Shakespeare is regarded as one of the foremost writers in the English language since Elizabethan times. The era that saw Shakespeare write his classics also saw the publication of the King James Version of the Bible in 1611.
Now, I’m a bit of a literature fundi and enjoy Shakespeare. One of my favourites is Sonnet 130, My Mistresses Eyes:
My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.
So, if we take Shakespeare’s description of his mistress she would look something like a dull-eyed, pale woman whose breasts do not make a stir, and whose hair is a little out of control and resembles wire. He also describes her breath as reeking which brings to mind mussels, garlic and onion. Her manner of speaking seems to be discordant and she does not tread like a model when she walks, but she makes a bit of a boom boom going down the street. If we take it to a level of hyperbole, might she not make ripples in water glasses like the approach of the T-Rex in ‘Jurassic Park’?
For all of those flaws he loves her. Were Shakespeare’s mistress to pen a sonnet about him, who knows what she might have written about his flaws.
This is precisely like my relationship to the Sharks.
I came to appreciate rugby at a late age and it happens that owing to the place of my birth I came to support the Sharks by default, a team that had its heyday in the 1990s. Known as the Banana Boys in those days the team re-branded to ‘The Sharks’, this around the time they managed to win promotion from the lower Currie Cup league and compete for the final of the Currie Cup, then the gold standard in South African rugby, when it meant something.
Through the inaugural years of the Super Rugby competition between sides from South Africa, Australia and New Zealand the Sharks were always the bridesmaids, but never the bride. The title proved elusive and in 2007 when they played that year’s final at home in Durban a refereeing error handed the title to the Bulls in the last moments of the game. The years 2015 through to the present have represented the low water mark for the team and they present the appearance of Shakespeare’s mistress: pretty ordinary looks when compared to other teams.
And yet I love them, though of course not in the same way as my family. The team is made up of young men and their families, older coaches to mentor them, all the backroom staff that keep things ticking over, and all of their families. And then of course the fans. I feel comfortable around fellow Sharkies.
The history and present of the team reflects highs and lows, successes and failures and generally resembles the serialised and dramatic features of a soap opera…that men watch.
Through supporting the Sharks I have come to learn humility. And the lesson that it is only really a game after all and that the Kingdom is more important. It sure doesn’t make life boring though.
Many years ago now I was part of a year-of-your life missions program and truth be told I loved the classroom bit the best. Studying Theology was a dream come true for the 23 year old student that I was then. The lecturer took us through a course called ‘Apples of gold’. Many years later and I don’t remember the content of the course however I remember the verse that the course was named for – Proverbs 25: 11: “The right word at the right time is like apples of gold in settings of silver”.
It is said that comedy is really about timing when delivering the punchline. There’s nothing that says that a punchline always has to be funny. A word correctly spoken at the right time is like apples of gold in settings of silver.
It should come as no surprise that God’s timing is always perfect and His words are always full of meaning, purpose and power. Right in the beginning Scripture says that God created the heavens and the earth merely by speaking (Genesis 1). Not being a theologian I’m not acquainted with all that that means but I do know power and awesomeness when I see it, and that’s impressive.
The best I can do is give instructions to my kids and requests to my wife. It very seldom has the desired effect. However nothing of what God has ever said has ever failed to perform precisely what He has intended. I like that, because that means when He makes a promise, its better than money in the bank. Its solid.
From the point of view of the New Testament, Jesus is the Word in the beginning who was active in creation:
In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He existed in the beginning with God.
God created everything through him,
and nothing was created except through him.
The Word gave life to everything that was created,*
and his life brought light to everyone.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it.*
John 1: 1 – 5
At the beginning, God gave instructions to Adam and Adam categorised and named all the animals (as an aside, did you ever wonder what language God, Adam and Eve spoke with each other? Something which we may perhaps learn in eternity where all things are known). It is clear from a basic reading of Scripture that God communicates all the time and this holds true for the people He has created. Language and communication is a gift and life would in fact be incomprehensible without it. God is communicating all the time.
