Archive for May, 2015

DSC01573When we began our cruise of the Greek Islands last year one of the first words our guide taught us to say was efharistó, or thankyou. “Greeks love it when you say efharistó,” the guide said. The response we were told would always be parakaló, you’re welcome. Sure enough I found many opportunities to say efharistó to tour guides, waitpersons, bus drivers, shopkeepers and others and I was delighted that whenever I said efharistó, the response would always be parakaló.

I found something refreshing about using a word that was understood in a country far from home, and to have it acknowledged straight away. But perhaps even more important than that was the fact that the word I used the most was a word that focussed on the person to whom it was being addressed, not on myself.

Soon after being introduced to the word efharistó I drew on my basic knowledge of Biblical Greek and noticed straight away that embedded in the word efharistó, was the word charis, which means grace. This gave me a fresh appreciation of the way in which “thankyou” recognised an act of grace and at the same time was a symbol of grace.

In a society where entitlement has replaced thanksgiving the idea that thanks is an act of grace is quite important. When we go to a restaurant we pay our money and if the food or the service is not up to our standard we are more likely to express our lack of appreciation than to say thankyou. We have paid for something and are therefore entitled to a certain standard. Entitlement shows itself in many forms and sadly thanksgiving has been overtaken in many common situations.

May 30 is National Thanksgiving Day in Australia and it’s a great time to pause and reflect on the importance of saying thankyou to God and to the people who live around us. Even if we think that people don’t deserve it, saying thankyou is a powerful act of grace and we need to say it more.

Efharistó. Thankyou for reading this blog and for giving thought to these simple words.

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static1.squarespace.comI have been reading Rachel Held Evans’ blogs for a couple of years and have found them, at various times, challenging, frustrating, refreshing, and uplifting. So it was with a sense of anticipation that I bought her new book, Searching for Sunday.

In her very personal blog, Evans shared her spiritual journey, including her frustrations, anger and disappointment with the organisational church and how that impacted her relationship with God and with fellow Christians. With that background I was anticipating Searching for Sunday to be a criticism of evangelicalism and an opportunity to deconstruct the church.

However, the opposite was true. The hurt that led her out of the evangelical denomination she had grown up in was still evident, but over and above this was the deep sense of joy that arose out of discovering that God was still deeply in love with a church that was marred and broken, but inexpressibly able to represent his grace.

While I still find some of Evans’ discoveries quite challenging, I can’t help but be delighted at the way this book shows that even the greatest hurts and disappointments can be healed in Jesus. Anyone who has been disappointed, hurt or damaged by the church should find this book a breath of fresh air.

If the church is like a body, like a bride, Evans says, then its worth looking in the mirror:

This is the church. Here she is. Lovely, irregular, sometimes sick and sometimes well. This is the body-like-no-other that God has shaped and placed in the world. Jesus lives here; this is his soul’s address. There is a lot to be thankful for, all things considered. She has taken a beating, the church. Every day she meets the gates of hell and she prevails. Every day she serves, stumbles, injures, and repairs. That she has healed is an underrated miracle. That she gives birth is beyond reckoning. Maybe it’s time to make peace with her. Maybe it’s time to embrace her, flawed as she is. Maybe it’s time to smile back.

RIMG0033Over a number of years I became familiar with the road between Perth and Geraldton, a 433km ribbon of bitumen bounded on both sides by, at times, thick bushland.

Every so often, a bushfire would ravish the countryside and the change in scenery from one trip to another would be noticeable.

One one occasion I stopped to look more closely at a spot that had been left black and denuded by a fierce bushfire a month or two earlier.

As I walked through an area that had once been covered in heavy undergrowth and dense bush I was confronted by the devastating effects of a fire that had left trees and bushes, and even the sand beneath my feet, black and lifeless. But as I looked closer it was clear that lifeless was not the correct word to describe this place.

Tiny green shoots were breaking through the dry sand at my feet, and splashes of bright green contrasted with the blackness of burnt tree trunks as fresh shoots pushed aside the symbols of death and reached towards the sunlight.

A few times recently I have had cause to read Psalm 23 which says, in part:

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Whatever dark valley I go through the promise of God’s Word is that the fresh green shoots of God’s love and grace will continue to push through.

Even in the presence of enemies the table of grace will be prepared for me. Whether those enemies are people who bring fear and anguish to my life, or they are the enemies of death, disease, unemployment, loss, or poverty that bang angrily at the windows of my life, the table is still spread for me.

