A Church in Whose Image?

What image shall we liken to this dilemma in our church, a church that riles against the government as well as its own people? Where does it get knowledge or understanding, how can it be wise to the law? Even if wisdom cries out in the street, on the busiest corner between Macquarie and Murray Street, if the prophet Isaiah cries out, what should they cry?

The constancy of the Bishop of Tasmania is under question in the minds of the people from every corner of the land. Well, may we say God save the churches, but who will save the Bishop and address the behavior that carries on, not just in the backrooms of vestries, but in the offices of the keeper of the crook and in the press?

Bishop Richard’s gospel vision is not ‘A Church for Tasmania.’ While he may employ the youngest and enthusiastic leaders who will follow his word and extradite those who object  – inevitably these talented young bright-eyed people might go down with his ship.

The one thing the Bishop and I most certainly agree upon is that the church is always in need of reform. Five hundred years ago it was the Lay Ministers who saw the corruption in the church and spoke out, leading the way of reform; suffering exile and prosecution, in order to hold the church accountable for its actions. The Bishopric was taking money away from the people to fill up the church’s coffers, to ensure suitable building works and stipends for Bishops’ and priests’ higher-than-average living costs. What has changed in that time is that the church is not only a place where the people belong, run by the people for the people – but the church land and building, ornaments and furniture were donated, built and maintained by the people. The church in Tasmania is an ancestral tree of faith from the roots up. The Bishop stands with axe in hand, ready to tear it down limb by limb.

During a recent tour to the Holy lands, the Anglican touring group was told by one of the Bishop’s senior Ministers that God was not present in that church, where decades of conflict had torn apart a religious community. This kind of theology, that God is not present among the icons, religious statues and the people in robes, is an insult to God who is everywhere and sovereign over everything. Is this a subtle kind of manipulation to convince our Anglican leaders to abandon their buildings and take to the lawn bowls clubs of Tasmania for congregational worship? Well, we can thank God for the resurgence of lawn bowls in the last decade, or else some may be worshipping together under a tree – perhaps that’s what is meant to be…?

The wound that is festering beneath the polished press interviews, vision publications and Bishops’ training events is where the people are being ‘whacked with the Shepherd’s stick’ by these young and bright-eyed leaders who take a draconian view of leadership in the church. Their view of leadership is wholly based in Scripture’s context when it was acceptable to own slaves as long as you treated them fairly well, and women… well, they shouldn’t get too big for their boots. Their conceptualization of the gospel for Tasmania is like a deconstructed smashed avo on rye with King Island fetta – a church for the wealthy, RM Williams-wearing, cold-drip coffee drinking suburbanite. Tasmanians are proud of their generations of faithful landowners who have raised up this landscape log by log and shingle by shingle, communities were founded on their blood, sweat, and tears – their graves mark their years – and they do not take kindly to ‘mainlanders’ tearing it down.

The social conditions in Tasmania are, in some places, borderline destitute, and yet the Anglican church is on a money grabbing expedition around Tasmania while sampling its finest wine and seafood. The vision was concocted somewhere in a GAFCON convention and drip fed to the most enthusiastic leaders of the land. The sinking ship has abandoned its women and elderly, while the male-dominated leadership are grasping at the next generation to enable their disciple-making venture into the future. We are already suspicious of ministers and their dealings with our children, can we trust this next generation of young leaders who unquestioningly convince young men they are future born leaders and young women that they do not have the ‘gifting’? They should try medicine or law or join the military if they want to be a leader in society as these vocations are accepting women in droves, but the Protestant church leadership has a quota nationwide of around 3%.

One day, a lay minister of the gospel in the Anglican church climbed the stairs in Diocesan office to fulfill a calling to become ordained in the church after long years of study and service. The first question in the interview ‘Why do you want to become ordained, is it because you are a WOMAN!?’ Her response… silence. It was appropriate.

I will dare to ‘preach the Word’ to the leaders of our church at this time, from the pages of a wise woman:

‘Happy are those that find wisdom, and those that get understanding,

For her income is better than silver, and her revenue better than gold.

She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her.

Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honour.

Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.

She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast are called happy.

The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens…’ ~Prov 3:13-19

 

So, let’s restore the biblical view of wise leadership in Tasmania where men and women are commanded to love God and one another, they are commissioned to make disciples of all nations, empowered by the Spirit to prophesy the word of God and are free to be led by God’s vision for the church. This is an image of the Shepherd who is gentle, gracious and merciful and carries the wounded to shelter, leading them to feed on good pasture. The stick is for the wolves.

