Tuesday, August 05, 2014

CP 257 On deciding who gets to lead...

CP 257 On deciding who gets to lead...
Recently the text for one of my sermons was from the book we know as The Acts of the Apostles. It’s about the way the Holy Spirit has used and empowered the 12 Apostles to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, beginning in Jerusalem. The number of disciples has increased rapidly. Those who join are mostly Jews, but some are of Greek parts of the world as distinct from the traditional Hebrew areas such as Jerusalem and Judea. It’s no surprise that trouble arises concerning fairness in food distribution. It is an administrative problem but someone needs to be in charge. Not wanting to be distracted from prayer and preaching the Word of Christ, the Apostles decide a committee is needed to organise the waiting on tables!
“Brothers, choose 7 men from among you who are known to be full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them.” Acts 6:3
Simple enough… until I asked my congregation, (yes, including the women!) ‘If being full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom is the necessary qualification for that task, could you let someone put your name forward for selection?” Not a single hand went up. Not a soul felt free to say, ‘Yes’. I waited… and waited… Eventually some wag in the pews called out, ‘You’re on your own, Fred.’ There are some pretty good organisers in our little church, but not one volunteer if the applicant needed to be, ‘full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom’.
Thinking about that phrase, I reckon most of us, including we Pastors, haven’t got much idea what the Apostles even meant. Known to be full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom? We are not sure at all. We seem foggy about it. If my assessment is right, then our unsureness is both strange and disturbing, given that being full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom is the foundational thing people should be able to discern in those who lead. It’s one of those sine qua non things, you know, from Latin. It means, ‘without which nothing’. You can’t do the job without it! You can have lots of abilities, skills and talents, but this is the must have, this you absolutely need… be full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom.
A couple of things occur to me. The first is this: If whoever organises the kitchen is meant to be full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, then it is also true for all the other service positions, like Chairperson, Secretary, Treasurer, Elder / Deacon, Guild Leader, Youth Leader or Sunday School Teacher. And we had better not forget the Pastor! Especially the Pastor! In regard to the Pastor, I suspect that we make an assumption that if he has come through the seminary and been approved for The Ministry, then he must be full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom. What if that assumption is wrong? I certainly couldn’t claim that when I started 35 years ago. In fact, I was trained to be wary and suspicious about anyone who emphasised the Holy Spirit.
Of course, all of this applies to what we regard as important when it comes to (selection of) those who are to lead as Bishops, Theology Teachers, Mission Directors, Christian School Teachers and so on. ‘Known to be full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom’… that is criterion number one. I can list for you all my professional qualifications, my interests and abilities and achievements, but that Apostolic basis for eligibility for service always stands.
There is an important Bible principle at play here. It is this: As the leader, so the people! If you are confused then so are we. I challenge our Bishops to lead us into ‘knowing and growing’. Clearly we need to understand what is meant. I’m sure it has to do with Christ-centred living faith in God, along with a Christ Jesus-driven passionate love for the Body of Christ and the nations. Equally it will have to do with a Christ-centred grace-full awareness of the scriptures. It will involve a Christ Jesus-driven openness to the sovereign freedom of the Holy Spirit to work among us. Will our leaders please teach us?
An aside…note that two of those who were chosen to head up the kitchen detail, Philip and Steven, came to be powerful evangelist / teachers in the church’s unfolding story!
Something else… You know, in spite of the reaction of our little church in Campbelltown to my challenge, I see this humble yet passionate holding of Jesus Christ in all things in my people all the time. The best people to discern the matter are those who gently serve from Christ’s heart within them. However, all of us can grow in our awareness of what it means to quench or grieve the Spirit, and conversely, to be filled with the Spirit.
Finally, a warning. If those who hold office, at any level in the church, do so without the fullness of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, one of two things will happen. The first is that holding the office becomes about power and control, which inevitably will lead to spiritual abuse and bullying. The second is that leadership will become ineffectual, leaving a vacuum into which confusion tumbles and selfish ambition grows. Either way, the focus drops away from Jesus Christ crucified and Lord. Direction and authority is lost. We don’t want either. The world isn’t going to be blessed by either. So let’s seek to know, and grow, into the fullness and wisdom of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

Keep chewing in Him… Fred

Friday, August 01, 2014

CP 256 Satan can just buzz off...