In the days of Peleg, Scripture records that people were united in rebellion against God and were building the Tower of Babel. Language can unite but it can also divide and be an impediment, and on purpose God caused the people on the plain of Shinar to have different languages. The lesson there I think is that language as an organising principle for sinful endeavour is bad. And it was appropriate for sinful people to be confused and scattered.
People are always trying to explain the mechanics and purpose of language, like Marshall McLuhan, a contemporary Canadian who theorised that ‘the medium is the message’ which is a little silly. Lots of people try to be edgy and unique, like McLuhan who suggested among other things that Western society emerged from chaos because the medium of the written word arranged in lines from left to right caused society to seek a similar order in their world. With respect, my personal belief from years of observance is that ‘the message is the message’, not the medium.
An idiom doesn’t mean idiom because it is an idiom. See what I mean?
Scripture is replete with meaning because whatever is going on, whether judgement or creation or revelation, motivation, prophecy or praise there is communication. God is relational. With God there is no tech in between. Picture a group of millennials out at a social event, sitting on a couch but not in real conversion with each other, all on smart phones, staring down at screens and messaging each other like they’ve forgotten how to converse. You know, with their mouths. Well, God isn’t like that; there is no technological barrier between us and God. In fact God’s communion with us involves the totality of language but even goes beyond it. When praying and we don’t know what to pray for, Scripture says the following:
And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.
Romans 8: 26
That kind of understanding is beyond language because sometimes we do not even know to express longings to Him.
Language is a gift but can also be a tool for corruption, unfortunately. The shadow of the tower of Bable thus casts it’s influence in the areas of religion, commerce, national discourse and entertainment.
In the Middle East and generally in the world today, Islam has claims against Christianity and its spread. The Muslim is obliged to read the Qur’an in Arabic instead of the vernacular, rendering it extremely difficult to access unless of course you speak Arabic. Would God insist on Arabic and reveal a text like the following random excerpt from the Qur’an?:
“He is the One who created you from mud, then predetermined your life span, a life span that is known only to Him. Yet, you continue to doubt. He is the one GOD in the heavens and the earth. He knows your secrets and your declarations, and He knows everything you earn.
No matter what kind of proof comes to them from their Lord, they turn away from it, in aversion. Since they rejected the truth when it came to them, they have incurred the consequences of their heedlessness. Have they not seen how many generations before them we have annihilated? We established them on earth more than we did for you, and we showered them with blessings, generously, and we provided them with flowing streams. We then annihilated them because of their sins, and we substituted another generation in their place.
Even if we sent down to them a physical book, written on paper, and they touched it with their hands, those who disbelieved would have said, “This is no more than clever magic.” They also said, “If only an angel could come down with him!” Had we sent an angel, the whole matter would have been terminated, and they would no longer be respited.”
That’s a random sample from the sixth chapter of the Qur’an. I know you may think I’m being a little unkind and I certainly haven’t gone out of my way to find the most poetic passage from the book, however from the excerpts I have seen the prose is basically like that all the way through. Not exactly a page-turner for someone who has grown up with the Bible with it’s poetry, theology soaring like buttresses in cathedrals, figures of speech and salty, flawed characters who speak in idioms or rowdy market-place Greek.
Trying to figure out pronoun-heavy text in the Qur’an and its applicability seems to me like doing an Afrikaans comprehension exam. Whilst on my second glass of merlot. With my brain tied behind my back. What I’m basically saying is that coming from revelation in the Bible I find it difficult to appreciate the holy book of Muslims.
Many of the chapters and verses of the Qur’an are difficult to understand and apart from it’s claim to be a divine revelation, many people might never make an effort to read it. Because of it’s claims of divine origin some do read it. It may not surprise you to learn that many Muslims do not read it regularly.
When I consider the beauty of Isaiah 40, one of my favourite passages of Scripture and compare with other sacred books the world over, (I know it’s subjective but) the cadences and turns of phrase are familiar and uplifting:
He gives power to the weak
and strength to the powerless.
