Step into Lent and work toward Slavery’s End

Why would anyone knowingly commit to a lengthy period of abstinence? Well, in a culture that hardly wants for anything, purposefully engaging in self-denial can be sobering. We only have to have the wifi drop out for 30 minutes and it’s like the end of the world. Our affluent existence has fast food, express lanes, rapid transit, priority post, and apps to jump the coffee queue. Not waiting has become such a phenomenon in our connected age that Michael Harris has written The End of Absence, exploring the social impact of never having to wait for anything.

Generations past observed Lent as guided preparation for the celebration of the astounding redemptive victory of Jesus Christ. The 40 days of Lent drove people to hunger for the relief Jesus had brought in his death and resurrection. Their waiting was a living prayer that they were longing for a better world: the new heavens and the new earth.

And us? Maybe we can use the season of Lent to remind us – who have just about everything – that “a person’s life does not consist in the abundance of their possessions” (Luke 12:15). In our age, that alone would be a lesson worth learning.

But we can go a step further. We can use a time of “self-denial” to prompt our prayers for the people who go without just about everything, every day. We can pray for those who have no freedom, whose lives are bound by violence, whose daily existence is blood, sweat and tears. Who cry out to God for justice, and who long for relief.

I have a friend who has decided to cut out food between their morning and evening meals for Lent. From Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday they will skip midday food and snacks. Sure, they’ll get hungry, and when they do, they’ll be prompted to pray for the millions trapped in modern day slavery, who are hungering and thirsting for righteousness. My friend’s tummy rumbles will be a gut-level reminder that their world is not right – that our world is not right. That a large percentage of the world “goes without” every single day.

And you might be amazed how self-denial lets you step into solidarity with those in slavery

Why not join my friend? You could fast from food, from social media, from coffee, from alcohol – lots of things, really. And you might be amazed how this intentional, focused self-denial allows you step into solidarity with those trapped in the violence of slavery and forced labour.

You could use the physical reminders to

petition God, that he might bring freedom to those who are trapped in slavery
pray for the protection and provision of IJM workers in the field, that they might continue to bring freedom to the captives
ask God to open your heart to how you can support IJM’s work, and so share the burdens of the world’s most vulnerable people

All the while, you can also take comfort in the fact that the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus is God’s ultimate statement that he will end all slavery. Until he does, the Victory won by Jesus is his guarantee that he will continue to do his work through us.

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8, NIV)

(This post was originally published at www.ijm.org.au )

Last day in the office…😳

Actually, there are still a few days to go: A few hours Saturday editing my final Gateway sermon, and then a Sunday farewell service, and with that my pastoral duties at Gateway conclude. It feels weird. It also feels right.

I’ve been working part time for International Justice Mission since April. The role sharing between Gateway Church and IJM has gone as well as expected, but knowing I would eventually move into full-time work with IJM, it also felt like a progressive letting go. So now, as I spend my last day in the Gateway pastor’s office, I am settled and peaceful.

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I walked in this morning and Salila was looking at me: she always does this. She’s been in my office for about the last ten years. Her photograph was a gift from Austin K Graff, one time IJM Church mobilisation and social media wizard. Salila would always remind me that while I was free to do my work, millions of others weren’t. While I relaxed with my coffee there were children with no memory of ever playing, and only ever of slaving from 4am to 10pm in a brick kiln’s hell. While I slept peacefully and soundly, there were people of the other side of the world putting themselves in dangerous, life threatening situations in order to rescue others out of slavery and brutality.

Salila’s smile is evidence that freedom comes as the law is upheld. Her personal transformation reminds me that God is always at work to rescue from the fall, to end our chaos, to calm our fears, and to make things right again.

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The greatest reminder of this glorious work of God is Jesus’ Cross and Resurrection. His defeat of evil is the sole means IJM and their partners can undo the wickedness of violence and slavery. His is a glorious work of freedom: and when the Son sets you free, wow, you are really free!

