Today is Ash Wednesday – the first day of Lent, the 40 day period before Easter. It has long been part of the ‘church year’ in more liturgical traditions.
Historically, people would give up certain enjoyable things for the period as a way of focusing their minds more on Jesus and the meaning of his suffering and death. Traditionally, people might give up eating meat, or rich foods for the period. It’s thought that taking a step of self denial represented an appropriate expression of devotion to the Saviour. In less literate times, practices like Lent were powerful tools to deepen awareness of Jesus’ sacrifice.
Today, you’ll hear people talk about how they’ve given up meat, or alcohol, or chocolate, or coffee, or social media/technology – the list is endless. I even saw Matt Wilcoxen remark how his son had declared he was giving up ‘setting the table’ for Lent! I’m not too sure about the level of sacrifice in the last example, but you get the drift: people choose to give something up to help them focus their minds more on Jesus as we move toward celebrating his death and resurrection at Easter.
why not embrace something new?
Here’s a thought: Rather than give something up, why not embrace something new? Why not do something different and step into some guided prayer through Lent? There are excellent resources which will help you develop good habits of regular prayer and reading. Let’s face it: not many of us have healthy habits in that regard, so doing something different could be a great way to develop some healthy spiritual practices.
For most of the suggestions below you’ll want to set aside some time. I know: Who has enough of that? It’s also true, though, that it’s always to find time to do these things. We just have to make time. So, make a conscious decision now to develop some good habits of prayer and stillness during Lent.
Here’s a few excellent resources… They all have great structure, and they’ll all take time, but it will be time well spent.
Three terrific resources for Lent…
Encounter Justice. IJM UK’sAlianore Smith takes us through six prayers in the Bible and how they teach and inspire us to pray – both personally and corporately. Encounter Justice invites us to Learn, Read/Discuss, Pray and Act through the season of Lent. Questions in the Read/Discuss section can also be used in a small group setting. In typical IJM style the stories included show how God is bringing transformation and protecting those who are vulnerable all around the world. If you sign up to receive the updates, you’ll also receive Encounter Justice in .pdf format, so you can take it anywhere!
Pray Like This (Tearfund Australia). An engaging seven week plan focused on the Lord’s Prayer. Pray Like This will encourage you to embody Jesus’ teachings in your own life. As you see prayer and justice intersect, you’ll be drawn into hope and restoration. Signing up for the hardcopy will see you receive a beautifully presented pack, complete with a QR to additional links and resources.
For many years now I have been coming to terms with God’s call to seek justice: how he calls us, through the power of Jesus Christ living in us, to set things right in his world.
Jesus has given his church the mandate not only to proclaim who he is, but to embody his character and Kingdom on earth.
He calls us to do whatever we can in to see that life, our relationships, our communities, our workplaces, and the systems that support it all reflect something of what God would want our world to be.
It’s huge, right?
It’s also really hard for many Christians to grasp how seeking justice connects with the core of the Christian faith.
I remember some years ago when I was pastoring in Western Australia, I was hoping one of the leaders in the church would become the point person to see our church take a lead in becoming a more just church in our community. I had given my friend a copy of Jim Martin’s excellent book, The Just Church. Martin’s book gives a helpful overview of some of the powerful justice themes in Scripture, and provides a helpful template for churches to implement justice ministries in their own neighbourhood. So, yes, I’d given this person a copy and was keen to hear what they thought of it.
Their repsonse? “Hey, I like the idea of the church being more just, but I just don’t see how seeking justice connects with the Gospel.”
Their comment left me wondering whether my friend actually understood what biblical justice was (had they even read the book?), and also whether there was a clear understandning of what the Gospel actually was. I don’t want to be harsh, but when I see the mission and ministry of Jesus in Scripture, it’s obvious that Jesus knew justice was central to his mission. More to come on that…
But for now, I’m thankful that Timothy Keller’s excellent book “Generous Justice” reveals show how closely Jesus’ ministry was interwoven with justice.