30 Even youths will become weak and tired,
and young men will fall in exhaustion.
31 But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
They will walk and not faint.
Couldn’t the Holy Spirit communicate the truth and see to it that the human writer rocks the artistry of it as well? It’s a rhetorical question. Of course He could and did.
As recorded in Acts chapter 2 when the Holy Spirit fell on the church that was gathered, the Christians spoke to the crowd in many tongues. God’s idea for man was to have many languages and He speaks to them thus. It’s not merely as if God does not mind communicating with people in a way they can understand. He seems to go out of His way to do so. There’s nothing quite like hearing the warmth of the gospel in the language closest to your heart and heritage. And crucially, the church maintains a brotherhood where language is not that much of a barrier. I have been to Mozambique and fellowshipped with Christians who only speak Portuguese or a local dialect. In Revelations 21 which refers to people gathered in heaven before God, verse 24 speaks of the nations (ethnos – everyone in their distinctive people groupings, encompassing different languages) who walk in His light.
In business there is a particularly heavy emphasis on obfuscatory language, which basically means writing or speaking in a way that actually makes it difficult to understand. Why would someone do that you ask? Great question. I suppose people in the corporate world enjoy playing word games. Maybe they’re compulsive crossword puzzlers too. In the corporate world today its all about branding and having hegemony over how the employee uses language. A good example is the use of the concept of the ‘Employee Value Proposition’, or EVP. Not content to merely pay staff a salary, the EVP is communication imperative by the company to do 2 things; (1) use the communication about their remuneration policy towards the employee as a branding opportunity, and (2) manage the experience of the employee. So the employee has no context to discuss what he thinks of the salary, he can only listen to the company’s view of what they pay him or her, and use their language to describe in what way he agrees with their philosophy. There are tons of things that companies do all the time like this that hinder communication because it’s oh so lovely to control your employees.
Countries use propaganda all the time to stifle debate and frame actions taken by the State as virtuous. It’s an example from fiction but the principle is the same: in the dystopian novel ‘1984’, the State bombards its population with messages through the ‘Ministry of Truth’ which is clearly no such thing.
WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH
Such self-contradictory thoughts are quite common in the way governments function and particularly how politicians speak with the ‘common rabble’.
In the entertainment world typified by Hollywood there is no such thing as pure art for its own sake. The story is always used as a vehicle for communication. Sometimes it’s descriptive but most often the director or studio doesn’t only tell us a story, they also tell us what to think about it. I suppose they have the money and/or the artistic vision and they are entitled to do with the story what they want and the public is not obliged to buy into that but usually its just way too slick to resist.
The X-Men movies are a message about mutation, a romantic notion of evolution. The Marvel universe of movies is a message about modern myths. Disaster movies are a message that doom is inevitable on a vast scale but that the indomitable human spirit will see to it that some will always survive. The Twilight films and ’50 Shades of grey’ are about how the forbidden is exciting. There is a message, an agenda in everything produced by the entertainment industry.
Language and speech is a gift that can be used for good or selfish gain. I like very much the attitude expressed by the songwriter of the ‘Big Daddy Weave’ track, ‘My Story’: “If I should speak, then let it be…of the grace that is greater than all my sin…” (There’s more to the song but that is the idea in a nutshell). I recommend you look up the track on YouTube.
The highest subject of study is God, there’s nothing greater, but in the context of language the highest endeavour we can put our efforts towards is to praise God and to spread the message as far and effectively as we can.
I knew Christine from years ago when I first started formal work, which is going on a bit now. She sold me a policy and I never regretted it, unlike sometimes when I’ve had dealings with brokers.
I had the type of affinity for Christine that was there because she was a really nice lady. Merely a feeling that she was a real human being and didn’t treat me as a mark and was always polite and genuine in the handful of times I met with her. Perhaps that made her a very effective broker. I have remembered her with fondness in the intervening years. On anyone mentioning her name I could recall her friendly face, and hoped that life was treating her well.
