Saturday, April 30, 2011

Rocky 1

My dad was pretty strict. Even when I was an adult, I had to ask permission to go out with my friends at university (I am male). In retrospect, this was his love in action, he was so scared that something bad might happen to me or my brothers and sisters, that he wanted the final say in every detail, and if at all in doubt, he would say no, the safest, easiest answer. Besides, why would you want to eat at a restaurant when mum’s cooking was better than restaurant food… (I now realize he was right). I was the eldest, so he “learnt on me”. (I can only say this now as a parent of adult children).
Dad was an Italian immigrant, and when he arrived in Australia, he could not speak the language. He relied on other distant family already here. He had no money, so he wanted to work to secure some form of home for himself.
He worked all of his life. Work was morally good, and achieved the goals he set. Rest or leisure was morally bad. Work gave dad a place in a society he did not belong to, he didn’t mind the effort involved, because he had a clear goal. And this goal was providing a place for his family to live, food on the table, and an education for his children. He always craved the education he never received in Italy. It was war years, poverty, and the need for children to contribute to family income that robbed him of schooling. He always felt inferior because of this, and he always expected the highest results from his children, who were blessed to have the opportunity of a good education in Australia.
I remember the day the teacher/world-book-encyclopaedia salesman visited our home, unexpected by me, but not my parents. They decided that these books would help our education, so despite the price tag, they were willing to spend the money. These were the laptops of the 1970’s.
Dad always expected me to top my class in grades. Fortunately, or unfortunately this mostly happened in primary school.
When the high school years came, my mum and dad thought seriously about working a little harder to pay for private school education, and in the end thinking it would help make their children doctors and lawyers, they sent us to the local catholic high school.
All that dad wanted of me was obedience, respect, and a medical degree. He was happy for me to involve myself in sport and music at school, but wasn’t so keen on the weekend commitments as he would need me to help him with various jobs he was doing as a builder or backhoe operator. I still remember dreading being called out of bed early on a Saturday morning to join my father on a work site, where I would have to watch what he was doing, work manually when necessary, clean bricks, load rocks, help change a tractor tyre, sit in the truck on the way to the tip, and generally not be at home, watching TV or working on whatever personal projects I had my mind on. It felt like torture then, but now I realize how precious those times were. Dad was often short tempered with my lack of interest or initiative, but I still remember that when he was concentrating on his backhoe, digging a serious trench for footings or for pipe lines, there would be a smile on his face. It wasn’t a deliberate “I feel happy smile” it was his go-to concentration expression. None-the-less, it was a smile I will not forget.
I was only occasionally paid for my labor, but if he did allow me to go out with friends he approved of, he would always give me enough cash to more than cover unexpected expenses.
So after high-school finished, I did get into medicine, and he was proud of me. And while doing medicine, I met Christian people who encouraged me to look at who I was and what I believed, and in my second year, with the help of Ian and Rob, I became a Christian.
Dad wasn’t impressed.
He couldn’t understand why I would be interested in attending religious weekends with other young people. Also he trusted no religious institution, believing that money was at the bottom of most people’s motivation, religious or not.
So when I wanted to go to church elsewhere the answer was no, as well as most other things I wanted to go to. Still at Uni, I was able to go to bible study, and God still ensured I got the fellowship I needed. (Dad would occasionally and unexpectedly sometimes say yes to some things I wanted to do. Mum might have had her hand in this, as well as the Holy Spirit).
I still went to mass with mum, and I still benefitted spiritually from some of the catholic fellowship in my home parish. But clearly I was now different. A born again Christian, a bible believer, I wanted to hear more strongly the truth of salvation in Jesus which I now believed. Not just the hope of salvation without assurance. In those days, the liturgy at mass seemed to place more hope on the  ongoing practice of the Eucharistic sacrament by the believer, rather than on the completed work of Christ on the cross.
But dad only went at Easter, Christmas and funerals. Catholicism was his birth religion; he had no need or desire to change. My religious convictions were a thorn in his side, somewhat.
Still, my dad loved me, and I knew it. 
I remember the day my long distance girlfriend dumped me. She was my first  serious girlfriend. I had met her at the end of my studies. I did an elective term in Darwin. She was a nursing student there. We met at the Baptist church ( I always used time away as an opportunity to attend more bible orientated churches) On the day I left we decided to seriously keep in touch, so for 6 months, while I suffered all the stress of being an intern, I would save all my change, and every weekend put it into the payphone up the street from where we lived, ringing Rachael and spending as much time speaking to her as I could. When I finally got some holidays, I was straight on a plane to Darwin, despite dad’s foreboding.
In Darwin, it was quickly apparent that the fire had gone out in Rachael's heart, as far as I was concerned. There was another Christian guy who had won her heart, and I was was uncomfortably second best. I rang home to tell my parents what had happened. Besides being heart broken, I felt stupid for wasting money on a flight to Darwin. (I guess these things are best to happen face to face. There was no email or web in those days).
There were tears during this phone call. But they weren’t mine, they were my dad’s!!! He was so upset for me. I thought he would be telling me off with plenty of I-told-you-so’s, but instead, he was crying out of love for me and my painful situation. He was worried I might decide to take my own life. He just wanted me home. He loved me, and I knew it clearly.
Then there was my first car. The diesel Gemini. I was a Christian who didn’t want to own anything much in case I became engrossed in them. I prayed that God would find me a cheap bomb. But of course, in my idealistic faith, I expected a bomb that would keep working. Dad knew better. We went to the car yard and we test drove what, to me, felt like a Mercedes benz. A small, not too old, diesel Gemini, which was worth $5000. Definitely more expensive than what a true Christian should own, is what I thought. Dad knew better, and he bought it for me.
It saw me through the next 6-7 years with minimal repairs. 
 But did Dad have faith? If he died would he go to heaven?
Occasionally something he would say made me wonder, but I never had assurance for him.
Certainly I would never expect him to join me on a weekend of Christian teaching, especially “Spring School” at Chatswood each September.
Over the next 10 years I would meet my wife, marry, settle in a country town a long way from Sydney, and have children. We saw dad whenever we were in Sydney. He visited us occasionally. He saw my twin boys start their swimming careers with some state swims in Sydney. In 2000, we had a holiday in northern NSW. We were en route at Lismore when mum rang to tell me that dad had been diagnosed with leukaemia.
I knew that he would die of this eventually. I was devastated. I had to visit a public toilet at the time, and as I looked at the tiled floor in my shock and grief, I saw, in the tiles, an outline of a cross. This was no miracle, as I had often looked at tiles on floors and toilets and concentrated on the shapes until I could define a cross, as the cross symbolized everything I believed and trusted in. The cross means forgiveness, love and heaven with God for eternity. The cross means the price has been paid. The cross means that God is in control.
But this day I didn’t try to look for a cross it just happened, it sort of stood out almost in 3D. I want to emphasize that if anyone else had been there they would have just seen me looking at the floor covered with tiles, they would not have seen anything unusual, because nothing unusual happened. BUT, for me, I knew God was telling me, don’t panic, I am in control, this is within my will and plan.
I felt comforted and still a tear wells up when I think of God’s love for me on that day.
Fast forward another six months. 
Dad suffered a stroke during his chemotherapy and was confined to hospital for a period of time. Mum stayed unswervingly by his side, even spending the nights by his bed. I decided it would be good to give mum a break, so I drove to Sydney and spent the night with him in hospital. That night I woke to hear dad asking God to forgive him. I was able to get up, pray with him, and reassure him that God does forgive us. I thought nothing further about it at the time.
But over the next 5 months of his life (his last), dad changed. He was less critical, he reconciled with people. And come September, he willingly came with me to spring school.
Early in December, his brother came to visit from Canada. It was traditional that dad should be there at the airport to meet him. But for the first and only time in my life, I over-ruled dad telling him he couldn’t go. It still feels wrong when I think about it. He was wheel chair bound, and not very well. I went instead. Uncle was visibly upset not to see dad there. We got over it.
Christmas day arrived. Somehow, and unbelievably, dad insisted and succeeded in attending church (the catholic mass).
On new years day, dad died.
I know that because our Father sent his Son, I will see my father again.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Memories of Greg

