Fields of Poppies

Living in rural Tasmania for the last eight years has been a wonderful experience – character building, invigorating, inspirational, isolating and also communal. It is fascinating to be an insider in this rural culture that is so rich with generations of family life, and so diverse with a multitude of migrants and mainlanders. One aspect of rural life that has been quite pronounced is the desire for an egalitarian ethos in all that is said and done. To hold a position of influence in these communities is extremely difficult, being held to the highest account by a wide variety of people whom you live closely alongside.

 

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[Artwork of the Poppy Fields of Deloraine by Evelyn Antonysen @ WordPress EvAntArt]

One of my favourite Australian bands from my youth, The Simpletons, had put this observation of rural life in Lismore, into a song called ‘Tall Poppies’.

‘Please help me cut the tall poppies down… they’ve grown too high… let’s cut ‘em down and watch ’em die!’ – Cheyne Gelagin.

It was their most popular song, perhaps because it struck a chord with the Australian ethos and our lived experience, it is possible that this is derived from our past as a penal settlement. Aside from this cultural analysis of rural Australia, this is not meant to be a judgement on our rural neighbours – who are, in fact, wonderfully hospitable, generous and hard-working.

Instead, I have been examining this Tall Poppies syndrome in light of Scripture and wanted to set out some suggestions as to how Christians, both as members and leaders of their community, can be inclusive of all people and encourage one another to prosper in the life of the church and the local community.

Many local churches have a strong shared oral history among the congregation and their long list of leaders are painted in gold on an honour board and remembered by long-serving members. This signifies that endurance in the faith is demonstrated and honoured through long tenure, stability, commitment and endurance in a particular place, position or role. It has been noted by cultural commentators that rural churches (arguably the majority of churches in Tasmania due to our small population size) operate in a similar way to a ‘Country Club’. The longest-serving and most dedicated members are given positions of influence and newcomers are given ‘L’ plates for a considerable time or prevented from serving at all, unless they have a strong connection with the leadership through social circles, family or work relationships.

This experience is a stark contrast to serving in a church elsewhere, where all members, whether new or long-serving, feel an ownership to welcome and encourage all new people to serve in the capacity that God is calling them toward. Once, upon walking into a church service for the first time in the eastern suburbs of Sydney, my husband and I had arrived early and were the only ones sitting in the pews. The youth leader stood up the front and called out to us, ‘does anyone know how to play drums?’ I raised my hand and was inducted into the music team immediately upon first meeting; this church became our beloved spiritual home for the next three years and nourished our faith and desire to serve God both as leaders and members of our church. Such fond memories of being openly welcomed into a church family upon first meeting have remained with me the past 18 years, as I have since served in eight churches in three states, and attended dozens more as a visitor, with mixed experiences.

We are in an age where people live transitory lives moving from place to place to find work, affordable real estate, a new start, education, a place to raise a family. The church must seek to become a spiritual haven for newcomers and strangers, or as one Chaplain put it:

Jesus came for ‘the last, the lost and the least’. – Luke Campton

All people who claim Christ as their personal saviour are part of God’s plan and purpose to build up His church.

Inclusive church practices. From my positive experiences – there will usually be a conversation between the newcomers (as individuals, couples, or families) and the leadership, usually at the Minister’s home or a home visit is made, or for larger churches a welcoming session is held where each person is encouraged and the particular values and goals of that church are shared. This welcoming ritual is not just a tool for ensuring greater numbers attending a church; or for sussing out their theology and making an assessment of their suitability to become a serving member.  It is not an appropriate time to assert the leaders’ authority or try to find out the state of their marriage, mental health, financial status, or employment prospects.

We must lovingly welcome others into the wider church family to love and serve God and one another.

Offer newcomers an opportunity to be known and loved by God and His people in your place. Validate and encourage that person’s journey of faith, their gifting, stage of life, opportunities and willingness to grow and learn in the Body of Christ.

Pray with them. Christians should pray with and for all members of their church community to shine the light of Christ in all aspects of their life. If Christians do not pray together regularly, the Body is not communicating with the ‘brain’ who holds us together.