It was a shock then when I heard that she had ended her own life in depression. So vibrant, doing a good job, with a family and then all of a sudden that’s it for those left behind.
It goes to show you that people sometimes hide their pain well and you never quite know what is going on with another person, be they friend or stranger. If we all had to lay bare our wretched fears and confess all our heinous acts, deepest insecurities, profound regrets and take stock of how badly we have messed things up, I reckon we would be scared spitless. As I remember Christine, I think about ‘for whom the bell tolls’, for us all but for me too.
There is no shame in admitting weakness, in fact it’s essential, although sometimes it’s best to keep that between ourselves and God. However, let’s admit that and not be afraid to show it.
I love the book of Isaiah. In it you will find an echo of the gospel in the passage of ‘the suffering servant’. You will also find some of my favourite verses:
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
Isaiah 40: 29 – 31
Notice that the description of the one who hopes in the LORD moves from soaring on wings to running without weariness to walking without faintness. It’s the opposite of what we might expect. Sometimes flying is not possible, and you have to run. Sometimes running is out of the question and all you can do is walk.
Today is one of those days where I’m walking, but at least I’m walking in the LORD.
Let us come to Him in our very great weakness and receive His very present strength.
I keep an informal account of my stress levels on a day to day basis, partly detached interest and partly because keeping track of something helps a person to manage it. After all, you can’t normally change something when you can’t put figures to it.
I call it the F-Index: the time of day after waking up at which my frustration or anger spills out into the F word that is not polite in good company. If you don’t know which F word then rent a movie like ‘Goodfellas’ or ‘Bad Boys’. On the particular morning I decided to put pen to paper about this my F-Index was 07h13. Now, that may seem early and put me in a hopelessly bad light but the context was driving in traffic with the possibility of being late for work. Not that the context mitigates my use of the word but it does provide, well…context. And believe you me, on some mornings the F-Index has been earlier than even that.
Conventional wisdom and research as to the particular question of swear words suggest that swearing when stressed or in pain does actually help deal with the stress or pain. As an aside, does it occur to you that we might be more stressed in this day and age? Or have people been uttering swear words with similar regularity throughout history? Interesting question however I lean towards the idea that it’s gotten more prevalent these days. In the current election season in America for example, candidate Donald Trump often uses cuss words in speeches and the truth be told, the crowds love it. Because, that’s the way that many ordinary people speak themselves.
When the Lord called Isaiah to be a prophet and begin a ministry (chapter 6, the year that Uzziah died), Isaiah’s reaction at seeing God was to immediately realise that he was a person of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips and that now his goose was well and truly cooked because he had seen the Lord is his holiness. Were the people in the year that Uzziah died a particularly salty people with foul mouths? Or could it be that they spoke horrible things about one another and God? Or griped the way the Children of Israel did in the desert? Or actually used words that God’s children should not use? I have questions, no answers, and an observation. Not being a theologian, I don’t know precisely at this moment what Isaiah was referring to by unclean lips, but I theorize about what it might mean. An observation however: no matter the reason, it seems clear that whatever the uncleanness Isaiah was referring to it originated from sin in the heart. In Isaiah’s account of when he saw the Lord, an angel touched his lips with a coal from the altar and his sin was dealt with.
On 26 March 2016, on Easter weekend of all times, the Sharks played a game of Super Rugby against the Crusaders in Durban and lost 14 – 19. The Television Match Official was responsible for adjudicating on a number of incidents, including tries as well as events leading up to them which saw the Sharks lose the match. As reported in the media (see references below), the Shark’s director of rugby approached the TMO on two occasions and without going into specifics, we can infer that highly impolite words were used. This is a breach of SANZAAR rules and admitting culpability at a hearing the Shark’s director of rugby was fined A$5 000.00 per incident. Plus legal costs. In local currency this amounts to more than R100 000.00. If I were to apply the same standard of cost to myself, I would have been wiped out long ago.