I met Greg in my third year of Medicine. He was a year ahead of me but had taken a year off that year.
When I think of our first encounter, I think he broke the ice, me being on the shy side, and the newcomer. We were sharing a car trip back from a weekend away, a spiritual retreat we called a “house party”.
His voice was gentle, light, his eyes were kind and alive. He had a calm smile.
There was a light shower as we drove over the hills close to Chatswood, and a rainbow appeared.
He said that he loved rainbows as they were God’s promise never to destroy mankind again by flood.
His love for God came through.
I was awkward, but also newly alive in faith, and I realized at that point that he loved me in the Lord. What a gift.
Not long after this I struggled with legalism. People from cultish churches with strong arguments, had shaken me. I felt as though I was unsaved, not meeting the stringent requirements they presented, from what seemed to be a strong biblical perspective.
I had discussed my struggle with a number of my spiritual superiors at University. People either higher in years, or longer in the faith. I presented the verses that were presented to me, and asked for help. They tried but failed to help me, and I felt very much alone and unsaved. Somehow, I got speaking with Greg.  (I didn’t see him often at this stage). He calmly explained that I should listen to a tape he owned. Recorded on it was a man named Geoff Bingham, speaking on grace.
I gratefully accepted the gift and as I drove home I put it in the cassette player.
As I listened, I became totally absorbed with the preaching of a fallen race, in the grip of sin, unable to satisfy the perfect demands of God’s law. I saw myself, lost, hopeless, unworthy. And then I saw the cross. A quiet, beautiful and pure man carried all of my troubles and destroyed them. I learnt a new word. GRACE.
I think I stopped driving and sat in silence, awed by God and his great love for me.
This little tape Greg gave me turned everything I was suffering into joy. I listened to this tape over and over, shared it with friends, giving it away in the end.
I had to learn all I could from this man whom Greg had introduced me to, and I did.
I can never repay the kindness that Greg showed me on that day.