And just so we know: the justice I am referring to is the making right of things that are wrong, the repair and restoration of what is broken, and not just the forensic sense of the justice of God enacted in Christ’s death. You cannot separate the mission and ministry of Jesus with the pursuit of justice. Keller observes:
“At first glance, no two things can seem more opposed than grace and justice. Grace is giving benefits that are not deserved, while justice is giving people exactly what they do deserve. In Christ we receive grace, unmerited favour. Nevertheless, in the mind of the Old Testament prophets as well as the teaching of Jesus, an encounter with grace inevitably leads to a life of justice.”
Timothy Keller, Generous Justice, p.49
Did you catch that?
“An encounter with grace inevitably leads to a life of justice.”
That word “inevitably” should give us pause.
In a coming post I’ll look at what “seeking justice” is. But for now I just want to say that seeking biblical justice does not take us away from Jesus, it leads us deeper into him. Seeking biblical justice does not take us away from the Gospel, it gives us a deeper understanding of what the Gospel is.
Here’s the question: if seeking justice is core to seeking Jesus, how come seeking justice does not appear to be a core part of the mission and ministry of many churches today?
Maybe, for many churches, biblical justice has somehow ended up in their blind spot. They’re just not aware of how rich and how powerfully the Scriptures teach about this. They seem to have missed how central biblical justice is to Jesus, his death and resurrection, and the mission he has given to his church.
How do we move ahead in our thinking about Australia Day, especially as the discussion seems quite divided and sometimes polarised?
Cricket Australia’s recent decision to refrain from using the term “Australia Day” was criticised by the Prime Minister, expressing his view that cricket was cricket and politics was politics, and the two should not be mixed. As if we suspend all political judgement when we enter the cricket ground, or jump onto the streaming service, or listen on the radio. Yeah, nah.
I thought the PM’s comments betrayed any real sensitivity to First Nations people, and many others like myself who are burdened by the tensions around Australia Day. So, not a great move, PM.
Australians want more. They want a deeper discussion of the things we seem to be avoiding in our national discourse.
Australians want a fair go for First Nations peoples – so issues of Black Deaths in Custody, Stolen Generations, poor health and education outcomes for First Nations peoples really matter to a majority of people.
Australians want to understand their history – warts and all. People do want to acknowledge and recognise what happened in the past – whether flowing from good motive or ill.
Despite everything that has happened and is happening, we really do want to be a nation of “a fair go”, we really do want all people to be given “a fair go”, and we will not be happy if some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in our nation are left behind.
So, while we do need to look back to name and to acknowledge all that has happened, a better response to all the questions about Australia Day (including my own) is to look forward together.
a better response to all the questions about Australia Day is to look forward – together
We can do this by starting to listen to First Nations people about what we need to do to build a common future. We can listen to one another and wrestle with what we all need to do to repair our history of brokenness. We can weep together about injustice past and present, and with much hope build shared aspirations for the future.
And as a nation, we need to
Stop telling ‘the other party’ what they need to do
Stop imposing solutions that have not been mutually developed
Make political decisions, not because they’ll work well for the polls, but because they are the best way to serve people (for the ‘how’, see Dot Point 2, above)
Teach our children – with all the integrity and humility we can muster – the true history of colonial dispossession of First Nations peoples
Retain Australia Day – but also consider making Sorry Day a nationally approved Public Holiday
Develop a National Cabinet for Reconciliation. I’m not convinced this title is the best we can do, but I’m sticking with the “reconciliation” terminology because it’s so widely used. Either way, political and First Nations leaders need to develop policies that help us wrestle with the really big issues and lead us forward together. Federal and State Governments will need to work out their own responses, but this is doable. The only thing stopping us is a lack of political will. And where there is a will, there’s a way.
I love Australia, and I celebrate everything this nation has given me. I, along with my forbears, my children, my grandchildren have been nurtured and nourished beautifully by this nation. But I don’t think the same opportunities have been given to First Nations peoples. And that has to change.
So, look forward with me. Yearn for what can be. Think of what it needs to look like, and let’s start. Let’s have God change our heart.
There’s a powerful vision in Isaiah 58 where the prophet speaks of a context of devastation and horrifying injustice. The Lord calls his people to stop mere actions of faith (like worship), if worship and fasting is all that’s going on. When worship is joined with stopping injustice and putting things right, then the light of God’s people will shine like the day and their healing and restoration will appear. Things will start to be put right and to reflect God’s character of true goodness and grace. Right-ness will ‘have their back’. Instead of a wasteland, there will be a garden. Ancient ruins, broken down in the prophet’s eye, will be rebuilt. God’s people will be known as “Rebuilders” and “Restorers”.