CP 256 Satan can just buzz off…
There's unbelief behind asking for what you already have.
Friends, this week I got some feedback from a Gathering weekend I ran recently here in NSW. It was encouraging, heartening and helpful. The response included a paragraph which courageously raised something I teach about which 'was difficult to accommodate and created a challenge'. I have wanted for a long time to put into words what seems to be at stake here. So here’s a first effort. And here is the quote:
[Some of your message, however, was difficult to accommodate and created a challenge. One, in particular, concerned our weekly liturgy where we ask God for forgiveness. Unless I'm mistaken, you stated that since we have already been forgiven, this prayer in our liturgy is redundant? This comment came from another member, but I do recall you saying that the verse 'create in me a pure heart' is not needed because Christ has already created in us a pure heart. Personally this is a challenge, because my heart does not seem too pure to me. Nevertheless, that these thoughts are still challenging us, so many weeks later, is arguably a good thing.]
Here is my response:      
In regard to my teaching about the pure heart: That is from the text we sing after the Offering in our Holy Communion Liturgy. It's originally from the Psalms, from King David after his adultery... I will teach in the face of anyone, [and remember I invited you all to argue with me?] that we shouldn’t be singing it. It is a prayer that belongs to those who are not yet ‘held’ within the New Covenant. Christians are those who are born again, who are born with that new heart. "If anyone is in Christ that person is a new creation. The old has passed away, the new has come." 2 Cor 5:17. We have Christ’s righteousness, Christ's mind, Christ's Spirit and Christ’s heart. All the while we still have the heart we inherited from Adam. The very fact that the new heart is in place is exactly what reveals the truth that the old heart is not pure. The inner conflict is the sure sign that you have a new heart.
At the back of this is something we struggle to understand. One of the most powerful insights of the Reformation was what Luther called 'Simul Iustus et Peccator'. That might sound like Greek to you but it is actually Latin... and easy to translate. Simul (Simultaneously) Iustus (Justified-saint) et (and) Peccator (sinner). I do not get rid of the nature and heart inherited from Adam until I die my human death. However I have the nature and heart of Jesus Christ in me from being born again of water and the Spirit. My flesh hates the displacement from that internal throne and catches me unawares, moment by moment, day by day. My ‘selfish self’ rages against the instinct to unselfish love which arises from the Christ-heart in me. It’s perpetual war.
That internal personal war never goes away and I fail, again and again and again. For those continual failures I need to hear the declaration of forgiveness for sure... it’s certainly not redundant.  
But inside all of this is the greater truth that for Christ's sake, through his blood, by grace through faith, I am forgiven. I am forgiven! Only the forgiven can be his children, and that is what we are! 1 John 3:1 May I never surrender this truth to the Lord of doubt. I am forgiven. It's as a forgiven child of the Father that I come into communal worship every Sunday. I still have to deal with the sins the flesh constantly produces, but nevertheless I can and must always own the truth that I am forgiven. Isn’t it true that Sunday by Sunday, among other things, I remind my Lord that I was baptised in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit? Do we not baptise for the forgiveness of sins? Did he not forgive me? Of course he did. I am forgiven.
But there is more... much more. More than forgiving me, he has re-created in me his own nature, His own Righteousness. 2 Cor 5:21 (You must read this text… you must.) He sees me, comprehends me, knows me, welcomes me and embraces me, with the same joy and intimacy he has with Jesus. That is the Gospel. So for a Christian to ask for a clean and pure heart, (and a new and right spirit!) is to ask for what we already have. What I absolutely need, and what I pray for, and what he rejoices to give, is for a continual outpouring of his love through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5:5. It is the Spirit of Jesus who the clarity and charity, the power to grow in love and service from the new heart he has already placed in us.
You know, unless we ‘get’ that reality of the two hearts the devil can have a field day in our lives, constantly accusing us of sin and ever pointing us to our failures. And we, focussed as we often are on the abject failures, and the guilt and shame which come along for the ride, are crippled by the lie. All the while, the scripture is screaming at us, “I will remember their sins no more.” Sing it in your new heart. No more! Share it with your fellow travellers. No more! Shout it from the rooftops. No more. He remembers my sins no more. Washed away by the blood. Satan can just b….. off! There’s nothing sinful left to accuse those who are in Christ… I am forgiven. I am free… 


Friday, July 25, 2014

CP255 The value of life...

