falling over.  The sad part is that they prevent those around them to grow upwards too.  They are so demanding, spreading their spiritually wandering tendrils so tightly around their neighbours, that even they can’t mature. We thank God for the fast growers, proving the necessary help for others to mature and reach the top. We pray for those who are struggling.  Peas can’t look for strong support and supplant themselves for help.  But Christians can make sure that they lean on mature Christians for help. Weaker Christians should constantly be aware of is their restraining effect on those around them.  They might justify their weakness in faith be finding another weaker brother, resulting in both of them never growing upwards. The reason God put us on the face of the earth is to bear fruit to his glory.  He provides growth, but He also calls us to grow up as we feed on His Word, and His Son, our Anchor.

We just want to pray

Is it just in Australia where people just pray?  Or does it happen in other countries and in other languages too?

Just praying

Just praying

I am referring to the the use of the word just.

It is not uncommon to hear this little word used just repeated ad nausea in a prayers.  “We just come to You …”  “We just want to ask …”  We just want to pray for …” “We just want to thank You for …”

I wonder, why just?  If someone new to the English language hear us use just over and over again, would they not think why just?

The word can mean fair (the punishment is just), merited (the reward is just), exactly, precisely (just five meters), recently (the phone just rang), directly (just next to the stove), simply (just so good), only ( just last year), perhaps (it just might work), almost (my work is just about done).

The average person praying to God using just will not have all these meaning in mind when he or she is just asking or thanking God. But just what do we mean when we use this little word?  Especially when we use it over and over again.  I counted more than 20 times in a prayer of about two minutes.

For the person of reformed background there is nothing just in himself to form any ground for his petitions. He merits nothing and just ask on the basis of God’s grace.

If just is used to describe any limits exactly (or precisely), we would need to think very carefully.  Isn’t it at times that we are just so vague in what we pray for that we fall back on just?  In these cases our just can actually mean only, which unknowingly would pray and put limits on

God’s power to really answer our prayers.  “We just pray for rain” can mean that’s the only thing we ask for. Isn’t it a good thing that God does not always answer our prayers they way we bring our petitions before Him?

I suspect just in most prayers might have the meaning of simply.  That’s good, because it reflects humility.  But maybe we should use the humbly, “We humbly ask…

Next time we pray and just ask, lets keep this in mind:

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20–21, ESV)

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. (Colossians 1:9–10, ESV)

No restrictions, no perhaps, no only, no just.

As a matter of fact, nowhere in the Bible is just connected to a prayer request.

The beauty and the beast

Dr R.C. Sproul

Dr R.C. Sproul

“In the ninth century, when the Latin Mass began to be enforced, I’m confident the same discussions took place. Some, I would expect, argued that the Latin Mass carried with it a gravity that communicated the glory of God, a certain sense of mystery and timelessness. Others, I’m quite sure, pointed out that the people for whom Jesus died could not understand what was being said. How can we say that this body was broken for you if you don’t know what we’re saying?”

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Infallible Church?

If ever I was confused by the teachings of the Roman Church, it is now.  I certainly do not want to stand in the shoes of an unchurched unbeliever right now, trying to make out what Roman Christianity is teaching.

You know the expression “clear as mud.” This is it.

Pope Francis delivered a daily homily in the Chapel of Domus Sanctae Marthae on Wednesday May 22, 2013 (more).  Amongst other things he said:

“The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all! And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.” (Text from page http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2013/05/22/pope_at_mass:_culture_of_encounter_is_the_foundation_of_peace/en1-694445 of the Vatican Radio website)

To provide some clarity Father Thomas Rosica  issued this statement:

Pope Francis has no intention of provoking a theological debate on the nature of salvation through his homily or scriptural reflection when he stated that “God has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone!”

So, the Pope was apparently not speaking ex cathedra – (more).  He did not pronounce an infallible and immutable truth (what a relief!).  He was however preaching the Word of God.  In Reformed circles a minister of the Word does not have the luxury of sometimes say immutable things and other times not.  He will (and should) be pulled up if he preaches anything else but the Word of God.