This is where the other F-word comes in: forgiveness. He forgives our sins, and of importance to me, my sins and my many infractions of the command to ‘let no unwholesome talk’ come out of my mouth. There is far more Scriptural basis than merely Isaiah 6 and Ephesians 4: 29 for avoiding cussing and speaking what is helpful. There are far more verses about His forgiveness and grace however, including the final words of Scripture in Revelation: “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen”
www.rugby365.com Gold sanctioned for crude behaviour
The sequel to ‘My Big Fat Greek wedding’ was released last month here in South Africa, and features the same protagonists, Toula and her zany Greek family making their way through another chapter of life.
In some ways the Portokalos family resemble any family today. In the sequel, patriarch Gus Portokalos continues in his mission to see to it that everyone who is not a Greek gets educated in what it means to be Greek and why that is preferable to what they originally are. Laying claim to being a direct descendant of Alexander the Great, Gus at least has the honesty to find out whether his claim is true and submits all his family information to ancestry researchers.
Gus never really doubts that he is a direct descendant of Alexander the Great and Toula intercepts the reply from the ancestry researchers and tweaks it to provide Gus with the confirmation he is looking for.
While it is a movie with a lot of charm and is worth two hours wiling away a weekend it illustrates a point, and that is our need for connectivity to the past, a heritage. As far as Toula is concerned, Gus doesn’t need to know the actual truth, he is as Greek as anybody can be Greek.
We all come from somewhere and it’s a good thing to be proud of our heritage. My heritage includes the family name Watridge, from 1820 British settlers to South Africa; the family name Jefferies of Franco-German origin through William the Conqueror, a Norman who invaded England; the family name Tamlin of Welsh origin; the Legg family name, of Scots heritage; the family name August of Italian origin (so that’s why I like pasta so much!).
If I had the means I might be able to trace my lineage from Adam and Noah through Japheth and Magog, who was the founder of a number of Celt tribes, the original Irish and Welshmen. My wife’s family name hails from England and in the course of time, people groups from all over the world migrated and mixed with all other people groups to which they went. There is no modern equivalent except perhaps what is going on in Europe right now with Middle Eastern and African migrants flooding into Europe.
People with an English heritage like my friend have found their way back to England, mixing their original heritage with a South African flavour. The truth is that we are all related to one another, from a point just after the ark landed on the mountains of Ararat. We are all connected to a heritage, a lineage. From the ark and looking backward we are all descended from Adam into the people groups we see today.
We all bear the marks of Adam’s original sin; no people group is more virtuous than another, and none is less virtuous than another. We have different social models and different political organisations however we are all recognisably the same family.
As useful and as interesting as this is, its fact but not truth. We all come from somewhere and it’s good to know that however it can distract from what is real. It can be argued that truth is simply what is from God’s perspective.
John the Baptist was ministering to the Children of Israel, trying to lead them to repentance and as recorded in Matthew chapter 3, he tells the Pharisees and Sadducees that they shouldn’t try to refer to Abraham as their father as that would count for nothing in the Kingdom. The Pharisees and Sadducees used their relationship to Abraham as a mark of arrogance and a justification of why they didn’t have to listen to John’s message and repent. They were genealogically correct but that wasn’t the point of what John was getting at.
From the 3rd chapter of the Gospel of Mark:
33 Jesus replied, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” 34 Then he looked at those around him and said, “Look, these are my mother and brothers. 35 Anyone who does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”
The truth is we are part of God’s family by adoption, grafted into the vine and if we live in Him, then we are part of a far greater heritage than lineage by Adam. The second Adam (Jesus) is greater than the first Adam and he has many brothers.
In Adam we all bear similar markers; we:
• Wear clothes (as Adam and Eve did after the fall, at the beginning),
• Procreate (fill the earth and subdue it),
• Sin (all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God),
• Seek to organise and classify the natural world, and indeed all that can be classified, doing as Adam did.
In Christ, as Christians we all bear similar markers; we:
• Have made a commitment to Christ,
• Repent often,
• Read and apply Scripture,
The truth is that the heritage of God’s spiritual family will endure when all else no longer does.