So from next week, my sole work focus will be to introduce the people of Jesus to the people of Salila. I’ll be carrying the good news of Jesus through the God’s good people at IJM, and in the name of Jesus inviting the church into this grand endeavour to bring freedom in Jesus’ name.

And yes, there will be more to say about that…

 

 

Fear No More

2018-06-25

(C) Michael Leuning

After Jesus had been crucified, we’re told the disciples were in a room with the doors locked for fear of the Jews (John 20:19-20).

There was much to be feared. When Jesus died on the cross all their hope and dreams had died with him – at least that may have been their perspective before Jesus’ resurrection. For the Eleven, it would have been reasonable to expect that the people who wanted Jesus dead would want his key followers dead as well. So they were petrified. Inside that room they held their breath at every footfall, every knock on the door, every sudden sound.

So they had taken appropriate measures, and barricaded themselves in a room, locked the doors, turned out the lights, speaking in muted whisper of how they would hold the line and what they would do to make a last stand together. These actions were sensible, and we should not mock them.

My own capacity to cower before my fears never ceases to amaze me. I admit: I lock the doors and draw the curtains way too quickly. In that initial response I think I am working for my own preservation, but it tends to cut me off from those who are near to me. It deafens me to their words of hope and encouragement. It keeps me insulated from the comfort and nearness of those who love me more than I know. So, there are always some bills to be paid.

And then I see here what Jesus does, not just in our fears, but to our fears. Almost imperceptibly, he enters by miraculous, sovereign, and surprisingly gentle means. He does not rebuke the Eleven for their fear or their lack of faith: he just enters into it, and as he does, those fears are transformed into all joy and hallelujah.

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Somehow I imagine these followers, some years down the track, reminiscing over a meal and saying, “hey, remember the time we’d locked ourselves in our room, and we were packing it, and how Jesus just showed up…?”

Displaying his hands and feet reminded them of two things. One: the victory had been won. Two: now there was only love and life. In that very act they were changed.

So now, when I retreat, I will do well to recognise that even in that locked room Jesus is with me. He not only enters my fear, he shows me his resurrected hands and feet, and takes that ‘locked room’ of ‘what’s going to become of me?’ and it becomes instead a place of “peace be with you” and “receive the Holy Spirit.” All joy and hallelujah!

When I am gripped with fear, and all I want to do is retreat to my locked room, I should tell that to all my insecurities.

Why do I pray so timidly?

Good God, why do I pray so timidly, offering hesitant requests when I’m your loved child? I’ve been commanded – almost dared – by Jesus to trust your generosity in my prayers. Give me the expectation of a child that through Jesus Christ I will receive all I ask from you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

(See Belgic Confession, Art 26)


[from Seeking God’s Face, Philip F. Reinders, Faith Alive Christian Resources: Grand Rapids, 2010 (see my review of SGF here)]

On Australia Day

As I celebrate this Australia Day, I recognise that I live on the lands of the Nyungar people, and I pay respect to their elders past, present and future. When James Cook landed in Botany Bay, there were some 250 nations of first Australians already here. They had been here for tens of thousands of years, and there could have been anywhere to a couple of million in number.

Europeans did not discover this land, but their arrival started to change it forever, as the first Australians had also changed it. The European colony brought many good things, but it also eventually led to removal of the first Australians from many areas, and without due recompense. History is woefully overladen with accounts of their suffering and debasement at the hands of European colonists. Indigenous peoples still carry much of this pain. Many European Australians deny it in equal measure.

My prayer for Australia now is that we own this history, or it will continue to own us. We need to acknowledge our first Australians in our constitution. We need to listen to their voice, we need to hear their cry, and we need to act in equity and justice. This is what God would want from us. One day we sill stand before him and render account for how we have addressed this situation.

Let our shared love for this country and our awareness of God’s grace gloriously received move us forward into reconciliation, gracious embrace, and a future where all can thrive.

