God Says “It’s OK To Not Be OK”

This morning I read Psalm 88 again. When I say ‘again’, I mean it comes around regularly in my daily readings.

This Psalm always unnerves me. Sure, I t starts with a voice of praise, acknowledging God as the true rescuer, but that’s about the only positive thing we read. Heman, the writer, then takes us downstairs through trouble and difficulty into the lowest pit and the darkest depths (v.6). Heman reckons those dark times are no chance occurrence, or a string of bad luck. It’s confronting to hear him say all those terrible things are the work of God (v.6-8). I am not sure whether he’s got that right. Maybe he’s just trying to rationalise all the pain in his life and this is his best shot. Whatever the reason I can tell you it takes guts to say it the way he does.

Thankfully, I haven’t been through depression. I’ve seen some pretty torrid times, though. I don’t think anyone can do thirty something years in congregational ministry and not encounter some rejection, betrayal, and most certainly some tears. Don’t get me wrong: I love pastoral ministry, and generally it loved me. But there are valleys and sometimes they are very dark and very deep. And at those times it could be hard to get motivated, or to see the good things around me. I could get irritable and negative, too true. But I never felt depressed.

For plenty of people the Black Dog is a reality. From the little I understand, it can be ever present, very dark, and hard to shake. That’s where my mind goes when I read Psalm 88. The writer may well be depressed, and the comfort of God seems absent. He blames God for everything he’s experiencing. He calls out to God, but he doesn’t get any answer.

I wonder how God felt, hearing this cry in Ps 88? My best guess is that it wasn’t anger. Maybe more like heartbreak, or compassion, or He may have just sat with Heman in his black hole and wept with him.

God wanted us to know it’s OK to not be OK. That when we’re the un-ok-est of all, that he’s still with us. That we can weep, and rail against him, and shake our fist, turn our back, throw the kitchen sink at him, and he’s still there. Faithful and caring and loving as always.

If we believe what we say about the Scriptures, God also treasured these hard words of Heman, and preserved them for us to read. Perhaps God wanted us to know it’s OK to not be OK. That when we’re the un-ok-est of all, that he’s still with us. That we can weep, and rail against him, and shake our fist, turn our back, throw the kitchen sink at him, and he’s still there. Faithful and caring and embracing as always.

This is our God, right? He is with us through the the darkest valleys. He knows, the deepest valley of all is to be utterly forsaken and bereft of his nearness. He knows that because Jesus entered that darkness, and conquered it, we never have to go there. Not ever.

Heman, it may feel like he’s not there, that he doesn’t love you, that he’s throwing all hell at you. But really, he’s still with you, even when you can see him, or hear him, or feel him. It may seem like the darkness is your closest friend, but really, it’s God. He’s there, right there, in the darkness with you. He’s never going to let you go.

[I have to apologise for not hitting the blog that much. It’s been a time of adjustment. Hopefully I’ll be a little more regular now – Dave]

Marketing is broken. Can we fix it?

Marketing is broken. Can we fix it?

How does a Christian mission manage the challenge of marketing? Is it possible for Christian non-for-profits to avoid the pitfalls of presenting just another marketing ploy?

@Suansita shows great realism and sensitivity: we all need to present the need well and pray that generous people will respond, but we can bring some needed transformation to how we do that.

Read on…

Suansita

Me and Marketing

To be honest, I would never have guessed that I’d end up with the word ‘Marketing’ in my job title. It reeks of big business.

Chances are, I’m not the only one who feels this way. See how many of the following statements you agree with:

Marketing is persuading you to buy things you don’t need.

Marketing is about getting you to open your purse strings.

Marketing is about generating hype out of nothing.

Marketing is about pretty packaging, style over substance.

Marketing is about stupid algorithms.

Marketing is annoying emails in your inbox that you never signed up for.

In short, marketing is a dirty word.

Yet as life would have it, here I am: a marketing professional.

justin-lim-757171-unsplash Photo credit: Justin Lim.

Let me nuance this by saying I’m in the marketing department of a nonprofit dedicated to ending modern-day slavery. But I often feel…

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Back in Black on the Backs of the Poor

Two things happened in last night’s budget speech. The first was that the Morrison Government made their pitch for re-election. In projecting a solid budget suprlus, the Coalition promised to put the economy back on track. This budget gushed with tax cuts, major infrastructure projects, small business incentives, energy assistance payments, much needed assistance to the States for health spending, and so on. Man, the plate was running over, and the Treasurer was beaming!

Frydenberg obviously relished his pumping refrain “…and we did all this without raising taxes”. I mean, it does look good, doesn’t it? Heading back to surplus, a reinvigorated Government, a better chance of success in the polls?

It was a good look, except for the world’s poorest.

Frydenberg’s refrain could easily have been “…and we’ve done all this without thinking about the world’s poorest.”

Last night’s budget would have done better to leave the foreign aid at its current levels. But it didn’t even do that. It cut another $121m out of our aid programs. Reduced it.

While we get tax cuts, a healthy surplus, and relief on our energy bills, we decided to do less for the world’s poorest.

“…and we’ve done all this without thinking about the world’s poorest.”

What we need to realise is that we could have increased our foreign aid contributions and still have done everything else last night.

We can relate to Micah’s Tim Costello lamenting, How much do we need to have before we can again be more compassionate? Our Aid budget is now the least generous we have ever been.