When the teacher of the Law, Nicodemus, came to speak to Christ (as recorded in John chapter 3), Christ explained that ‘flesh gives birth to flesh, but the spirit gives birth to spirit’, and that Nicodemus – as proud a history and heritage as he had with the Children of Israel – needed to be born again to enter the Kingdom and family of God.
Father Abraham had many sons. May sons had Father Abraham. I am one of them and so are you. Let’s praise the Lord.
When the prophet Job was tested and lost just about everything, after he had contemplated his losses, he asked questions of God which basically boiled down to ‘why me?’ In turn God peppered Job with eighty or more questions that although Job wouldn’t have an answer for, Job would be able to read between the lines and get the message that perhaps he would simply have to concede that his perspective was limited and to trust God.
Questions are valuable and invite contemplation. Some questions actually don’t have any answers – at least that we would know – and only in the mind of God is everything known. The following is a sample of some of the questions that I’ve been thinking about lately:
Will the South African cricket team ever win a world cup of any iteration?
For as long as I’ve been following sport, cricket has been there and has provided part of my identity as a South African male. The T20 final will be played tomorrow between England and the West Indies. Once again, in a final, South Africa is not there to finish things off and win. In every cricket world cup that South Africa has been a part of there has been an epic choke at one time or another. Some believe that the national psyche is damaged by years of racial politics in sport and that is the reason we will likely never win it. I would be happy to be proven wrong.
How do the leaders of countries get themselves and us into such a mess?
Robert Mugabe, Jacob Zuma, Barack Obama, Tony Blair, Vladimir Putin, David Cameron, and foremost in my mind lately, Angela Merkel have taken their countries to some pretty dark places in situations that have marred their legacy and some that are still developing now. History is supposed to serve as a lesson in what mistakes not to repeat and it seems that the current crop of world leaders is doing a pretty bad job. Is it because they have lost their perspective? Or are surrounded by advisors with an agenda? Or are they simply out of their depth? What is wrong with us the voters who keep electing them?
How far will the political West go in submitting to Islam?
There was a time when freedom of speech was vigorously safe-guarded in the West and it appears that since 9/11 the political class in the West (US, UK, Rest of Europe) came to the conclusion that if their countries treat Muslims with more respect and cede a bit of their freedoms, that everyone would be able to live in harmony. Rodney King once famously asked in the context of race relations in the US, ‘cant we all just get along?’ Well, what is free speech worth to you? Are you willing to submit to Islam? This is basically what the geo-politics now boils down to. You are allowed to praise Mohammed, however if you criticise Mohammed what will happen? I you remove the freedom of your citizens to criticise Islam what will the results be? Can we even guess?
Will there ever be an end to ‘racism’ as a political tool?
According to the Scriptures we are one race, the human race. And we’re not even a very nice race at times when you come to think of it. We have major problems, moral problems, mental problems, spiritual problems, you name it. We are one race but many ethnicities, so more properly if we display bias towards or against a people-group we are committing ‘ethnism’. Because of the complete over-use of the term ‘racism’ it has essentially lost its meaning. Regardless of what it is called, I’m not sure there will ever be an end to people using ethnic differences to manipulate groups of people for political gain. Sadly.
Will we run out of oil soon?
Objectively speaking, the oil deposits trapped in the earth are finite. The Daily Mail website reported today that the Saudis have built up a war chest amounting to slightly more than 2 TRILLION dollars in preparing for the day when oil deposits will run out. They’re the guys who are running the biggest oil cartel in the world and they know that the fun will stop someday. When it does they will have a purse that would be the envy of a hundred Gupta families. By the time that happens people will have figured out a way to live without the oil. That’s what people do. We’re a sinful lot however we are collectively very clever. You can bet your last buck that someone will make a heap of money out of everyone though.
Is there anything better than a braai?
I’m not sure. Will let you know later this afternoon…
You’ve probably heard the name: Bernard L. Madoff. It’s been in the news but maybe you’ve forgotten the salient points; Bernie Madoff was born 29 April 1938 and is about to mark his 78th birthday while serving year seven in custody in a 150 year sentence.