 

Featured Image: the doors of the Castle Church in Wittenberg: by Amy S. Eckert/ Chicago Tribune: Source

Dreaming of Raskolnikov

If you would allow me to speak frankly, in the way my thoughts are naturally carried, I feel as if these past 10 years have been like a dream, an out of body experience even to reflect back on them. My sleep is an escape from it, when I wake I recall the insanity of this waking dream and lament.

Let me tell you that some time ago, when I was in my prime, in my element in life, several friends laid upon me their own waywardness. I became their scapegoat. It is a curious motif in Scripture that I’ve dwelt upon heavily in this dream-state of daily living.

I would not (at all) call myself spotless, but most definitely innocent of the crimes and vices projected upon me. I felt exiled, though truly the burden of it caused me to exile myself from certain social circles. I went to the fringe of society and felt comforted by those around me – extraordinary people.

A question arises about the ancient times, what would have happened if there was no scapegoat? The leaders would bow before the holy of holies and die. (Leviticus 16:7-10)

The questions still remains, then, what happens when the scapegoat returns from the wilderness and seeks to dwell again among the people? Those who cast her out feel shame, disgusted, their holiness questioned, they are more than put out.

They may well unleash their fury upon the creature and sacrifice it – lest it open its mouth to proclaim the horrid truths. You see, the biblical advice tells us there are dark things lurking within humankind, things that ought not be spoken.

However, that is what I did, I spilled it all to the highest on high in the spire. It was such a wild and lurid story I told – it was simply unbelievable, both to myself and to the keeper of the crook.

Again, we return to the question of what happens when the goat returns to the town. I was sacrificed, yet again I must say I sacrificed myself so to have the ordeal come to an end. I’d left the extraordinary people in the wilderness to return to the town, to be met with an inhospitable welcome and sarcastic frown. So, I continued to the city where all types and manners of humankind meet. The whispers in the backrooms drowned out by the heavy music, the chatter of the crowd, the beat.

A stayed, buoyed kind of happiness returns to me. As we consider that God makes a much better Master than men. So, I have no choice but to continue to offer myself as a living sacrifice – so to speak. For God gave all burdens to Christ, even mine, even the ones I carry that do not belong to me. So I can only say to Christ, I love thee.

‘Even in the wilderness, nature is not so stern as man.’

William Hepworth Dixon in ‘The Holy Land’

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Image credit: Photo by Alex Forestier on Unsplash

Isaiah 40:3-4; John 1:22-24

 

Wilderness: 

2048 érēmos – properly, an uncultivatedunpopulated place; a desolate (deserted) area; (figuratively) a barren, solitary place that also provides needed quiet (freedom from disturbance).

In Scripture, a “desert” (2048 /érēmos) is ironically also where God richly grants His presence and provision for those seeking Him. The limitless Lord shows Himself strong in the “limiting” (difficult) scenes of life.

[2048 (érēmos) in the strict sense expresses a lack of population (not merely “sparse vegetation”). This root (erēmo-) does “not suggest absolute barrenness but unappropriated territory affording free range for shepherds and their flocks. Hepworth Dixon (The Holy Land) says, ‘Even in the wilderness nature is not so stern as man…]

Strong’s Greek Concordance

 

A Study in Prudence – Part 2. Loving your neighbour

A quiet little street in suburbia, surrounded by many more like it. Wandering the streets searching for a friend, a playmate, a conversation, I would stray into my neighbours’ houses from about the age of 10. It was a window into the entire world for me.

Our next door neighbours, the James’ were in my top 10 favourites. I would pick their strawberries and snapdragons, hear stories and wisdom from their 70 years while they made me a tomato, salt and pepper buttered sandwich. I surely tested their patience when I found their kangaroo shaped money box and hopped it all over the house, clanging the coins and singing out loud.

Another friend, Michelle, born on the same day as me, with strawberry hair, we played with Care Bears and My Little Ponies and she always offered me an Uncle Toby’s muesli bar when I enquired as to what was in that pantry…

There were many other houses I visited, young girls who played shop and barbies, elderly ladies with a lolly jar; families from Argentina, Russia, Korea, Greece, Malta, Lebanon, Italy and Croatia. I ate their delicacies and drank their tea and listened intently to their stories while focussed on the character in their faces. Then… Dasvidaniya, we would say.

I spread my love of neighbour around the whole suburb, you could say. Not all my neighbours were a good influence, as my family can attest – but we’ll leave that for another post. There were also a few apparent protests about my visits from parents or siblings, but spoken in a language I could not understand; mostly I was given genuine and generous hospitality. I was that kid from next door, up the street, around the corner – coming through the front/back/side door.