That’s what we’re longing for, right? For trust, hope, love, grace, mercy and justice to be rekindled and rebuilt.
For my mind, that’s a pretty good thing to start longing for on Australia Day.
To do that, my family will be logging on to the #ChangeTheHeart webcast tonight. As we do, we’ll be praying that our good God will work in us all to rebuild, repair and restore what has been broken.
Our typical Australia Day pastime has included things like riding along the Wynnum (Qld) foreshore, or more recently in WA heading off to Coogee Beach. Plenty of people kicking back, having a BBQ or a picnic, enjoying the holiday. Whether or not there was any sense of thanksgiving for Australia, or any thought given to the landing of the First Fleet in Botany Bay in 1788 is another question.
Over recent years, questions have been raised about whether Australia Day is really a day for all Australians. Specifically, the First Nations peoples have resisted the celebration because it is actually the anniversary of the day their own lands were invaded and their own sovereignty ignored.
So the question is: what should we do?
Just continue celebrating Jan 26 as always and ignore the voice of the First Nations?
Forget about Australia Day completely, and ignore the incredible development Australia has seen over the last 232 years?
Find a date all Australians can celebrate – a date relevant to post-1788 Australians, as well as first peoples who have been here all along?
And to state the obvious: changing a word or two in the current national anthem is not going to help much. It is especially problematic that First Nations people were not even consulted about the value of the change. Once again, it seems like “our latest great idea” is simply announced as a fait accompli for First Nations people to be happy with.
The matter of Australia Day really goes to a wider question of what we’re to do with our own history. This question in particular has settled on me in recent years.
It just dawned on me one day. I was sitting on the rear deck of our (then) home in Success, WA, and I thought “I wonder which First Nations people used to call this area home?” Thankfully, the local Council acknowledged the Noongar people as traditional custodians of the land. But it was hard to find stories of what actually happened to those First Nations people.
It has been a similar story since moving to the NSW Central Coast. We know the Darkinjung people are the traditional custodians, and there are many still in the area. But what happened to the First Nations families when white settlers arrived? Was the interaction peaceful, or violent? I guess the Darkinjung Land Council have some stories, but that’s work I still need to do.
And you – if you’re reading this from Australia – what’s the story of the original custodians where you live? If they are there in diminished number, why is that? What happened? What is the history of settlement is in your area and what impact did it have on the First Nations custodians?
The more I have read historically verifiable accounts, the more troubled I have become about the circumstances of – for want of a better term – European occupation of the land we now call Australia.
Some would question the use of “occupied”, asserting the original nations of indigenous peoples were invaded, rather than occupied. Whatever term you use, it is clear that First Nations peoples were often subject to atrocious acts of violence and dispossession so dark that reading the accounts still today is a brutal and harrowing experience.
Many non-indigenous Australians probably believe the initial contact when the First Fleet arrived in 1788 was somewhat peaceable. Yet the raising of the Union Jack that claimed all lands for Great Britain’s King George was simultaneously a wilful rejection of the sovereignty of approximately 500 separate nations which already dwelt on those lands. These First Nations, both then and now, represent the oldest living culture on earth, having been in this land for some 65,000 years. Even so, their sovereignty has never been acknowledged. Australia’s constitution does not even recognise the existence of the First Nations. It is like they were never there.
No doubt, some would like it to stay that way, because the moment the First Nations are acknowledged, we must also acknowledge other realities, like:
The systematic dispossession of those First Nations. While the colonists saw themselves as “possessing” the land they began to occupy, first peoples believed the land possessed them in a profoundly spiritual way. So, this dispossession was like cutting away part of their soul. Like permanently separating a child from her mother. This pain is still carried by First Nations people today. This reality helps us understand their grief on Australia Day.
Complicating the matter further, colonists generally assumed that all First Nations were the same, and so it wouldn’t matter where they lived. For example, peoples from mainland Tasmania were rounded up during the 1830 Black Line policy and placed on Flinders Island. People from the Kimberly were captured and ejected from their lands and transported to Derby (see Banjo Woorunmurra and Howard Pedersen’s Jandamarra and the Bunuba Resistance). This dispossession and relocation was a common tactic employed by colonialists.