Bernie is in prison because his fraud was profound, and frankly unprecedented. When time came for his sentencing the federal guidelines had only envisioned fraud amounting in the millions of dollars. Bernie had committed fraud to the tune of $64.8 billion, over 40 times what legislators had envisioned as the maximum that a fraudster would filch. The investment management division of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities, which was founded in the 1980s, received investments from individuals, other funds, banks and companies and promised a return of 10%. Such good returns – even in years when the markets did poorly – could not be replicated by other investment firms who wondered how Bernie was managing to do it all.
Most people just thought he was awesome at investments and did not question things too much. Bernie however was engaged in a Ponzi scheme of epic proportions and probably didn’t intend for things to get so out of hand. But it all came crashing down on 11 December 2008 when he was arrested, and if anyone had to guess they might imagine that Bernie knows by now – if he knew anything – that it simply wasn’t worth it.
The financial toll was staggering for the countless investors who trusted Bernie; some couples and families were literally wiped out, and there are people who literally lost millions. Those investors who were flimflammed proverbially put all their eggs in one basket. This idea doesn’t make much sense in this savvy and risk-averse culture however there are always people taking big risks for a potentially big reward. As long as there are people with money there will be schemers with a way to re-distribute the wealth their way.
You have to have money to make more of it. It doesn’t grow on trees and certainly didn’t in the Garden of Eden. Genesis records that the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil had seeds and that Eve considered it good for eating, which is how we know it wasn’t a stack of $100 bills. Traditionally, wisdom means that we mitigate risk and manage it, hence investment firms, stock brokers with portfolios, long and short term insurance. Whole industries are predicated on the idea of risk management and risk-aversion.
How different this is in the Kingdom of Heaven, which seems to make little sense in the light of our daily, worldly experience. The Kingdom of Heaven says in sum that we should put all our eggs in one basket if that means that we trust God with everything. In the Kingdom, diversification is bad and the economy works very differently.
In the Kingdom, the first will be last and the last first. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. The poor in spirit know that they are in need and that this world’s economy could one day Madoff them, but God’s economy never will. It may seem foolish to trust God that much and to extravagantly ‘waste’ one’s life doing his will but those who do are blessed. Do you remember the story of the woman who broke the alabaster jar of perfume and poured it over Jesus? What that woman did was profound and Jesus understood the gesture, and the disciples did not, and that woman is remembered for the right reasons. It seemed wasteful, however to that woman, the contents of the jar were worth a lot and that made it a sacrifice. Another lesson here: you can’t worship Him enough.
Jesus told a parable of the Master who came to settle accounts as recorded in Matthew 18. This illustrates that the Master’s accounting is precise and what is more, fair and balanced in accordance with the degree of skill of the servant.
The world’s economy is vastly different from God’s economy however the principle of debit and credit can be applied to the keeping of books. His books always balance and where there is a debit – as there is from time to time – He uses his Grace account to wipe out the debt.
Bernie Madoff owes a moral debt for the crimes he committed and in the economy of God – if Bernie Madoff wants to appropriate it – that moral debt can be wiped clean.
Matthew 6: 19 – 21
19“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
I remember as a very young Christian attending Edgemead AoG before it became trendy to do so. Before Powerpoint presentations and sound systems and Hillsong (that’s how far back I go), there was Pastor Noel Cromhout and John Martin as elder in the congregation.
We would sing ye olde classic hymns that didn’t need drums and electric guitar and I think everyone was pleased with the arrangement. And though I never really spoke with elder John Martin, just from his demeanour at the pulpit and his general smoothness, I considered him a rock star and wanted one day to be like him. He has since fallen asleep and yet the memory of him remains to this day.
