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.

 

poppy-fields-deloraine
[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

Recovery 101: How to recover from an abusive situation in work or personal life

Truth Telling

Silence is your own worst enemy. If you have been subjected to abuse you must tell the appropriate authorities as soon as you become aware of it; whether it was one or two instances or dozens of incidences over many years, whether it was mildly coercive and seemingly unintentional or blatantly berating behaviour.

Abuse occurs when there is an imbalance of power, so speaking out about it means you will have to deal with that imbalance of power and authority and risk suffering secondary abuse due to inappropriate actions being taken against you. Alternatively, there may be a complete disregard for the safety and well-being of those affected by the abuse by people in authority, or by those closest to you. This should not deter you from speaking out. Write down everything that happened as best you can to help you with truth-telling to the authorities.

If you are in a situation where you cannot foresee your case being heard and dealt with in an appropriate way, talking to your GP or the justice department may help you receive good advice and will also validate the seriousness of your claims. (Justice Department: Work Health and Safety or the Police Department).

The abusers may never experience the consequences of their actions in this life, but it is important for the victims of abuse to speak out to someone about it, for the sake of their own health and wellbeing.

Self-Care

Find a few trusted friends, preferably one who is not connected to the situation and ask if they could be a support person as you go through recovery. This may take a while to find the right person; it may be a few people that you are able to share your feelings with. Friends only need to know that you are going through a hard time and may be able to point to healthy activities that will enable you to improve your emotional health. Stay clear of alcohol, drugs or other risky activities and opt for nature walks, movies, dinner out, a weekend away, or a new hobby or group such as singing, book clubs, or gardening.

You can choose not to share the details of the abuse with friends and only share those details with a confidential Specialist Psychologist, GP or Counsellor.

If you are unable to work because of the abuse, seek help early for career advice, take a break from work if financially possible and do some study until you feel ready to approach a new work situation.

Safe Boundaries

Avoid speaking about the person(s) at all in conversation in public. If people want to know what happened to you (‘where have you been?’) and ask you about it, you can choose not to discuss it at all so as not to trigger those emotions that are a normal reaction to abusive situations and people.

If you see your abuser in public, be polite if you must speak to them then you can choose to walk away. If the abuser replies with a harmful comment about you, let those words go immediately and know that you are doing the right thing by speaking out and staying away. Wherever possible, continue your normal routine and go to the places that you enjoy going to.

A Clean Mind

When thoughts rush in about words and situations that caused harm, remember that those words were probably intended to harm you – this is difficult to do, but if you allow those words to continue to harm you, the abuser will continue to have power and control over your life and emotions. This is unacceptable.

Healthy and Diverse Work and Personal Relationships

Most organisations will have a zero tolerance for bullying or any form of abuse, if they do not have such a policy, consider finding employment with an organisation who does have a sound policy for unacceptable behaviour. When finding work, be clear with yourself and with your employer about your values for workplace relationships.

Be clear about your values in friendships and relationships in social clubs or any other group – do not allow yourself to be bullied by others who do not understand what has happened to you.You do not need to tell them the details of the abuse in order for them to believe you or be ‘on your side’. Protect yourself from further harm.

A Hope and a Future

Time is a great healer, however most abuse will continue to be remembered and may have an effect on your life for many years. The guidance in this article is meant to encourage and strengthen victims of abuse – know that you are not alone, do not give up hope in finding help or a safe place to live, work and recreate. If these suggestions are not helpful for you, take some time to write down what has been helpful or is likely to help and take steps to consider practicing these things regularly. It is important that we break the silence on this issue and ensure healing from the past and prevention for the future on the problem of abuse.

Find in your life story memories that are edifying and acknowledge those memories more often through journaling, story writing or art. Turn to pursuits that will give you space, peace, and build resilience so that you can look forward to the future. Helping others who have been through similar difficulties is a gift that life experience brings, but ensure that you have received all the help you need before you look to the needs of others.