I’m celebrating today because the move toward reconciliation will always outlive the voice of hate and cowering fear. I love my country, and in it everything God has given to me, my children and grandchildren. I doubt there is a better place to live on earth. And I know this great land will only get better as we walk, with our First Australians, into God’s good future.

Stop Being a Control Freak

Read: Genesis 27

You may wonder why you’ve been asked to read a passage like this. I mean, there are hardly any attitudes worth emulating. Rebekah is a conniving mother and Jacob is wimpish and complicit.

Scripture of course does not always give us clear behaviour to emulate. Sometimes it shows us the ugliness of humanity and the deceit of the heart. That’s what we’ve got here. Rebekah knows God’s covenant promises will be kept. Even so, she looks at her oldest son and thinks ‘shivers, is he really to be the hope of the world? He’s more about his toys and achievement than faithfulness to the Lord. I better do something about that …’  The rest is history.

Maybe Rebekah had forgotten how the Lord tends to use the weak and ridiculous to bring his purposes about. She had to know this. Her husband was born to a 100 year old father and a 90 year old mother. Surely she knew the Lord had good form for faithfulness and working well beyond human expectation and circumstances.

But that was not good enough for Rebekah. She wanted the blessing to land on the youngest son. She wanted her own outcome. She wanted control. And what an ugly mess she made of it.

This always happens. When we want to control the future, we’re often doing so to stay in control. We’ll manipulate people. We’ll fudge on the details. We’ll stop listening to God. We simply will not trust his unambiguous promises. We’ll cast him aside believing we can do a better job ourselves.

Ringing any bells?

Have you been closing yourself to God’s will so you can get it done your way?

Listen: this never works. Even if you get an immediate result – like Jacob receiving a blessing – cutting God out of your picture will have serious consequences.

Think of the fear that governed Jacob’s life until his rapprochement with Esau. Think of the ongoing tension and warfare between Israel and the Edomites. Who knows how God would have worked if it wasn’t for Rebekah being a control freak and Jacob withdrawing into passivity. The Lord would have kept his promises however the human characters would have acted.

And this is where God challenges you: you need to trust him to be faithful.

You need to allow him to be your Lord.

You need to believe that he is good, and has the best intentions for your life.

You need to stop being a control freak, and starting following the God entrusting your actions and your plans to him.

Phillip Reinders has a tremendous prayer around this passage:

God of blessing, what a mess I create when I wrestle the future out of your hand and take it upon myself. I pray for patient trust today and good confidence for tomorrow, knowing that nothing can separate me from your love, because my curse fell on Jesus so your blessing can come to me. Amen

[Seeking God’s Face, p.577]

Like a beer on a hot day…

Who would have thought that those who live and share the good news of Jesus are like a beer on a hot day? Not just to other people, but to God.

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No. It had never occurred to me, either.

But my reading this morning took me to Proverbs 25:

Like a snow-cooled drink at harvest time is a trustworthy messenger to the one who sends him; he refreshes the spirit of his master. (Prov 25:13, NIV)

It says nothing about beer, but a snow cooled drink? Imagine how wonderful that would have been to a culture which knew nothing about refrigeration.

It took me back to days in western Sydney, moving house with a friend. It was such a hot day, and we stopped – briefly – at the Plumpton Inn for a breather. We both bought a gloriously cold beer – it was so good. We even breathed the involuntary ‘aaaaahh’ as a chaser.

This is what it’s like to share the news about Jesus. God looks on. He’s with us and in us, working through us. He knows our efforts aren’t perfect (have to say that as a Calvinist), but being gracious he observes what we do, and as we do it faithfully, it’s like a beer on hot day to him. ‘Aaaaahh … that’s so good!’

Not sure about you, but that thought seeds a growing desire to share more of the good news of Jesus!

The prayer in “Seeking God’s Face” today reads as follows:

Sending God, never let me think the call to share the good news of Jesus is for a select few. You send me, along with the whole church, to all people with the gospel. May my obedience as a messenger of the gospel be refreshing to you, like a cool drink on a sweltering summer day (Canons of Dordt. II.5)