Ask them what God is doing in their life. God is the author of our salvation and is also the director for all our lives. Avoid imposing pre-conceived ideas upon a person about how they should or should not serve based upon their ‘newness’, age, stage of life, or denominational background.

Church leaders spend a considerable amount of time inspiring passion in others to serve God in their community. Yet those who are passionate to serve can sometimes be viewed as over-zealous or disrespectful of church authority for seeking to do a work that was not authorised at the last Synod, Parish Council or elders meeting. Passion to serve God is like a fire that cannot be quenched, if you try to control or suppress someone’s desire to serve in a capacity, it will likely consume them – they will seek to serve elsewhere to follow God’s leading. Consider the ways that each person can serve based on mutual prayer, discussion, and openness to the many ways that God’s word can be proclaimed.

The people are not pegs, and the ministries are not ‘holes’. The Body of Christ is a living being that has many parts and must be joined in unity to the head, which is Christ.

Discipleship involves journeying with a person in prayer and searching the Scriptures so that we might model ourselves on the champions of the faith. Self-sacrifice in the church is giving up our own selfish desires to serve God and others and proclaim God’s word in our area of influence. Self-sacrifice is not about giving up a ‘calling’ or work because it does not ‘fit in’ with the plans or programs of the institution. The limiting nature of Tall Poppies syndrome chokes the opportunities for new ministries, the raising up of new leaders, missionaries, influencers, teachers, encouragers, evangelists.

Jesus himself was seen to be a Tall Poppy threatening the long-standing values and cultural practices of the Pharisees and paid the ultimate price for it, for our sake and for our salvation. We must keep our eyes open to the mercies of God in His provision of people, gifts, resources, and opportunities in our community – without choking out new ideas because we ourselves did not conceive them, or they were not considered a priority by the ‘board’. For surely, God is able to do much more than we can ask or imagine, and He graciously gives His people the desire and capability to serve Him in ways and means that we would not consider possible.

Tertullian famously said, ‘The blood of the martyrs is the seed of church’. The martyrs of the early church gave their lives for the proclamation of God’s word, they were cut down in their life and ministry by those who would persecute and oppress Christians, because they did not obey the governing authorities. Let us not cut one another down, like a house divided against itself, but let’s water and nourish the seed of faith, growing a ripe harvest for God.

As we venture into another year of our lives, consider what direction God is calling you toward. We need to make time to reflect and pray each day to consider His word and His work around us, and ask for His grace, mercy and forgiveness to allow us to be open to His divine work within us and in our midst.

‘to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.’ – Jude 1:25

Glory

I’m keenly aware that last time I stuck my neck out, it was chopped off. Such an inglorious fall from grace must surely not be repeated? Yet, I’m also assured that my body does not belong to me but to the true head, who is Christ. So, as painful as it is to be humbled by others and brought low in circumstances, none can compare to the sacrifice made by Christ on the cross at Calvary.

The joy that surpasses all understanding is mine despite the shape of my body, the soundness of mind or emotion, the clarity of speech, the winsomeness of my writing; God has revealed to me time and again in His Word and whispers, ‘You are mine.’

I, forsaking all others, have pinned my hopes and fears upon the cross. As Christ’s bride, we all acknowledge that there is no person on earth that deserves the glory that is bestowed upon the Son of God by the Spirit at work within us.

We need not be ashamed of our words and deeds, nor the possibility of wrong motives, for we present ourselves as a living sacrifice and God accepts our humble deeds in the midst of our messy lives as acceptable to Him. God’s love is boundless and eternal, it covers over all our sins and washes us -sanctifies us – so that we may remain in His presence for eternity.

To God Be the Glory, Amen.

 

Image Source: Getty Images

The Faceless Name

There are no faces to put to this Name

Love bears no resemblance to the tunes played

or the dreams that never fade

of the faces you made

or the names we gave.

The faceless, nameless, tuneless, wide-awake LOVE

is simply void of haste, waste, hate, fate and belly-ache.