Resources

This article was written by an abuse survivor who is trained in conflict resolution, leadership and management, workplace communication, mental health first aid and pastoral care.

Recovery can be a long journey there are many resources and organisations that are available to help you. Some of these are listed below and I can personally recommend. (Australia/ USA)

White Ribbon: www.whiteribbon.org.au

To Write Love on Her Arms: www.twloha.com

Beyond Blue: www.beyondblue.org.au

Lifeline: www.lifeline.org.au

Anglicare (Australia): www.anglicare.org.au

Mental Health First Aid Course (MHFA International): www.mhfa.com.au

Mental Illness (SANE Australia): www.sane.org

Sexual abuse: (SASS): www.sass.org.au

Sexual abuse: 1800RESPECT: www.1800RESPECT.org.au

Mercy and Forgiveness

Matthew 18: 21-35

The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant

21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins.[i] He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”


‘I know a minister who preaches about the Kingdom of God as ‘the kindness’. She suggests we invite and inhabit it, allowing it to come towards us. Kindness comes in our daily life away from the corridors of power. The Kindness assumes accessibility. It is similar to the way Jesus spoke in agricultural images to farming communities in Galilee. He assumed the Kingdom of God as something already there for the seeking and finding.’ –Julie Perrin.

On reading the gospel account of the unmerciful servant, we hear Peter questioning Jesus ‘how many times should we forgive one another?’ Jesus replies by telling Peter about forgiveness in the Kingdom of God. The unmerciful servant is the sinner who owes a great debt to the King who is God, the Master is Jesus who takes pity on the servant. Although the servant is the guilty party and is obligated to repay, yet the Master forgives him and sets him free from his burden of guilt and sin. Mercy and forgiveness in this story is a kindness that promotes generosity and understanding, rather than harsh punishment, retribution or anger. We can, in our own life experience, imagine owing someone a great debt that we are unable to pay – rather than the case being dragged through the courts, all charges are dropped and the debt is cancelled. Have we ever been on the receiving end of such generosity and kindness? Would we pass it on to others?

In the Kingdom of God, we are like Peter, seeking advice from Jesus, wanting to know how to relate to one another, how to live together when things are difficult when we are hurt or offended by others. Jesus teaches us to remember that we are God’s servants who have been shown great mercy, forgiveness, and loving-kindness. Our burden of guilt and shame and resentment is forgiven when we come before God and lay our burden down and place our trust in the sacrifice of Jesus for our sins. God strengthens us to love others by His Spirit at work within us, we are free to give the same mercy and forgiveness that God has shown to us.

The servant in this story had a grateful heart to his Master for cancelling the debt he owed, yet, he was unable to pass on such kindness to his fellow servant. Forgiveness is not a curt apology through gritted teeth, like a child in a schoolyard – but it is the gracious loving-kindness that is the gift of God’s Kingdom, it is the source of peace for us, peace with God and with others.

We cannot find this kindness within ourselves, the pain of hurt and broken human relationships is very real. We can find healing and forgiveness for ourselves and others through prayer with our merciful God, listening to God’s word as it speaks to us by the Holy Spirit. God’s love flows from within his people, like a spring of water coming up out of a dry desert, giving life to others.

Lord, help us to forgive others as you have forgiven us, grant us your peace, May the peace of God that surpasses all understanding, guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Psalm 114:7-8 ‘Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob, who turns the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a spring of water.’

A Heart Full of Joy

Mt 13:1-9, 18-23

The Parable of the Sower

13 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!”

The Parable of the Sower Explained

18 “Hear then the parable of the sower. 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23 But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”


The parable of the Sower uses familiar imagery to help us understand Jesus’ words. For those of you who enjoy gardening, or have spent time farming the land – you would know first-hand the tireless work and long days spent preparing the soil and tending a crop of food for harvest. When the weather and weeds spoil the crop, it is a source of frustration and grief, that the hard work has not been productive.