Read Micah’s full press release here

Last November, as 200 Micah volunteers met with Australian parliamentarians, we were told that the argument for a modest rise to Foreign Aid was compelling. That’s what Tony Abbott told us. And Josh Frydenberg. And numerous others in the coalition.  Today, those commitments count for nothing.

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There are many people who will believe last night’s Budget got it right. They’ll talk about how we have to look after our own first. Who hasn’t heard someone say the farmers need it more than someone overseas?

The reality is it’s not a matter of choosing whether to help the farmers or  an aid project. We have enough in the kitty now to help both. Even so, last night Australia said, “we’ll take more, and give the world’s poorest less.” Even though we are the richest nation per capita on the face of the earth. The richest. Giving less to the poor.

For those who follow Jesus this is unconscionable. Unthinking. Uncaring. UnChristian.

Jesus reminds us that we’re blessed when we love anyone in need. That it’s better to give than receive. That the heart of God is close to the poor, and those who better themselves at their expense will be held to account:

“Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry.” (Exodus 22:22–23, NIV)

It is hard to contemplate a family continuing to eat their roast dinner while they know people 10 houses down are at risk of their life. Shouldn’t they step in? Wouldn’t they want to? Wouldn’t you? Of course, any good neighbour would. Last night our leaders said that didn’t matter too much.

True: maybe we’re becoming less of what we really want to be. And Tim Costello is right: “This is not who we are as a nation.”

Living in Denial?

The parking ticket flapped against the windscreen. Didn’t notice it at first, but there it was, plain as day. I was not happy. I had filled the meter twice, and it still had time on it. Apparently this doesn’t wash in Melbourne CBD: you can fill the meter all day if you want, but if you don’t move your car before the meter first expires, it counts for nothing. Zip. Nada. But, hey, thanks for the money!

Nothing alerts you to this. No signs. No information on the meters. Maybe, as someone from out of town, you have to sniff those facts in the air. Perhaps that’s how you know. But I read nothing and sniffed nothing about it. And that slip of paper on the windscreen was still flapping around to prove the point.

I was pretty indignant. See: I thought I was in the clear. I know: ignorance of the law is no excuse. But I still wanted to deny my personal responsibility. We all do this. We blame what others have said and done. We blame circumstance. We blame the flippin’ dog. We will do anything to avoid acknowledging our own sin. Because once we yield, even a millimeter, we must also acknowledge that we have sinned against another. And then guilt moves in.

Let’s be adult about it: we wrong people all the time. We wrong ourselves – we don’t even have the ability to keep our own promises perfectly. We wrong our environment. We wrong God. This is all about our actions, thoughts and decisions. And beyond all of that, the Bible talks about sin in our nature: reminding us that sin goes right to the core of our personality. We’re born with this brokenness already in play: explaining why no toddler ever needs to be taught to be naughty. This deep human brokenness is the reason we can never leave sin behind.

Sin is that pervasive. Every person. Every action. Every aspect of life. Every corner of creation. It began as our first rebellion in the Garden turned the universe against God.

We can only wonder, then, that while God hates sin and rebellion so vehemently, he still wants to shower us with grace, forgiveness and a new beginning.  We know this through Jesus: the One through whom all things were created became the One who paid the rebellion’s penalty on the Cross. He is also the One through whom all things will be recreated. And the proof is the Cross, the Resurrection, his Rule, and his eventual Return.

That’s the thing about minimising your responsibility in sin: you also end up minimising why Jesus came, and how he died to bear the cost of your rebellion and bring you back to God. You end up shortchanging the wonder of the life he pours into you.

God, help me to be honest about the wrong in my life and my heart. I don’t want this denial to constrict my life; much less my joy. So let me leave these things behind, as much as I can, and help me instead to embrace a life of love, grace, humility and seeking the right. Let your good life overflow in me, let wash away all my denial, and let Jesus’ life be seen in all its joyful wonder.

 

Law and Freedom

Why would anyone say God’s law brings freedom? Isn’t true that most of us see laws as restrictive and burdensome?

Yesterday, my reading took me to the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20: the primary call to obedience for all humanity, but especially those who know and love God. Perhaps the most striking aspect of the Commands is the prologue:

And God spoke all these words: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” (Exodus 20:1–2, NIV)

Before God breathes a single word of law, he wants us to know who he really is and what he really wants for us. “I am a rescuing God. I love you. I want you to thrive in freedom that honours me … and this is how you can do that.”

This is the frame God gives us for understanding his law. Perhaps even any law. God wants life to thrive in every context, for every person, no exceptions. Even foreigners, who may not know God, or care about him. Even itinerant, nomads, refugees, people who are different to “me” and “us” – God still wants them to rest and to thrive and to find fullness of life in him. Read through the commands, especially those about Sabbath, and you see that God even wants animals (and so, creation itself) to thrive and to rest.

The best life is found where people follow these commands, right? When there’s no murder, no deception in marriage, no thieving or corruption, no abuse of children, or women, or men. Who doesn’t want that?

God gave these laws to his people, sure, so that by living them they would find freedom. But also, so the nations around them would look at his people, and see how life might abound should they live his way. Even an imperfect, but largely compliant communal or national response to these commands would be evidence aplenty that God is loving, keen to rescue and save, one who brings redemption – even to us.

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…