The pain in my centre is simply love restrained.

The love pours forth all sorts of words and noises.

It rests, content, to restore and pour out again.

Any thought against it churns in vain.

 

Words of love:

– σπλαγχνιζομαι (splanchnizomai) – pity or compassion, means to be moved in one’s internal or vital organs. (Matthew 9:36)

Words of warning:

– ἐμβριμαομαι (embrimaomai) – to groan in Spirit, to be deeply moved (like a horse snorting sound). (John 11:33)

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The Hands of a Surgeon

We put our lives in people’s hands every day. Pilots, train drivers, medical staff, even those who prepare our food at restaurants, these are just some of those skilled workers who are entrusted with the lives of others. We often do not think about this trust we place in people who are complete strangers to us. We would never think to check or questions the qualifications or experience of the airline pilot or aircraft maintenance schedule before checking in our baggage at the airport.

When things do go wrong, we must also trust the integrity of those investigating the problem, that the problem will be identified and corrected.  The potential problem and the identified disaster are all invisible to our eyes, yet we feel the consequences deeply – either personally or on the news or social media. These hidden problems and their impact affect us all.

What about our own hidden problems, are they so easy to hide and deny also? To whom are these defects evident, whose responsibility is to fault-find and rectify problems? Who ‘mops up’ the consequences when our faults in the framework of our character rise up and cause collateral damage in our lives? Who can be held accountable for these things, is it that loud person standing at the complaints department who is to blame for the disruption to the peace?

It is a painful process to look within and decide that there needs to be an adjustment in our behaviour, attitudes and beliefs. It is common practice at this time of New Year to do a systems check on ourselves and our relationships from the previous year and decide upon inner-change in some form or another. Most often it is the physical aspect which is decided to be unhealthy, with resolutions to stop smoking and drinking and start exercising as the perceived way to be a better person in the year ahead. This might make us look and feel better about ourselves, it might even make others look upon us with admiration or even envy for a trim physique.

What if our true need is much deeper and the symptoms harder to identify in us? Have we been putting off the comprehensive health check that involves our temperament and behaviour towards others on a daily basis, at home, work, school, in our neighbourhood? There is a heart to this problem – the will is at work and is not easily identified as it is also our will that glosses over it. There is only one person who can see within us and search our hearts and minds and wills to determine what problem exists and rectify it.

It is the Maker who is also the Judge of our condition. God is a skilled Surgeon and can excise a wound or cancer in our character and repair and heal the damage. Sometimes what is required is a full heart transplant in order to restore us back to full health. Putting ourselves into His care and attention will require full trust in His diagnosis. We must bring ourselves to Him, remain in His presence, be still and trust in His knowledge and wisdom. To put ourselves on the operating table we need to be at rest and peace, rejoicing in the outcome of the restored body, tending the wounds from the excision with care and patience.

It is God’s purpose as the Creator of everything to ensure its good and right order, to restore us and change us to become more like His Son, Jesus – who is for us the perfect model, a blueprint for humanity, He made a way for us to be redeemed and made new, to become more and more into the likeness of Christ.

‘For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.’ Titus 2:11-14

Lord, search us, cleanse us and change us by the work of your hands that made us, shape us into the likeness of your Son, Jesus Christ. Give us clean hands and pure hearts to live with honesty, humility and gentleness in community with one another. (Psalm 24:4)

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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Focus on Ephesians 5

Ephesians 5:21-33

Many years ago my husband and I studied Permaculture, a system of gardening for food production which can be used for self sufficient farming. The belief is that in nature all things are good and have a purpose. This often led us to wonder what was the purpose of the snail or cockroach, the poisonous or prickly plant in the garden? What’s the purpose of the plague of annoying birds in the yard and all of those weeds?! Well, weeds are actually edible, prevent erosion of soil and you can ferment them in water for liquid fertiliser!

Nothing in nature is bad in Permaculture as long as it’s used for its purpose. Sounds like a perfect garden, right? It sounds a bit like the motto of Mona museum ‘There is no sin’.