Seldom set foot in your neighbour’s house – too much of you and they will hate you. Proverbs 25:17


One particular friend always laid out the welcome mat. She was a gentle and kind friend, an only child, her family migrated from South America. I’d watch her dance ballet, we’d play in her tree house, dance to ABBA records and make gnocchi. Even when she moved to another suburb far away she would visit and we’d meet and play. I marvelled at the melodious ring in her parent’s accents when they called out her name. We find one another online years later to discover we have a mutual love for Jesus. We are delighted, yet somehow it is no surprise to me.

Many claim to have unfailing love, but a faithful person who can find? Proverbs 20:6


It was pertinent for me to find a conclusion to this post in the writings of a ‘neighbour’ and faithful person…

…God gave his salvation for the world. In this sense, we must not seek to limit the command to love our neighbour by asking ‘Who is my neighbour?’ (Luke 10:29), but rather should seek to be a neighbour to all without discrimination (10:36-37)… Jesus teaches… that love must not be restricted only to those who love us in return: (see Matt 5:43-47). – from ‘The Good Life in the Last Days‘ by Mikey Lynch, p.60.


Image Credit: Photo by Chinh Le Duc on Unsplash

Finally…

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A Study in Prudence – Part 1. Friendships

“Oh, look! They’re playing Arabic music!” I pointed to the field stage in surprise and wonder. The music had only just cut through the conversation to reach my ears and awareness, so deeply entrenched in the beloved company I kept.

“Nah, really??” one answered sarcastically.

Taken aback at the tone, I am filled with dismay. I recall my brother’s wisdom and say; “‘Sarcasm is the product of an unoriginal mind.’ That’s what my brother used to say…”

I pondered on whether these words chastised but felt defensive at the seemingly unwarranted change.

I reflected inwardly and quietly, all the while the hum and drone of music surrounded me. The friends left to find some cider and reappeared with one for me. I drank it quickly and bought another. It was one way to lighten the mood. The night turned cold and frivolous, like the sparkling cider in my hand, making me giddy and nonchalant.

That moment changed everything so slightly, like a clock suddenly no longer able to keep time. I gained insight into the naivety of years of mere acquaintance. I was ready, on the brink, to pull in close to share the rest of the story, the private details of my associations with the Arabic people – how I was one of them, they were my people, yet time revealed they were not. On reflection, this was a mirror of the past – will I see it clearly now, then walk away and forget?

The budding friendship denied warmth, light and feeding turns grey and dried up like Autumnal blooms displayed in a dark room.

Who can tell why I trust and devote myself to this man, who spoke Aramaic, whose image and touch are unknown to me – yet occupies all my waking thoughts. He is an endless ocean with unfathomable depths, yet he is my Brother in life and death.

Proverbs 18:24 – One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

 

Image Credit: Anastasia Benko: Moody Autumnal dried flower arrangement with chrysanthemums and dried leaves.

The Gospel According to…

God’s word is powerful, it spoke the universes into existence and all that is seen and unseen is held together by His powerful will and word.

We are created in God’s image and can act in accordance with His will or our own. We can act like we are the master of our universe and attempt to orchestrate the people and things in our lives for our own purposes.

All the things we say and do have consequences for ourselves and others. It is a basic right to be able to speak the truth freely without fear of retribution. When we are wronged, we would like to be able to say so, to be free to admit to our own wrongdoing without being shamed or humiliated for doing so.

Our speech and actions inform others about our values, our ethos and our purposes in life, whether directed towards the Creator of the universes, or as a master of our own making.

We hear the word ‘gospel’ used for all sorts of things, just as there is a ‘bible’ available for all sorts of hobbies and pursuits. These words try to impose an image of right-thinking or right-acting on the person or work when it ain’t necessarily so.

A ‘gospel’ that is holding fast to an outdated English version of the Bible, that aims its message towards less than half of the world’s population because of the gender they were born.

It ain’t necessarily so.

A ‘gospel’ that denies the legitimacy of young people, older people, frail people or ‘those people’ to a calling or vocation in the name of the ‘gospel’ because it was not first ordained by a crooked stick.

It ain’t necessarily so.

A ‘gospel’ that decides that all people who visit a certain type of building on Sundays (or Saturdays) are not ‘covered’ by God’s grace and mercy like those in a particular ‘chosen’ flock.

It ain’t necessarily so.

Perhaps those who wear fancy robes or speak in flowery prose are too old school to be considered part of the updated, renovated plan of the ‘gospel.’

A ‘gospel’ that excludes. A ‘gospel’ of conditions and revisions.

It ain’t necessarily so.

God’s flock is much greater than the people in your midst or on your friends’ list. The gospel of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, is the servant and sacrifice for all humanity. He calls us to follow His voice, to love and serve all people – especially the lost, the weak and the poor. Who do you serve? Who or what do you pray for? Is this God’s desire for our lives, is it God’s image we reflect, or our own to which we aspire?