Father Rosica however is of the opinion that “Pope Francis has no intention of provoking a theological debate on the nature of salvation through his homily or scriptural reflection when he stated that ‘God has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone!‘”

He offers this clarifying explanation:

“A non-Christian may reject a Christian’s presentation of the gospel of Christ. That however, does not necessarily mean that the person has truly rejected Christ and God. Rejection of Christianity may not mean the rejection of Christ.  For if a given individual rejects the Christianity brought to him through the Church’s preaching, even then we are still never in any position to decide whether this rejection as it exists in the concrete signifies a grave fault or an act of faithfulness to one’s own conscience.  We can never say with ultimate certainty whether a non-Christian who has rejected Christianity and who, in spite of a certain encounter with Christianity, does not become a Christian, is still following the temporary path mapped out for his own salvation which is leading him to an encounter with God, or whether he has now entered upon the way of perdition.  (more)

However:

“Only through this Church can one obtain the fullness of the means of salvation since the Lord has entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant to the apostolic college alone whose head is Peter.”

Without being sarcastic or contemptuous, I have to conclude that sometimes the Pope knows it all and sometimes he doesn’t; sometimes he chooses to not preach the whole truth, and sometimes he does; sometimes one must be saved through the [Catholic] church, sometimes not; sometimes one has certainty of salvation, sometimes not; sometimes one has some knowledge, sometimes one has to suffer confusion.

Maybe I should just read the Bible which is the infallible and immutable Word of God:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-5, 10–14, NIV)

 Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. (John 3:18–21, NIV)

Atheists who comes to the Light and believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, can be sure that He “will never dive them away.” (John 6:37)  On the other hand, if they have no room for His word, they have the devil as their father (John 8:44).

Pope Francis, you have it wrong.  The message of last Wednesday was not the truth of God’s Word.  What you said is confusing; many walking in darkness could construe your words to mean that they will eventually end up in heaven just because they tried their best – even denying Christ.

 

Is sex something ugly?

There is no or little of censoring of publications in Australia – so it seems. It idea of freedom of choice for every consumer is the principle which rules what we choose to see.

The Government(s) have however thought it good to help the public to make their choices.  The Classification Board serves the public, because, “The Australian public relies on classifications to make choices about entertainment products and to decide what is suitable for those in their care to watch or play.”  (more)

Films, electronic games, books, TV programs, etc, are usually classified as G, PG, M, MA, R, and X. G is for general, PG for Parental Guidance, M for Mature, MA for Mature Audiences.

Apart from the fact that blasphemy is not included in any of the classification system, about everything else goes – provided that what is said, done and promoted do not “offend”, “demean” or “ridicule” or “provoke or perpetuate intense dislike” of a person or a group of persons, “on the grounds of age, colour, gender, national or ethnic origin, disability, race, religion or sexual preference.” (more)

So far so good, leaving alone the undefined meaning of “moral, artistic or other values”. (What, should we ask, defines “moral” and “artistic”?  “What is a “value”, and why are some values good and others bad?)

TV programs containing nudity, sex scenes, bad language, drug use, or violence are announced to contain these aspects.  The bad language, drug use and violence contained in these programs erode our culture and is by definition not beneficial to G, M, MA, or whatever audiences amy be.  But this principle applies not only in films or publications – it is generally bad, and not only bad for underaged children.  To prevent people (and more so children) watching programs containing these things is good, and generally it should serve the purpose to educate them that these things are bad for “moral, artistic or other values.”

There is no room for nudity and sex scenes should in any publicly released material aimed at the general public, more so when depicted outside of marriage (medical journals and other academic research are not aimed at the general public, but should still publicised discerningly).  One can, if looked through a very big magnifying glass to see what is written between the lines, probably see that the Classification Board understands this principle. It is from this premise that one can endeavour to define the term pornography.

But like violence, drugs and bad language, nudity and sex are not intrinsically bad or sinful. Don’t for one moment think that I want programs and films with nudity and sex in it not to be classified, even if it depicts the healthy marriage relationship.  No, what happens between a husband and his wife should remain in the bedroom – we understand this very well: moms and dads for this reason shut their bedroom and bathroom doors.  Nudity and sex is something exclusive and private when it happens within the confines of for what reason God created it.

My concern is that when programs and films containing sex and nudity are grouped in with vices like drug use, violence and bad language. Sex and nudity, as a criterium for what can be seen by adults, and not by children, in this context are construed as something ugly.  Desiring it, looking at it and enjoying it puts one in the section of society that enjoys bad things.

Little wonder that sex is seen as the forbidden fruit which should be enjoyed only when one stretches the rules of what is good and bad to the daring and the immoral.

The solution: keep sex and nudity out of TV programs – not because it is intrinsically bad, but because it can only really be good within the framework for which God created it: the holiness of the exclusive relationship between a married man and the wife he married (or for the gender sensitive out there: the relationship between the woman and the man she married).

Fact is, in spite of all the good intentions of any Classification Board, sex outside of marriage has become the major instrument in the breakdown of morals: family units and the value of family have been undermined, divorce and de facto relationships have increased, the number of one parent children are skyrocketing, teen pregnancies and abortions are out of control, and homosexuality is accepted as absolutely normal, etc.

The way sex and nudity are depicted through TV and films indeed “contain content that children find confusing or upsetting”. (more)

 

Definition of Family now a Political Issue

We thank God regularly for the privilege of freedom of religion in our country – which seems to be the case in most western democracies.

What we however need to have an open eye for is that matters of faith, and therefore traditionally seen as matters of the Church, are taken from the domain of the Church and relabeled as political issues.

Marriage, an institution of God, is one of the issues which has now been labelled as a political issue. All other related issues like same-sex marriages, homosexuality, abortion, genetic engineering, etc. fall within this “political” field. The freedom of the Church in these matters are taken from the Church and put squarely in the political domain.

To claim that we have freedom of religion in our democracy, is only true in as far as the Church remains within its assigned (by politicians) corner.  The principle that the Church can do its work in freedom, which includes preaching and spreading the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ in its fulness, including the impact of this massage on society, is now compromised:  the definition of what the work of the church is, is now in the hands of the law-makers.  The principle of separating the spheres of work between Church and State has seen a paradigm shift – the State oversteps its limits and destroys this principle.  After encroaching on the sphere of authority of the Church and assuming more and more rights by enlarging its own sphere of authority, it is now easy for the State to charge the Church for interfering with the work of the State.

Fact is, the boundaries have shifted.  And it seems it is going to shift a lot more.  The sphere of authority assigned by the State to the Church will shrink dramatically if this trends continues.  Yet, in the same time, what is left for the Church will still be sold as “freedom of religion”.

For the Church to have courage and stand up for its God-given authority in the sphere assigned by Him for the Church, will be the challenge.  It is probably at this junction where many martyrs of the past stood and decided it is their duty to obey God rather that the State.

The Case of Family First of New Zealand is a good example.

During the same-sex ‘marriage’ debate prior to the April 17 passage of the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill, Family First was a major force in educating and mobilising the public to stand up for marriage being between one man and one woman.

After passing of the Bill, Family First was deregistered as a charitable organisation.  The reason:

Brendon Ward, the General Manager of Charities Services, said “Family First’s main purpose is to promote particular points of view about family life.  Under the Act promotion of a controversial point of view is a political purpose.”

 “The Commission argues that Family First’s efforts to represent the voice of 80%-plus of families on the anti-smacking law or half of New Zealanders on attempts to redefine marriage, for example, have no ‘public benefit’, and that it is in the ‘public interest’ for Family First to be deregistered.”

Read more.