My permaculture teacher was a passionate lady, a nature lover one day she complained to our class about an angry and unreasonable man in her apartment block who was desperately trying to cut down some banana trees in the yard because they were messy and attracted noisy possums near his bedroom window. She was very distressed because “He thinks the banana trees are weeds and that the native animals are pests!”

The following week I went to work and asked my boss how he was going, to hear all about a “crazy hippy” who lives in his apartment block who is ruining his life over a few rubbish banana trees and if he had the mind he would go out there at night with a chainsaw and hack them down along with the noisy possums that lived in it – so he could get some peace. These two friends of mine saw this situation so differently and it was making their lives miserable.

Thinking about this man and woman, arguing over a fruit tree with an animal living in it – not much has changed since the Garden of Eden. We are all fallen to sin, our human frailty pits us against one another. In the Garden, in the book of Genesis, God casts Adam and Eve out of His presence because of sin.

The bible tells us that God is an awesome Creator God who is holy and perfect and therefore cannot be near us when we are fallen and broken.

Our view of ourselves and each other is tainted by our belief system and values our ‘World view’ is the tinted glasses through which we see everything and everyone around us. The way we view other people is determined by our values and beliefs, our skin colour, our gender, our age, even our occupation – the family and society that we were born into.
The way we view God’s created world has been tainted. The truth is that everyone is made in the image of God. Let’s take off our tainted glasses for a moment and see others around us as God’s good creation. Today’s reading lays the foundation on male and female relationships. This not only extends to marriage relationships, but to all men and women, to the church and our relationship to God.

It all started in Genesis chapter 1 v.27, it says ‘ So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them ; male and female he created them. ’ this was the crowning glory of Creation, God then pronounced it all ‘GOOD’.

God chose to create woman to be suitable helper for the man, the hebrew word for helper implies ‘strength’ and does not suggest inferiority. Men and women were made by God for each other.

A man does not need to be married to experience this ‘goodness’. Adam’s problem was not singleness, but solitude, aloneness. (Claire Smith, God’s Good Design)

We relate together as men and women in many different relationships in the family, friendships, work, and social life.

Yet when we look around, we see men and women not getting along very well together, unable to see each other as God sees them, unable to help or support one another. What happened to this created ideal of our world that we all so long for.. where the weeds are delicious and useful and there is no sin? Well, let’s explore this with the help of today’s reading in Ephesians.

Ephesians is written to God’s people, not just people from one nation or culture, but a great colourful mix of people in a city of the Roman Empire called Ephesus. These people, although all completely different, have all turned to Jesus Christ as their Saviour and are called to strive to live together as God’s family. Paul tells them they are one body in Christ, they are born again into God’s family, they have Holy Spirit DNA that unites them as God’s family and helps them to live according to God’s family values. Ephesians is teaching us how to live as Christians in a world full of sin and temptation.

Ephesians 5 puts the microscope on our relationships with each other. We read it to learn what God desires of us. Earlier in this chapter Paul urges the Ephesians to Follow God’s example, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love… v 1. “For you were once in darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of the light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.”

This is our challenge today. To shine a light on our relationship with God and others and find out what pleases the Lord.

Our reading begins: ‘Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.’

The sacrificial relationship between Christ and the Church is the theological foundation for all relationships. It gives us a new way of seeing people a new way of loving people as God sees them and loves them.

God created us and it was ‘good’, but because of our sins, we are broken, hurt, afraid, ashamed. How can this be redeemed?

Paul tells us in Chapter 5 how Christians should live as children of the light to walk in the way of love. Mutual submission, Christ-centred relationships; obedience to God; obedience of children to parents; obedience to those who have authority over us. This is not easy for anyone but if we look ahead to Chapter 6 we are told that to do this we must put on the full armour of God. Because our battle is not with each other, it is Satan who attacks God’s crowning glory of creation the union of man and woman.

Among our human relationships there is no greater union than the marriage of husband and wife. Satan also attacks the unity the body of Christ. Satan messes with marriage relationships and and relationships between members of Christ’s church, Christ’s bride. This is why Jesus gave up his life for us, to make broken people and broken relationships whole again .