Loving God, you are the author and sustainer of all things, including us. Help us to truly know your grace and mercy in our own lives and to reflect your image, Your glory, to others in all we do and say. Open our eyes to the worldwide fellowship of your church who acknowledge the Gospel truth. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Image Credits: Sheep in Kerry, Ireland – Little Black Sheep

A Torrent of Love

John 15:9-17 (NIV)

9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit — fruit that will last — and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.


We are chosen by God to become friends with Christ. This is love with a purpose: to bear fruit by obeying God’s command to love one another.

The world greatly values love, but the purpose of love in the world is often for self-satisfaction. To love for our own sake, or a moral expectation to treat other people well is only a small part of the love story. God’s story of love for his people is told throughout the Bible and through generations of Christians for thousands of years.

We have not been able to demonstrate God’s love to others in our lives or in the church. We see the wounds and scars of this brokenness in our society, in our relationships.

When we commemorate special occasions like Mother’s Day, it can be a time of great joy mixed with feelings of loss and sadness. Even our closest family relationships can leave us feeling empty.

When our human family relationships are at their very best, they bring us a glimpse of the joy we will experience when we join God’s family for eternity.

God is a loving Father, yet he cares for us like a nurturing Mother and befriends us through Christ like a brother. We don’t feel we deserve such perfect love, yet this is God’s grace and mercy in fullness.

God’s command is to love others, but first, be filled with His perfect love—to fill the emptiness and disappointment that is sometimes caused by human relationships. God’s love is sufficient and brings us joy and hope overflowing. Out of this abundance of God’s love, we are able to demonstrate the love of Jesus to those around us.

Prayer— Like a river overflowing, Lord, may we know your great love for us, and know the grace and strength of Jesus Christ to love others; to love with purpose, for your glory, forever. Amen.

 

‘But you were washed’ – Denying the spirit of judge-mentalism

In my former years, I would go outside for a durry, but now I go out to breathe fresh air. For some of us, this statement rings true also for our whole lives. The toxic habits we used to live by may have taken their toll on our health – emotional, mental, physical or spiritual. Some of these old ways become ingrained, in our speech, actions, appearance, even the lines on our face tell a story.

We can judge another person without even speaking to them, we judge by what we see, perceive or hear about them, allowing our own motives and prejudices to guide us. This kind of judgementalism is unjust and is a sign of our humanness. Though broken, humanity still bears the image of the invisible God that is his glorious creation, despite our misgivings concerning one another.

We’ve all gone the wrong way, and we’ve all suffered pain. Who should judge their friend for being a smoker; for being tattooed perhaps at a time when life, love or grief overcame them; for having been admitted to a hospital because their emotional pain was too much to bear alone? When we judge one another for outward appearances or for our experiences during times of stress, suffering and pain, we deny one another an opportunity to be loved. The love of God is the source of all comfort, help and wisdom – it is expressed through one another by His word and Spirit, in our words and deeds.

A spirit of judgementalism has crept into our churches in many forms over many centuries. Are you saved? Are you from this place or that? Are you learned? Are you friends with those people? Are you faithful enough not to despair in times of suffering? What work do you do?  …  (Are you better than me?) Did you pass the test?

This testing of one another reminds us of the disciples jostling for pole position next to Jesus’ side (Luke 22). It is a false gospel that is proclaimed, it is not what Jesus taught his friends. Jesus’ friends also struggled with this spirit of judgementalism time and again. They did not fully understand who Jesus was nor did they understand what the kingdom of God would bring.

Christ-culture. We, as friends of the resurrected Jesus, come to him just as we are, every day. We come to him first, knowing that ‘there is only One who is good’ (Mt 19:17) before we open his whole word and listen for his Spirit which is one of love, unity, fellowship and forgiveness. It is God who teaches us how to love and serve him and one another because he is motivated by love – he is Love.

Turn around from that treacherous road you were travelling upon and believe and understand with your heart, mind and soul that Jesus is Lord of all Creation, our communities and our lives. Live in light of that knowledge, relying on God’s wisdom and the Spirit of gentleness and discernment. Give glory and power and honour to him who is the Just Judge over all things, forever. Amen.

Less-quoted sayings of Jesus: (Recommended reading in context)

“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death…’ Mark 14:32-34

“Leave her alone… why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.” Mark 14:6

“Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.” Luke 20: 46-47

“Everyone will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. Stand firm, and you will win life.” Luke 21:17

“Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.” John 7:24

“…why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?” Matt 15:3

“Get behind me Satan. You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” Matt 16:23

“Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous? So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” Matt 20:14

“For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. You are those who have stood by me in my trials.” Luke 22:27-28

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Image credit:

A lost sailor photo by Michael Olsen on Unsplash

Dewdrop reflection photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash