Sunday, April 29, 2012

THE RATS OF TOBRUK

I recently became Chaplain to The Rats of Tobruk and had the pleasure of attending with Dorothy and some of the remaining "Rats" their 71st "Seige Remembrance Service" in Brisbane, Australia.

In the Brisbane "Courier Mail" QWeekend magazine April 21-22, 2012 there was an article called "IN THE NAME OF THEIR FATHERS: Honouring Queensland's forgotten Rats of Tobruk", by Mike Colman which details something of what the "Rats" were involved in back in 1941. http://www.newsspace.com.au/qweekend

The following is most of what I said at the recent luncheon I attended as their new Chaplain:

Let us come before God to read His Word & pray.
We find the following in Psalm 124,

“If it had not been the LORD who was on our side,” Let Israel now say—
2 “If it had not been the LORD who was on our side, when men rose up against us,
3 Then they would have swallowed us alive, when their wrath was kindled against us;
4 Then the waters would have overwhelmed us, the stream would have gone over our soul;
5 Then the swollen waters would have gone over our soul.”
Blessed be the LORD, Who has not given us as prey to their teeth.
7 Our soul has escaped as a bird from the snare of the fowlers;
The snare is broken, and we have escaped.
8 Our help is in the name of the LORD,
Who made heaven and earth."

These words were read to you last year as you celebrated the 70th Anniversary of the Siege of Tobruk. The Chaplain who read them, Rev. Archie McNicol, a friend of yours & mine, has recently, as you know, gone to be with his Lord like so many others from our group over the years.

Let us pray: Almighty God, Maker of Heaven & Earth & all therein, who gave His Son Jesus Christ to redeem all who would believe in Him, who gave us the Holy Spirit to enable us to believe, we thank You for Your grace & mercy towards us.

On this the 71st Anniversary of the Siege of Tobruk we thank You for all who served there in the cause of freedom & justice. We thank You for the gallant fight these men gave in the face of evil & insurmountable odds. For those who were wounded & maimed in their bodies, those who were afflicted in their mind & soul, we thank You that You in Your Word provided them with hope of a better, safer & peaceful future.

For those loved ones who remained at home during these stressful times, mothers & fathers, sisters & brothers, sons & daughters – we also acknowledge the pain & suffering they went through & while praying for You to protect their loved ones as they sought to cut off the ugly head of evil that was raised in that foreign & sun-blistered land.

Lord, war is Hell – Hell for those on the front lines & Hell for those who keep the home fires burning. Father, we long for that Great Day when You will cause all wars to cease!

We pray for health & continued safety for all involved with the Rats of Tobruk. We pray for all the innocent who are suffering from the effects of wars. Ease their burden. Heal their wounds. Comfort the grieving. Be with the widows & orphans. And, today, be especially with those who are remembering fallen mates, family members, dearly loved ones. We come before You through Jesus Christ our Lord & Saviour. Let us pray together the words the Lord taught has us:

Our Father, which art in heaven,
Hallowed be Thy Name. Thy Kingdom come.
Thy will be done, in earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive them that trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil.
For Thine is the Kingdom,
the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

I was greatly honoured to be invited to be a Chaplain for the Rats of Tobruk. I told my wife Dorothy & she said, “How can you not do this?”

I must admit that my knowledge of the Rats was limited, extremely limited. In fact I had to wrack my brains. I don’t wish to make light of anything, & I hope I’m not rushing in where angels fear to tread, but I remember seeing a movie when I was a lad in the 60s called “The Desert Rats” starring Richard Burton & some Aussie actors. I haven’t seen the film since then but I believe that it was made in 1953 with the usual Hollywood disclaimer of not letting all the facts get in the way of a good story! – things like the “Desert Rats” name itself actually referring to the British 7th Armoured Division.

O, anyway I’m sure most of you have discussed these sorts of things & other smaller & larger historical inaccuracies many, many times. However, I merely wish to make the point that books, movies & documentaries, along with word of mouth, all serve to keep the flame of freedom burning in Australia. Lest we forget!

Regarding the movie I have alluded to, when I was a lad, I thought I was going to be watching something like “Tales from the Riverbank” or perhaps some documentary about rodents. For, are “Desert Rats” not Gerbils by another name? But what about the Aussie connection? It may be technically incorrect, but tongue in cheek & in layman language, are desert rats, gerbils not really kangaroo rats! A definite Aussie connection! But regardless of what kind of rats they were these men were true, blue Aussies! We give thanks from the bottom of our hearts for their sacrifice as they sought to defend our freedom, the freedom we enjoy at home.