There’s something about experience in life and the perspective of having been through it that is genuine and timeless. Just this past weekend I was reviewing the singing scenes from ‘The Sound of Music’ with my daughter, who has yet to enjoy some of the classics that I intend to introduce her to. In one scene Fraulein Maria is dancing with Captain von Trapp and the subtleties of their reaction to each other speak volumes. She gets red-faced dancing with a man that she has feelings for. How demure, how realistic if you compare it with the ham-fisted, overbearing and over-the-top way of telling stories in movies nowadays. Bad writing, CGI and near-porn is not art, no matter the budget. Several films spring to mind.
I reckon that’s why people love the classics. They have stood the test of time and date well. I also think of Clint Eastwood’s classic, ‘The Outlaw Josey Wales’ where the script writer came up with pearls that are quotable today, and so much more appropriate than our rap culture type of language today that relies on profanities beginning with an ‘s’ or an ‘f’.
From the movie:
Senator: Fletcher, there’s an old saying, to the victors belong the spoils.
Fletcher: There’s another old saying Senator. Don’t [pee] down my back and tell me it’s raining.
The 1993 movie ‘In The Line of Fire’ feature’s Eastwood’s character trying to get his law enforcement partner to bring back an old-fashioned word: cockamamie. Everything about Eastwood in that movie is classic.
I appreciate very much the old timers that have been through it all and have heaps of experience but almost zero the arrogance; I could only hope to be as wise some day.
Proverbs 4 advises that wisdom is really important (and from my limited experience, superior to mere knowledge):
4 My children,[a] listen when your father corrects you.
Pay attention and learn good judgment, 2 for I am giving you good guidance.
Don’t turn away from my instructions. 3 For I, too, was once my father’s son,
tenderly loved as my mother’s only child.
4 My father taught me,
“Take my words to heart.
Follow my commands, and you will live. 5 Get wisdom; develop good judgment.
Don’t forget my words or turn away from them. 6 Don’t turn your back on wisdom, for she will protect you.
Love her, and she will guard you. 7 Getting wisdom is the wisest thing you can do!
And whatever else you do, develop good judgment. 8 If you prize wisdom, she will make you great.
Embrace her, and she will honor you. 9 She will place a lovely wreath on your head;
she will present you with a beautiful crown.”
Of course the acquiring of wisdom comes at a cost of life experiences; failures and first chances squandered so that second chances take on new meaning, learning the lesson that only He is really in control, that our ability to manipulate things is illusory.
He is the one we should always look to…and I’ve found that the old timers are great reflections of the fear of the Lord, the beginning of wisdom;
As Fraulein Maria says: When the Lord closes a door, somewhere He opens a window.
Today is one of those days when I look at the news and almost lose hope for the human race. In addition to my own personal sinful proclivities, I learned that Islamists have reportedly crucified a catholic priest over the holy weekend, along with the news that 70 or more Pakistani Christians were murdered by ‘suicide bomb’ as they were celebrating the Easter holiday in a park. Never mind the attacks in Brussels last week that took the lives of more than 30 Belgians.
It’s difficult to be able to look beyond that and connect with God in the midst of this context. How much more difficult must it be for the Christians who are directly suffering?
From an article by Joseph Scheumann on www.desiringgod.org, the author says that suffering:
Is multi-faceted and complex (there are more ways of suffering than Smartie colors)
Happens in a context of community; we seldom suffer alone, church is about sharing the load with fellow believers,
Prepares those who have suffered to minister to those who are going through a similar crucible,
Is a battleground where there are two options (a lesson learned from Job): curse God or praise Him in the midst of suffering,
Prepares us for glory; after all, this world is not all there is.
Scripture says in the book of Isaiah that Jesus himself was a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering.
Try and picture the following verses as Believers looking back on the times they may have doubted God and felt overwhelmed with their mortality and now in heaven can say the following:
Isaiah 25:8-9New Living Translation (NLT)
8 He will swallow up death forever!
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away all tears.
He will remove forever all insults and mockery
against his land and people.
The Lord has spoken!
9 In that day the people will proclaim,
“This is our God!
We trusted in him, and he saved us!
This is the Lord, in whom we trusted.
Let us rejoice in the salvation he brings!”
As for me and my household we will praise the Lord…
Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. Ephesians 6: 10, 11