When Jesus spoke to his followers, they were ordinary men accustomed to hard work, the first thing Jesus said was, ‘Listen!’ In the parable of the sower, we are told six times that the seed of faith is received by hearing God’s word. God’s word is described in the Psalm as ‘Words of life’, they are ‘a lamp to the feet and a light to the path’, these ‘righteous laws’ are ‘his heritage forever’, and also ‘a joy to my heart.’

A heart full of joy is what the gospel promises to those who hear God’s word and receive it faithfully. Yet, the gospel story tells us that not everyone will want to listen, some will not understand, others will give up in times of suffering, yet another will be concerned about the things of this world, like money and possessions. Following Jesus was not an easy task; it required faithful obedience and enduring struggles and hardship. Their reward was God’s gift of faith and the promise of eternal life – this gift is given freely to all who hear God’s word and receive it – the seed of faith implanted in our hearts when we believe that Jesus died and rose again to save us from our wrongdoing and bring us into relationship with our Creator God.

When we go about our day, enjoying the plants of the garden, as we look outside at the sun and rain nourishing the soil of the earth, we are reminded of God’s provision, the miracle of His creation and His promises to us. When we see one another in our community and our families, we are reminded that God calls us to faithfully love and care for one another.

We thank God for giving us his grace and love and pray that we might have the opportunity to share God’s love with others, that we would grow in faith in the joyful hope of his eternal blessings, in Jesus name, Amen.

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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Image credit

 

Accidentally Cult Street

One of my less-glamorous true stories is that I came to the Christian faith through a street evangelist who was a member of a Christian cult. I refuse to be embarrassed about this. As a genuine seeker – walking towards the Hari Krishna band – I was intercepted by a woman in her mid-20’s who invited me to her church and sat with me in a cafe to read the bible. When I was confronted by the gospel, though sheepishly looking around to see who might see us with a BIBLE open in PUBLIC, I was convicted by the truth of who Jesus was and what He did for us, and immediately turned my life toward knowing God and being known and loved by Him.

In the month that followed, I was welcomed with generous hospitality into the homes of fellow church members and felt a sense of being part of God’s family. I hungrily read my bible at home, though soon enough alarm bells sounded for me when I heard those fateful words from her ‘we are the only church to be saved.’ The countdown was on, it was only a few weeks later I cut myself off from that lovely, though misguided community and found myself receiving the generous hospitality and biblical teaching of a Baptist Church in Sydney’s West. Praise God. The whole inter-denominational community opened up to me at the Katoomba convention and I’ve never looked back, always relishing the taste of the Kingdom on earth wherever I worship.

I would like to say that all of that is behind me, however, it took many years of listening and learning to ‘weed out’ (pertinent expression!) the false doctrine that I was taught in those first few weeks as a baby believer. The spiritual milk was a bit off, and I needed a lot of extra nourishment to grow strong and mature in my faith. Even now, as I wander the earth through the different stages of my life, I come across the same idea in otherwise doctrinally sound church communities. The red flag is hoisted when I hear ‘we are the only healthy church around here,’ or a red-faced teacher adamantly insisting that his point of view on a matter of faith is to be obeyed (or else!).

This my-way-or-the-highway view of ecclesiastical issues has many faithful and dedicated souls hitch-hiking their way from crumbling sandstone building to urban chrysalis hoping to find a healthy kind of ecumenicalism. Those, like me, who do not wish to be judged for the denominations of their past. For me, my spiritual home is wherever I lay my coat and pick up a name tag – although I’ve been known to use the Royal ‘We’ when referring to the Anglican Church, it is, in fact, our Kingdom royalty that expresses the words We Believe. I am traveling toward a place where We stand on common ground and can have arm wrestles over doctrinal implications. A place where We allow grace and truth to season us as we mature, forgiving and giving one another the opportunity to be transformed in our mind and hearts, and loving one-another as Christ intended for his bride, the church.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. John 14:27

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, Ephesians 1:18

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Photo Credit: Brett Boardman