CP 255 The value of life…
Friends, the article below is from today’s SMH. The author is grappling with precisely the same question I have struggled with for years… Why do I have less interest in the deaths of 1000 people through a typhoon in the Philippines than over 10 in a bus accident in Australia? The article is not “Christian” in any way but it sure raises questions like ‘Who is my neighbour?’ and ‘Are some neighbours are more valuable than others?’ Read it for yourself and don’t forget to ask the Father what his heart is saying!
The value of life by Waheed Aly
“I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the value of human life. About the lives so cheaply lost on MH17. About the anger and grief this tragedy has unleashed. About the sense of sacredness and solemn ceremony that followed it. There’s something cathartic about all this. That we mark this with ritual public grieving tells us that these lives – and therefore our own lives – are sanctified; that their termination is an almost blasphemous violation. On some level this reassures us, which is probably why we pore over news coverage of such events, seizing on small harrowing details and the personal stories of the victims.
But I’ve also been thinking a lot about why it is these lives particularly that have earned such a response. The more I heard journalists and politicians talk about how 37 Australians were no longer with us, the stranger it began to sound. Something of that magnitude happens just about every week on our roads, for instance. In the last week for which we have official data, 29 people were killed this way. The youngest was two. We held no ceremonies, and we had no public mourning of the fact that they, too, were no longer with us.
Why? I don’t ask critically, because I’m as unmoved by the road toll as anyone. But it’s surely worth understanding how it is we decide which deaths matter, and which don't; which ones are galling and tragic, and which ones are mere statistics. We tell ourselves we care about the loss of innocent life as though it’s a cardinal, unwavering principle, but the truth is we rationalise the overwhelming majority of it. What does that tell us about ourselves?
Here, the most obvious counterpoint is the nightmare unfolding in Gaza. As I write this, nearly 600 people – overwhelmingly civilians a third of whom are children – have been killed. By the time this goes to print, that number will be redundant. There’s grief, there’s anger and there’s some international hand-wringing, but nothing that compares with the urgency and rage surrounding MH17, even if there is twice the human cost.
If you take your cues from social media, on which this comparison is being relentlessly drawn, the reason is simple: Palestinians are not rich Westerners, and so their lives simply don’t matter. No doubt there’s some truth to this: humans are tribal animals, and we’re as tribal in death as we are in life. But it’s not an entirely satisfactory explanation because it comes from people who would likely exempt themselves from this rule. And yet those same people have almost certainly grieved comparatively little over the thousands of South Sudanese killed in the past six months, or the 1.5 million to have been displaced. Should we conclude they value African lives less than Palestinian ones?
It’s not merely a matter of cultural affinity. Consider the Egyptian press, which has wholeheartedly embraced the Israeli offensive. “Sorry Gazans, I cannot support you until you rid yourselves of Hamas,” wrote Adel Nehaman in Al-Watan. He was comprehensively outdone by Al-Ahram’s Azza Sami who tweeted “Thank you Netanyahu, and God give us more men like you to destroy Hamas”. Then she prayed for the deaths of all “Hamas members, and everyone who loves Hamas”. Meanwhile, television presenter Tawfik Okasha urged Egyptians to “forget Gaza”, adding for colour that “Gazans are not men” because they don’t “revolt against Hamas”. That, presumably includes the hospital patients or the kids playing football on the beach who have been bombed in the past week or so.
This is about as thorough a dehumanisation of Gazans as you’ll find anywhere in the world. Israel’s media doesn’t even come close. And this in a country where the Palestinian cause has been a kind of social glue for decades. But that’s what happens when the sanctity of life meets the power of politics. For the Egyptian media – now effectively a propaganda arm of the government – Gaza merely represents a chance to attack the Muslim Brotherhood, from which Hamas emerged. It doesn’t matter who dies. It doesn’t matter how many. What matters is that their lives – and especially their deaths – can be used in the service of the story they are so desperate to tell.
And that, I fear, is a universal principle. It is not merely the death of innocents that moves us, even in very large numbers. It is the circumstances of it that matter. We decide which deaths to mourn, which to ignore, which to celebrate, and which to rationalise on the basis of what story we want them to tell. Palestinian deaths matter more than Sudanese ones if you want to tell a story of Israeli aggression. Israeli deaths matter more than Palestinian ones if you want to tell a story of Hamas terrorism. Asylum seeker deaths at sea matter more than those on land if you want tell a story about people smuggling. But a death in detention trumps all if your story is about government brutality. And a death from starvation matters if you want to tell a story about global inequality – which so few people do. Everyone will insist they’re merely giving innocent human lives their due. And that’s true but only in the most partial sense. These are political stories driven by political commitments.
MH17 allowed us to mourn and to rage because it delivered a story we were well prepared to tell. It’s easy to rage when the plot is one of Russian complicity, roguishness and cover-up. And frankly, Russia deserves the whack it’s getting for its handling of the aftermath. But in my most naive moments I hope for a world where the value of human life is universal enough that we can outrage ourselves; where we can tell the stories we don’t particularly want to; the stories in which we are neither the heroes nor the victims, but the guilty. That’s what we’re asking of Russia. One day someone mourning no less than we are will ask it of us.”
Waleed Aly is a Fairfax columnist. He hosts Drive on ABC Radio National and is a lecturer in politics at Monash University.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