Jesus loves us and cares for us because we are His body. It is only through Christ we are redeemed our relationships with God and one another can be redeemed. Paul directly relates the union of marriage to the union of Christ to the church. The wife submits to and respects the husband, just as the church submits to Christ. Woman was made for the glory of man, so for a woman to try to rule or dominate her husband would be to mess with God’s created order. But wait, there’s more.. The husband is to love the wife sacrificially as if she were his own body, just as Christ gave up his life for his bride, the church. Jesus loves us sacrificially by taking his own life to repay our sin debt.

In Ezekiel 16 there is shocking imagery of God’s people who have abandoned their one true God for idols. They are depraved, living their own way, naked, shameful, dirty like a homeless woman on the street. It’s a very graphic portrayal of the end result of sin and separation from God. Christ takes this woman, representing God’s people and cleanses her, makes her spotless and white like a bride in a wedding gown. This is what Jesus does for all of us, and it is this kind of selfless love that He desires from us and to give to one another.

Our quarrel with each other is a spiritual battle that Christ has already won. But still there are so many heated issues that divide men and women, even among the faithful. This demonstrates to us that we are sinners who are saved by the grace of God alone. It is only by putting on the full armour of God and putting Christ first, can we enjoy a redeemed relationship with our Creator God. Loving one another selflessly can feel like such a huge sacrifice, well it is –  it is a living sacrifice to God.

Many of us here may be willing to submit to a loving, all-powerful God.

Many of us have no trouble in submitting to a Saviour who loves you so much that he gave up his life for us.

Looking at Paul’s reference to marriage, many wives would find themselves willing to submit to a loving Spouse who would make their life a living sacrifice to them. Breakfast in bed every day, help around the house, flowers and chocolates? Paul makes it sound so easy! It is not easy.

The meaning of the word ‘Submission’ in the bible is not the image of a man wrestling a woman to the ground until she can stand it no longer and taps out ‘I submit!’ No, in the bible, submission is willing , we have free choice , it is done wholeheartedly and joyfully.

The church is not made to submit. We Christians choose to submit to Christ in everything! Just as a Christian woman in loving humility, trusting in God, submits herself to her own husband.

The husband is to love her, to feed and care for his wife as his own body. Because they are one flesh in the unity of marriage. The husband is to be like Christ! So real is the unity of husband and wife that loving her is loving himself (v 28). Her good is his good, he cannot separate his interests from hers.

Three times in this passage Paul says men are not to rule women, but to love them. Men and women together are called to rule and subdue all creation together, using their gifts for the good of each other. (Gen 1:28)

‘Men and women are equally made in God’s image with dignity, purpose, moral choice and responsibility, and all of us are individually accountable for our conduct.’ (Claire Smith, God’s Good design)

So, in marriage, how do we love someone who rejects us or mistreats us?

How do we love or submit to a sinner?

How did Christ love those who rejected and tortured him to the point of death on a cross? It was in God’s strength alone.

In the fallen world, in our distorted image of the garden, there are poisonous plants and dangerous animals? Things that will harm us. This passage in no way suggests that toxic,harmful relationships should be endured to the point of death. God desires to protect us, and preserve life.

Joyful submission and sacrificial love – this is the shining light of a redeemed Christ-centred marriage, yet it is meant to speak directly to all of us as faithful believers, The Church, in our relationship with Jesus.

Paul is using the marriage illustration to teach us about our union with Christ. The ‘goodness’ and ‘helpfulness’ of man and woman in all their Created splendour was not limited to Adam and Eve or to marriage. Men and women were made for a purpose, to serve and complement one another with their God given uniqueness to love God and love one another as members of Christ’s body. We rely on one another, we cannot live or function fully without the other members of the body being healthy.

There are so many issues in the world that arouse anger and division and cripple the body of Christ. However, just like the pesky animal in the tree Satan has been cut down. Let’s do as Paul suggests and take off our old self, take off our tainted glasses, and be made new in the attitude of our minds and put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. God’s forgiveness is a free gift that is given for eternity to receive it, we are called to submit to God and one another, in the name of Christ.

Dear Lord,
Thank you for redeeming us from our fallen, sinful nature by sending your Son to conquer sin and death, so that we can enjoy an everlasting relationship with you, our Creator. We ask for your strength and the power of the Spirit to enable us to love and serve one another in all our relationships, so that Christ may be glorified. In Jesus name, Amen.

Sermon transcript, (C) Lisa Haynes, St Luke’s Anglican Church, Richmond. 10th July 2016.

Claire Smith, God’s Good Design, Matthias Media:Sydney, 2012.

The Great Adventure – a True Story.

Not long after I became full grown, I was invited to go on a great adventure to a wonderful place where my name was written in the guest book. I left my home and family and travelled all around the world on land and sea – searching for signs as to where this adventure would be and wondered what would be in it for me. I moved house many times, across states, straits, territories and mountain ranges; along with my husband who also searched for this adventure. I raised children to take with us, as we moved to a large island where my husband grew up as a child. We wondered if there might be a wonderful adventure for us all there.

Soon after moving to the island in the south I received a calling card addressed to me which told me what I should do to follow the adventure to the wonderful place. I kept it to myself and treasured it; I showed it to a Guide in secret. He gave me clues as to what I should do and encouraged me to continue. As the years passed, the days became so dark I barely knew which way was forward or back. I could tell that it was not safe to share my card with some; others told me what I lacked.

But again we moved from place to place, unafraid and searching for the time when the adventure would begin. I kept this calling card close to my chest, wondering what it meant. Some people could see the adventure we longed for and joined us in the quest. I didn’t have many answers but we travelled along at our best. Some dear friends also left their home to follow their directions on their cards. Uncertainty grew as to the validity of mine; people warned of an expiry date.

We ventured even further south into the country where many card-carrying people met together. I spent a few years waiting and asking others what they thought I should do. I dared to show a few of them my card, a Guide and my husband. They shook their heads. One said he did not agree, and the other asked ‘Why?’ I didn’t have the answer so I hid it for a long while. I said lots of words and tried to tell others, they didn’t understand what they heard.

We suddenly met new people searching like us, launching life boats in new waters, searching for more people to join the adventure to the wonderful place. It was hard work launching boats, many people jumped in, others jumped out – at times it was rocky but still I wondered where were we floating and what must I do? I was doing so much, paddling hard around the bay and up the stream. I was unsure whether to say anything.

Around that time my strength was taken away, I could barely walk or move. I tried to keep doing and fell down flat. So I meditated on my card night and day and asked God what to be. I asked for the answer to ‘Why?’ and it came to me in so many words. Not just the answer to this but to all the other questions I had asked of others, questions they asked of me. We moved our family once again, fed up with the waste of tramping my family around all over the place. The losses were stacked against us, this time we were asking for a win. We wanted to be in a place where people would come in.

We found somewhere to live where I am able to walk and meditate on those words and answers; now I can share this with others. During the time when my strength was all gone, I found out that the whole time I was already on the great adventure and the wonderful place was right where I was, wherever God was with us.  I am still following directions on that calling card, not knowing what comes next. But I do know that wherever I go, it only happens when God says.

When all is said and done..

“When all is said and done, everything that God offers us is wrapped up in Himself – His real living presence. His resources are not available apart from Himself.

Keeping close company with Jesus – that is what makes all the difference.

The love of God brings inner security and a sense of value.

His grace brings acceptance, forgiveness and release from guilt.

The wisdom of His word and the authenticity of his being set us free from the traps of falsehood.

His power gives us the capacity to do right and the confidence to attempt it.

His peace calms our anxieties and develops patience.

Hope in His purposes gives us the heart to persevere, and

His joy is our greatest pleasure.

Jesus really is actually alive – not just in some unreal other-worldly way that is unconnected with daily reality, but really, truly present and available.”

  • Rick Lewis in “Mentoring Matters”