Hundreds of recorded massacres – some 350-400 accounts of six or more people killed in one action. These actions typically were one-sided actions where First Nations victims lacked any real self-defence. True: a dozen or so of these accounts represent attacks by first peoples upon Europeans, but these represent a mere 0.25% of the total number of recorded attacks. The reality is that almost all attacks were atrocious massacres of near defenceless First Nations peoples in their own traditional lands.
As I write this, there are press reports of another previously undocumented massacre in Campbell Town, Tas. A soldier writes how he witnessed ‘a bonfire of bodies’ and was sworn to secrecy so the guilty would escape justice.
There are other widely held views about pre 1788 First Nations which must now be exposed as false:
The myth that First Nations had no settled ‘villages’, culture or industry. See Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emufor an engaging excursion into the highly developed – though obviously non-western – pre-1788 first peoples’ culture and agriculture.
The myth that First Nations people did not develop the land: see Bill Gammage The Biggest Estate on Earth for an impressive body of evidence recorded by European settlers and explorers as to the extent of First Nations’ land management. Gammage’s work revolutionises commonly held understandings of First Nations’ culture, and also exposes the gross ignorance of colonists who readily exploited forests and resources with no thought to management and sustainability.
There are and were policies and practises which continue to have a horrific effect on First Nations:
The Royal Commission into Black Deaths in Custody. The Commission’s report represents a significant work which uncovered grossly inadequate practices and entrenched racial prejudice. Since the Commission handed down its findings in 1991, a further 434 First Nations people have died in custody. Since 2008, half of the number of First Nations people who died custody had not even been convicted of a crime.
Then there are unacceptable realities which endure to this day. Inadequate policy that betrays ongoing injustices and prejudice:
First Nations peoples are per capita the most incarcerated people on the planet.
Health outcomes among First Nations people evidence huge disparities with non-indigenous Australians, especially in remote communities.
These are just some of the thoughts in the lead up to yet another Australia Day. They help me understand the many voices who see Australia Day as a day of mourning. They help me understand the sense of grief and mourning many First Nations people have toward celebrating Australia Day in its current form on January 26.
Of course, nothing we do can turn the clock back. But it’s also true that we cannot have any role in future of healing if we continue to deny the past.
As a follower of Jesus I cannot reconcile the occupation of this land, the dispossession of its first people, the atrocities perpetrated against them, the separation of children from their families, the woefully broken justice systems which have led to who knows how many deaths in custody, or the ongoing terrible health outcomes for First Nations with the life God calls us to in the Bible.
In the Scriptures, God specifically calls us to use our power, our wealth, our ingenuity and our opportunities to help others thrive. This is a core aspect of what it means to be human. It particularly settles upon us as a sacred responsibility toward those who have been victims of violent and unjust actions.
So, as Christians, and at the very least Australians, we must find a way to acknowledge what has actually happened in our own history.
The longer we leave this, the less able we will be to build a true national identity or find a future of true conciliation. I don’t believe there’s a future of blessing until by God’s grace, we come to terms with our past.
To start you off, why not spend your Australia Day, and a few days around it, finding out the First Nations stories of your locality. Typically, local First Nations cultural groups are more than happy to have discussions like this.
What are your thoughts about Australia Day?
How do you intend to observe Australia Day?
What will our nation need to take into account in order to move forward into a truly shared future?
What a crazy year it has been – so much disruption. Fires, floods, then COVID isolation, working from home, reduced contact with others…
If anything, there have been important opportunities to consider our days and consider what really matters. Well, that’s how it has been for me.
In the course of it all, I’ve decided to blog more, and push into some deeper realities. Some of the posts I’m preparing relate to
Australia Day – how are we to celebrate Australia Day? What about the question of invasion or occupation? How do we address matters of injustice toward indigenous peoples? How do we move ahead as a nation? Can we even do that?
Biblical Justice – working for IJM has enabled me to see that while the bible contains a huge amount of Old and New Testament passages which address justice for the weak and the vulnerable, these passages remain in the blind spot of most western churches – well, certainly the reformed and evangelical sector to which I belong. I find this to be an inexplicable reality. So, my hope is that writing about it will bring some engagement from readers.
