‘to lead to excel’

This was the motto of the Academy where I trained and studied from the age of 19 to 22. After graduation, I spent three years at sea in the Navy and served in ministry in my local church while ashore. Those six years were foundational for my sense of leadership in the church and in the world.

Studying alongside others is a great leveler, those who I served with at the Academy will forever be my classmates, no matter what rank or heights of achievement they attain. At Bible college, where I have been studying for 10 years now, the students and lecturers place themselves at Jesus’ feet, in submission to God’s word and will. When a student surpasses their master, it is often considered an honour and expression of the master’s teaching skill. However, we cannot forget Darth Vaders’ words to Obi Wan Kenobi: ‘When I left you, I was but the learner, now I am the master.’

Both the students and lecturers at bible college are ministry leaders in their own church. When students consider me to be one of their peers, or when lecturers speak to me as a fellow learner and a brother or sister in Christ, it is dignifying and yet commands great respect. We all experience similar trials and temptations in ministry and life and are accountable to the same God. We search the scriptures and pray fervently for God’s guidance and direction. This also is a great leveler.

My experience of church leadership has at times been reminiscent of the military, reliant on rank, with the domination and control of subordinates; and yet many Christian military leaders I’ve observed would excel as ministers of the gospel, because they are humble and show respect for the professionalism of others. They also have a strong sense of identity, calling and wariness of the ‘sins’ of the institution.

The leadership style that uses rank for authority tends to resort to domination and control and does not consider self-reflection or care of others a necessary part of their role. This leadership may be captured in the phrase ‘He will punish you with a warrior’s sharp arrows’ (Psalm 120:4) This phrase is speaking about God’s justice exercised on those who deceive and accuse God’s people. Yet, for those who equate a leadership rank with ‘being God’, submitting to their authority may lead to some arrows being fired. This is spiritual warfare.

It is not the vocation of ministry or military leadership that commands respect, but their submission to God’s will and their treatment of others. The vocation of the church is to live out the gospel, but what does this look like? In the eyes of society, its status is a non-profit and charitable organization; that is to provide support to people, to encourage, to help, to seek justice and serve. Our leaders must model this vocation and be willing to hand on the baton to the next generation through this same encouragement, help, and service to others.

I joined the military and the ministry to be a peacekeeper, yet even in peacetime, people feel threatened and attack others, in these situations submission to authority can lead to distress.

Listen to this: God is the one who answers those in distress, we know this because of the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ. He is also the role model, empowerer and enabler of leaders in the church and has dominion over all worldly authorities. Rather than seeking to be God, as leaders we must come alongside God’s people and sit at Jesus’ feet. The way toward growth in leadership points toward the task of discipleship and the encouragement of one another, we grow by lifting up others. Our spiritual direction is to be a follower and a leader, that is, to point to Christ.

Reference: reflection on Psalm 120 by Michael Jenson, St Mark’s Darling Point Sydney.

Photo by Raul Petri on Unsplash

 

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…

pastizzi image

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.

sheep-herds-around-the-world-20

 

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.

 

The Year of Treading Carefully

Today my husband found a baby bird in our backyard that had fallen from its nest. The bird’s family were noisily protesting against our dog sniffing the bird, as they watched helplessly from the tree above. As my husband used his large, strong, gloved hands to gently return the bird to its nest, it reminded us of the fragility of life and how helpless we can feel when faced with situations we cannot control.

We watch scenes of natural disasters on the news and feel compelled to send money and goods to those affected areas. We hear of friends suffering relationship breakdown or health problems, we often do not know whether these situations can be healed. ‘God knows’ the dangers we face and the future that lies ahead of us. In Matthew’s gospel, we catch a glimpse of Jesus’ concern for the wellbeing of His followers and His advice for how to live their lives in the face of uncertainty and even hostility.

Jesus sends the first twelve disciples out with plenty of guidance, warnings, instructions and wisdom, couched in words of comfort of God’s presence, promises and protection.

Read: Matthew 10

Prayer and discernment are required for Jesus’ followers to make good decisions about how to spend their time and energy, and with whom. As fellow bearers of God’s peace, we do not hold back our blessing on others, but simply offer it to those who are willing recipients.

To spend our time and our lives with those who are willing to harm others is not in accordance with God’s purposes for His people. Just as a dove would not be wise to nest in a lion’s den, we must protect ourselves, so that God’s word might be faithfully proclaimed to those who have ears to hear. We guard our hearts and minds, our time and energy, we watch our lives and doctrine closely – but rather than sacrificing significant relationships or putting ourselves in physical or spiritual danger needlessly, we must invest in relationships wisely so that we can sharpen one another and be united in our faith in Jesus Christ.

To be faithful followers of Jesus, we cannot be faithful followers of the world or its barrage of messages preached in the media. Those members of God’s family who seek to know the world and learn its ways for its own sake, are in fact denying God’s ways and His name. This is the type of conflict – a war of two worlds – that we are likely to encounter with our friends and family. We are asked to hold ourselves and one another accountable, with the life of Christ as our standard for faithfulness – that is, faithful until our death.

The smallest and simplest test of a generous spirit is given to us, as offering a cup of water to those who have open minds and humble hearts to receive God’s forgiveness, grace and mercy. The cup of living water is what Jesus gives to everyone who turns their lives to Him, ours is a smaller gesture, yet no less significant in God’s view. For to bless those who love God is to be a part of God’s Kingdom family.

Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

Be Wise and Pure Matt 1016


Matt 10:16 – ‘innocent’ (ἀκεραιος) has a sense of not destroying others, moral innocence, harmlessness, and purity – not to be tainted by sinful motives and ambitions. (Strong’s Greek #185)

Photo collage image credits:

Desert feet Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

Watering grass Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Bird in the hand Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

(C) Lisa Haynes 2018