“Australians all let us rejoice, For we are young and free” – thank you Rats of Tobruk! Thank you for your sacrifice, your service to your country, its people and our Christian values!

I read somewhere that these brave men of Tobruk “Lived like rats but fought like lions.” I get stressed when the kettle boils & the phone rings at the same time. One can only imagine how stressful it would have been to face the danger of cold steel bullets & hot shrapnel for eight months in front of an agitated & heavily armed enemy. Shells exploding. Bullets cutting the air. Sand in your eyes. Sand in your ears. Sand in your mouth. Sand in your weapons. Sand in your rations. Sand, sand, sand! They lived like rats but fought like lions! Thank you!

Yes, war is Hell. There is no glory in it & neither should it be glorified. Men merely did their duty. Many paid the ultimate price. Life is a precious thing when you only have one life to live, one life to give. But defending Tobruk was a noble cause. And we humbly honour & gratefully acknowledge the immense courage displayed by these defenders & lovers of freedom. Regrettably, freedom only ever comes at a very great price!

We honour all who would seek to protect & defend our Australian values, our freedom. “A fair go!” “Mateship!’’ And what are these things other than the teachings of Jesus who says, “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you”? That’s the “Golden Rule”. In other words He wants us to love God & our neighbour as ourselves. Paradoxically, sometimes war is necessary to bring about peace! Jesus Christ laid down His life to bring us peace, i.e., peace with God & our neighbour.

Scripture refers to Jesus Christ as the Prince of Peace. “Of the increase of His government & peace there will be no end” it says in Isaiah. When we pray in the Lord’s Prayer the words, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” we are praying for the increase of the Prince of Peace’s government & peace throughout all the earth.

Let me conclude by reading Isaiah 2:2-4 that clearly illustrates this:

“Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the LORD’s house
Shall be established on the top of the mountains,
And shall be exalted above the hills; And all nations shall flow to it.
3 Many people shall come and say,
“Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
To the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways,
And we shall walk in His paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
And the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
4 He 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.”

May the Lord be pleased to bring this promise to pass in the very near future! Amen.

Monday, April 16, 2012

CURTAIN CALL

As we get older we tend to take stock of our life. When will the curtain close for the last time? How well has any of us performed on this earthly stage God has constructed for us? For the Christian the hearing the Lord’s words, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’ will drown out any applause from man, be it a Nobel Prize or a funeral eulogy! Frank Sinatra did it his way. Edith Piaf had no regrets. Good for them! Me? What will my final bow mean to the masses, to anyone? Well, Scripture says, ‘Whether you eat or drink, whatever you do, do all to the glory of God’ 1 Corinthians 10:31. Therefore, my hope is that I have lived my life to the glory of God by enjoying Him every moment, including my last moment on earth. Some members of the Christian ‘Hall of Fame’ or rather ‘Hall of Faith’ are listed by the author to the Hebrews in Hebrews 11, people like Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel etc. Then he writes, ‘Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God’ Hebrews 12:1-2. The Apostle Paul was able to write the following, ‘For I am being poured out like a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on the Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing’ 2 Timothy 4:6-8. Notice that Paul is saying that all true Christians will receive a crown. The Lord says, ‘Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown’ Revelation 3:11. Therefore for the Christian ‘curtain call’ is actually ‘coronation call’. But, let’s not be too hasty! As Christians even our swan song is about glorifying God! We need to be like the twenty four crowned elders in John’s vision sitting on thrones surrounding the Lord’s throne, ‘clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads’ Revelation 4:4. These, ‘cast their crowns before the throne, saying: “you are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created’ Revelation 4:10-11. The idea then is that any glory for any worthy thing you may have done in life belongs to the risen Lord. But never mind that. So does every unworthy thing! And that is the real beauty of the whole thing. As John the Baptiser said of Jesus, ‘Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’ John 1:29. The curtain call for the Christian is all about preparing for court acquittal before the Judge of all the earth. ‘If anyone sins we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous’ 1 John 2:1b. Therefore, our final bow is not about how well we have done in life. Rather it is about how well Jesus Christ has done to make us right with God. He is the Judge, but for the Christian He is also our Defence Attorney. In Him the Christian has been justified, i.e., declared righteous on account of Christ’s righteousness. Jesus has already taken the place of the one being acquitted and has already paid the price for the Christian’s sin against God. Thus the acquittal. If we understand a curtain call to mean a final bow at the end of life in which we return to the stage to be recognized by the audience for our performance, then what will you be met with? Applause? Will people rise to their feet and give you a standing ovation? Yes, some may stand and applaud you for some of the things you have done, but the difference between Jesus and us is that when He enters every knee bows! He is magnificent! He is glorious! He is beautiful! He is perfect! He is King of kings and Lord of Lords! Praise Him! After His resurrection He was seen by over five hundred Christians at once (1 Corinthians 15:6). He was worshiped by His Disciples (Luke 24:52). Why such praise for Jesus at His ‘curtain call’? ‘Being found in the appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father’ Philippians 2:8-11.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

BALANCE OF POWER

The term ‘balance of power’ tends to speak of conflict. In Cartesian ‘dualism’ there supposedly is a tug-of-war between mind and matter or mind and body. In morality the supposed conflict is symbolised by Taoist ‘yin and yang’ representing good and evil. In Federalism the term ‘balance of power’ expresses the tension between the federation and the states or provinces, such as in America, Australia and Canada. Among other things, the American Civil War or The War Between the States illustrates this conflict. In physics we can watch magnets with positive and negative charges attract and repel iron filings. In Chemistry acids and alkalis illustrate the same. In Anthropology there is the male and female tension. And on it goes.

All conflict in every realm of existence is resolved by looking to God. ‘In the unity of the Godhead there are three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit’ (Westminster Confession of Faith). Notice that the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are equal in unity. The Three are One and the One is Three. The One does not lord it over the Many, or the Many over the One. There is no conflicting dualism or ‘yin and yang’ in the Godhead. Theologians refer to this perfect balance of power as ‘equal ultimacy’. The One and the Many, Unity and Diversity, are kept in perfect balance in, by, and through the Triune God.

My old college professor, the late Dr Francis Nigel Lee, was fond of paraphrasing the opening verse of the Bible thus: ‘God Triune, at the beginning, created the tri-universe.’ Dr Lee would point to the fact that God created two heavens and one earth – a tri-unity! Indeed, the Triune God, the original One and Many, is reflected throughout creation. The Creator keeps everything in His creation in perfect tension. Therefore all dualistic conflict is resolved by introducing a third party, i.e., God. He holds the balance of power. As Jesus said to Pontius Pilate, ‘You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above’ John 19:11a. ‘Power’ is often used interchangeably with ‘authority’ in the New Testament.

Since His resurrection from the dead Jesus Christ now holds the balance of power. He says, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth’ Matthew 28:18b. Jesus, as you know, is God and Man in one Divine Person forever. Therefore, His divine nature does not lord it over His human nature or vice versa. ‘Two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without confusion. Which person is very God and very man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and man.’ (Westminster Confession of Faith). Notice the use of the word ‘distinct’ when describing the two natures of Christ. No dualism here. No conflict. This is because the two natures are distinct, not separate. For example, the current conflict over the so called ‘separation of Church and State’ in Western Society is resolved by exchanging the word ‘separation’ with the word ‘distinction’. Both are one, (i.e., one nation), under God. We make distinctions when discussing the Godhead, the two natures of Christ, or the nation. However, each distinction is sovereign in its own sphere. The State ought not lord it over the Church or vice versa. In Scripture the Church does not hold the sword of justice. The State does. The State does not hold the keys of the kingdom. The Church does. They are distinct. Yet both are one under God.

God holds the balance of power because God is the balance of power. Introduce the Triune God into the equation and all conflict, even between good and evil, light and darkness, Heaven and Hell, is resolved. For each of these, when distinguished, remains sovereign in its own sphere.  In other words, they derive their power or authority from God, which is to say that they serve the purpose for which they were designed by God. Yes, ‘The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and our children forever’ Deuteronomy 29:29a. Therefore, even when we struggle to understand suffering and evil in the ‘tri-universe’, we know that because God holds the balance of power ‘all things work together for good’ Romans 8:28a. 
(Excerpted from my upcoming book: LAST CALL & Other Contemplations)