CP 254 Well, that made me stop and think...

CP 254 Well, that made me stop and think…
This week’s CrossPurposes is a jumbled collection of things I’ve heard people say that just stopped me and made me think. There’s nothing particularly spiritual about them, and yet in some way they truly are. I’m just recording, not lessonizing! I’ll start with an explanatory tale from almost 30 years ago. (I’m going to highlight all the unexpected responses in bold italics.)
Occasion 1. A member of the Immanuel Church named Maria was experiencing declining health and facing the loss of one of her feet due to poor circulation. We prayed for her at worship but nothing seemed to change. She was miserable. Once, when I called on her, that frustration was raw. I said to her something like, ‘Maria, I wish I had a magic wand and could wave it over your leg and fix it. I just feel helpless.’ She replied something like, ‘You’re helping me just by being here.’
Occasion 2. A couple of weeks ago I was having a conversation with my friend Nan who lives in Queanbeyan, near Canberra. She has had her share of suffering and misery in the last 15 months. Nan’s husband Jack had a severe stroke in July 2014. He was hospitalised for months, did rehab for months, and was in respite while she had an urgently needed knee replacement. Now he is home, but is unable to be the ‘I’ll-take-care-of-it-man’ he used to be. And he has not recovered speech. During that phone call we talked about their situation. Then we switched to reflecting on a recent CrossPurposes blog. We talked for about half an hour. As we closed the call she said to me, ‘Thanks for the intelligent conversation.’
Occasion 3. Recently, while driving, I heard an interview conducted by the ABC’s Richard Fiedler with a-now-Australia based, Pakistani comedian named Sami Shah. Their talk turned to him being held up at gunpoint in Karachi. He mentioned that everybody in Karachi can expect to be held up sometime. The local joke apparently is that if you haven’t been held up you must be the person with the gun! Anyway, the armed thief demanded his wallet and phone. With the gun still at his head, this is what he said: ‘You’ve got my wallet and phone. Now at least leave me with my anger!’ As he said it he thought, ‘What an idiotic thing to say.’ The thief began to laugh, then Sami himself began to laugh. They belly-laughed together. Then the thief handed back both his wallet and phone!.
Occasion 4. Wonderful Joe, a member of our Campbelltown church brought his trailer to a working-bee to help pick up turf for a lawn. Afterwards, Mick thanked him. Joe’s response? ‘Thanks for asking.’
Occasion 5. Again this week in a morning radio interview… A young poet/author, (didn’t catch his name), who grew up in Queanbeyan, was talking about his latest book about the darker side of his home town. ‘Part of art is extending sympathy where it has not yet been extended.’
Occasion six. From an article by Sarah Malik entitled, ‘When tragedy strikes, even onlookers can suffer.’ It’s about being visually overwhelmed by graphic images from disasters and horribleness like Ukraine and Gaza. It includes a quote from Melbourne psychologist Monique Toohey: ‘What you see cannot be unseen. I use this statement with my clients who find themselves replaying horrific images and videos in their mind, hours and days after they were exposed to them in their Facebook or Twitter feeds.’ (I, Fred, want to tell you something arising from that thought in a future CrossPurposes.)
My only comment on these things? Sometimes it’s the from-left-field comments which reveal deep and unthought needs…
Be blessed this week.