I’m sure as we go the discussion will develop. I’d love for this to be a forum of open questions, and I will try to engage with comments as best I can.
Through it all I trust that God will draw us closer to an understanding of who he has made us to be in Jesus, and a clearer understanding of all he calls us to do in his world.
So, what do you do when you’re looking at your To Do List, and it just seems to be getting longer every day? Who isn’t frustrated by that?
Then, this morning, I turned to Ps 131, which speaks of contentment in the presence of God.
My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content.
Israel, put your trust in the Lord both now and for evermore.
The child is not content because her mother satisfies her thirst – this is a weaned child. The child is simply content to be in her mother’s presence.
I need to speak that child’s truth into my To Do List today.
God is with me, I can be content. His presence can be my comfort and joy. I am reminded that he is at work, certainly through what I do, but – happily – way beyond that as well. More: he is at work irrespective of what I do. He’s at work whether I do anything or not. His work and its effectiveness does not depend on anything I do. But he works through me, anyway.
That’s his glorious promise: that this new life he has given me will continue to overflow, revealing his Kingdom even through my failing and faltering efforts.
We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life (Rom 6:4, NIV)
When there’s still so much to do, it’s a powerful comfort that God is at work well beyond my capabilities and capacity.
You may get your To Do List done today. Then again, you may not. But God is working through you anyway!
Coming Friday, many Christians churches will celebrate communion / Lord’s Supper / Eucharist.
Reading Tom Wright’s Lent reflections on Matt 26, I was struck by his statement that one of the purposes of the Lord’s Supper is to point us to the coming of the Kingdom (Matt 26:28-29).
I wondered how that understanding might influence our celebrations this Good Friday.
Certainly, communion is celebrating the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Coe 11:26), and our focus is often on ‘the Lord’s death’. But it’s also true that we do this ‘until he comes’. In the one act we look back and we look forward.
Here’s my thought: maybe it’s not just the duration of the celebration (until he comes), but the fact that he is coming has a bearing on how we celebrate, and what the supper really means.
In my church circles, the Lord’s Supper was, and still is, celebrated with great reverence and gravitas. But this got me thinking there should also be a celebration of the truth that Jesus died and rose again. This his death is the end of our death and his resurrection is the beginning of our life. That his living in us, him, being part of us, inside us – we have just eaten the bread and wine – is an assurance of his power to live his life in our world?
The message of the Lord’s Supper / Communion / Eucharist is not only that we have been forgiven through the blood of Christ, that out sins have been atoned, that our guilt is removed, that our death is conquered.
It is also that through his death we are truly alive, more alive than we ever dreamed (see John 10:10 MSG)! Alive to do his will. Alive to bring his life into this world. Alive to live his justice and righteousness. Alive to put things right; the way our gracious God would want them to be.
So, as we share the supper, is there a belief that Christ is, even now, through his risen people, making things right? And that this life, this new life, is the very life we are being nourished for in the Supper?
That would really be proclaiming the reality of the Lord’s death until he comes.
So we’re all coming to terms with things we cannot do…
Many cannot go to work, or have lost jobs
We can’t go to church
We can’t eat at a restaurant
We can’t have a drink with mates at the pub
We can’t go interstate (or even intrastate, really)
Social distancing is catching up with us all.
But we can still pray, right?
And we don’t need to be in a church to worship God, right?
So, if you’re looking around for a great way to experience community, why not sign up for Liberate LIVE?
This is a single International Justice Mission (IJM) event here in Australia, where Christians gather to hear stories of rescue, sing to the God who brings freedom, and to unite in praying for the end of slavery.
We have done this previously on location Sydney, but now it’s a fully online event, and the best thing is you can access Liberate from anywhere in the world.
Our guest on the night will be Ms Anita Budu, Director of Casework at IJM Ghana.
We’ll be interviewing Anita, who will
Share her eyewitness accounts of child slavery on Lake Volta, where children are brutally enslaved on fishing boats
Tell stories of how God is bringing rescue
Show how the church is mobilising behind this effort
This will be a terrific opportunity for you to have some Christian community, right at this time when we actually can’t gather anywhere – how good is that?
It’s a great occasion for Christians to unite in prayer, calling to God for the end of slavery.