By 1987 we were in the same year, in the same core study group, at the same hospital. We met each week for bible study. We played table tennis in the student building. We shared meals. We were blessed in the friendship we had in Christ.
One day Greg asked if he could play me a song he had written.
He sat at the piano, and started to play and sing for me the words of psalm 96 which he had arranged into a beautiful song.  He explained how the song had seemed to flow out from him as a gift from God.
I was immediately touched by the beauty of this song.
He told me a friend from his church was going to record that song as part of a CD he was putting together. He invited me to come to the studio in the Blue Mountains later that year, where I heard Greg sing on the recording on that amazing 16 track tape machine. I also listened to the flute solo being added at the end. I was an awestruck fly on the wall.
This was my first ever experience of a recording studio. It was also my first introduction to worship song writing.
That song and that particular recording has blessed thousands of people in Australia. What a privilege for me to have been there at its early stages and to see God’s hand at work, spreading the impact of that song. I have never grown tired of singing or leading that song.
It’s only now that I realise that Greg was for me, a song writing mentor.
How I would have loved to have continued sharing my own song writing journey with him.

With the Lord
We both married and graduated and settled a long distance from each other. He became a rehabilitation specialist, myself a country GP.
Late in 1998, Greg rang me to tell me he was seriously ill. Apparently the first symptoms happened while he was enjoying some touch football. And at the time didn’t seem too serious, but later showed otherwise. Still he sounded ready to fight with all he had.
I was holidaying probably in March 99, when I thought I should ring to organise a time to meet up.
Sadly and awkwardly I learnt that that day was the day of his funeral.
I had missed seeing him once more, but look forward to the Day when all that we hope for is fulfilled.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

In a little while

“In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.” This is from John16:16.

I recently heard a sermon on this passage. Jesus is telling his disciples that he is going to die, but then rise again. During the sermon, I started thinking; how did Jesus know he would rise again? Was he at all doubtful, what if it didn't work?
The important realization I came to was that he knew what was going to happen by faith. Not by some special connection he had with his Father in heaven, but by the special connection we all have with our Father in heaven... faith. Jesus went to the cross by faith, knowing all he knew of the scriptures, of the plan of God, of his position in this plan, and all the joy that welled in him through his prayer life.
The implication is that we are able to know things as surely as Jesus did. For example, that he will return, and that we will rise again... in a little while.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Patience in the midst of crisis.

Do you ever have bad days?

Like when something bad happens at work, that you can’t fix. As a doctor, that sometimes means telling someone they have cancer, or, worse, that they have lost someone they love. Other times, it’s just days at work, that seem to never end.

I noticed on one of these days that when a charity rang for donations, I was not willing to help. I was too absorbed in my current crisis to think about a nameless person on the other end of the phone hoping to get some money from me.

But that made me think, what if God was like that. Imagine praying to God, but finding out he was too involved in some other crisis around the other side of the world to be interested in my situation.

Amazingly, I don’t think God is like this.

I think he has time for even the small things, in spite of the big things.

I can’t prove this to anyone; I can simply point to some examples that appear to show that God cares for every detail.

One example is Jesus being arrested. All four gospels record the event mentioning the detail that Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck at one of those present to arrest Jesus, cutting off his ear. The man was Malchus, a servant of the high priest. In Luke’s account, (Chpt 22:51) it mentions that Jesus then touched the man’s ear and healed it.

If I was being arrested with a view to the death penalty, I think I would be too self absorbed to be concerned with a non life-threatening injury in an enemy.

But God's ways are much higher than mine (thankfully). So we are able to pray at any hour for any need. And God does listen, and He does care.

I guess I could learn some points on patience in the midst of crisis.