It is a table of life. A table that welcomes me when I don’t feel welcome in other situations. A table that offers hope and refreshment. It is a table that groans with the weight of fresh fruit, and delicious food. The contrast between the bright colours of the food and the blackness of the scenery around me is unbelievable.

On this table is the bread and wine that speaks of the overwhelming grace of One who was prepared to go through the darkest valley on my behalf.

And while I long to withdraw from this blackened place where my enemies hover in the shadows, I am drawn to this incredible table that has been set for me. Here in the presence of my enemies I experience forgiveness as I eat of the bread and drink of the wine; I can feel the oil of joy running down my head … and I know that I am at home.

He Speaks Our Language – Biography.

Growing up in a Baptist Church in Western Australia I regularly heard stories about the Baptist missionaries who went to Papua-New Guinea to serve God.

Place names like Telefomin and the Sepik River were part of my vocabulary as we heard visiting missionaries tell us stories of their work, or had reports read out at church from missionaries serving God in those places.

This morning our church service was led by the Papua-New Guinea West Australian Christian Fellowship and it was a privilege to have Alan Bong and others lead us in worship, even singing in Pidgin.

Alan told the story of a young missionary from Tasmania who went to Telefomin back in 1953 and the way in which the lives of he and his family had been influenced by this young man’s willingness to give up a successful career to bring the good news of Jesus to the people of Telefomin.

The tables have turned and now PNG Christians are in Australia sharing the good news of Jesus with their own people in this country and with Australians.

The same story could be told of many people who were influenced by Christian missionaries and in a new era of globalisation are able to return the favour.

The Centre for Global Christianity Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in the US, has shown that there have been dramatic changes in the way the Good News of Jesus Christ is spread around the world. Countries like Brazil, South Korea and India that were once recipients of Christian missionaries are now among the countries that send the most Christian missionaries to other parts of the world. In terms of missionaries sent per million church members, Palestine, Ireland and Malta are surprising leaders.

Screen Shot 2015-05-10 at 3.43.11 pmIt was a pleasure to receive ministry from our PNG brothers and sisters this morning and to be reminded of the words of the prophet Isaiah:

As the rain and the snow
    come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
    without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
    so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
    It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

Hope Through Endurance

Posted: May 2, 2015 in Uncategorized
Tags: ,
Photo: Amul Thapa, KathmanduToday.com via AP

Photo: Amul Thapa, KathmanduToday.com via AP.

This week a photograph of 5-month-old Sonies Awal being held aloft has become a symbol of hope.

Sonies was found alive in the rubble of his family home in Muldhoka, Bhaktapur, east of the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu, 22 hours after the devastating earthquake that killed more than 6000 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless.

Amidst awful scenes of hopelessness the discovery of a baby alive lifted the spirits of many and as the pictures spread around the globe the stories of survival helped to provide hope to a world that seems to have seen more than its fair share of natural disasters.

Hope is more than just a fanciful wish that things will get better. When a nation has been devastated by an earthquake hope enables the rescuers to keep searching; to keep listening for the muffled sounds of life below the rubble. Hope enables those people in positions of responsibility to plan for life after the clean-up has been completed. Hope motivates architects, town planners and builders to design for a future that is likely to include more natural disasters, but will also see babies born, relationships blossom, dreams realised, ideas developed and creativity nurtured. Hope motivates people hundreds of thousands of kilometres away to donate funds towards relief efforts.

On the back of the door in my office I have pinned these words that relate to the way in which hope can help in the process of change for those affected by mental illness and addictions:

Hope is the limitless belief that things do not have to remain the same and that change can and does happen. It is about concentrating on strengths rather than weaknesses, focussing on the future rather than the past and celebrating small successes rather than insisting on rapid change…

The apostle Paul put it this way:

Now that we have been put right with God through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. He has brought us by faith into this experience of God’s grace, in which we now live. And so we boast of the hope we have of sharing God’s glory! We also boast of our troubles, because we know that trouble produces endurance,  endurance brings God’s approval, and his approval creates hope.  This hope does not disappoint us, for God has poured out his love into our hearts by means of the Holy Spirit, who is God’s gift to us. (Romans 5:1-5 Good News Translation)

The picture of baby Sonies in Nepal is not only a picture of hope for a nation, but a picture of God’s love for all people; a picture of hope and grace that rises out of endurance.