17 November 2017

Same Sex Marriage - Conclusions

The SSM poll is behind us now and as was widely predicted, the yes vote is the clear majority. I know I’ll have some people close to me cheering, and others telling me the countdown clock to Armageddon just sped up. No one really knows what the implications will be till the legislation is finalized, though I’m not losing sleep over it. Frankly, any form of ‘religious persecution’ that may come from the change is a trifle compared to say, what our Christian brothers and sisters in Egypt, Syria or North Korea face every day of their tortured lives. I’d be embarrassed to call just about anything our essentially reasonable politicians can throw at us as ‘persecution.’

The church in Australia (and certainly my own church, Georges River Life Church) have always had only 2 options. We either sincerely open our doors and hearts to anyone to come, or we continue to shrink from society and betray the kingdom that Jesus ceaselessly embodied.

That kingdom is not an exclusive club for the righteous. No, it is a regal wedding invitation gone viral, shouted from every street corner to anyone who would come—just as they are (Matthew 22.9). That kingdom is like a giant fisherman’s net that indiscriminately scoops up everything in its pathway (Matthew 13.47). And that kingdom demonstrates a radically subversive power in strange ways—like an innocent king willfully hanging on a Roman cross for a world gone mad, lost in its own distortions of the ‘good life’.

Jesus’ kingdom is the paradoxical marriage of a perfectly good and holy God with perfectly broken and unholy people. His invitation is to all people to come and be re-formed by His truth and grace, from the inside to the out. Which is why Jesus also described his kingdom as like yeast - a tiny amount works its transforming power slowly and invisibly through all the ‘dough’ of our lives (Matthew 13.33).

Surprisingly, Jesus, post-resurrection gave his followers, the church, the task of being his ambassadors, representing and progressing that same kingdom. That decision through history has looked like a tactical blunder at times, and equally an act of sheer brilliance. Either way, the church today must constantly ask itself this question: ‘Are we accurately representing the kingdom Jesus inaugurated or something else?’ If the LGBTIQ community are left feeling like lepers at the front doors of our sanctuaries, then I suspect we need to go back and re-read the gospels.

Does that mean we all roll over and say anything goes? I’m not suggesting that at all. What I am suggesting is that Jesus is always the one who does the heart surgery and the churches role is to not scare people away from the operating theatre.

So, after all the rainbow-colored balloons have deflated, the flags folded and last drinks are had at the victory parties; after the media move on to the next story; after the surge of new marriages have been registered at the office of births, deaths and marriages; after the gloom of those who feel disaffected or betrayed by it all; and after we settle into a new norm in the Australian landscape; I have a sneaking suspicion that the answer, the real answer to all our angst and longing for validation, significance and hope will ultimately remain unfulfilled.

I seriously doubt an equality utopia will now suddenly descend from the heavens and people will live unoffended, unoppressed or burden-free lives. No earthly marriage of any kind, and certainly no legislation (just look at Indigenous Australia) will quiet the nagging ache of our souls nor our innate propensity toward brokenness. The gospel reveals that progressive or conservative, straight or gay, rich or poor, privileged or unprivileged—our crafted identities and mini kingdoms only go part of the way toward a life that is truly free and flourishing. Jesus and his kingdom remains the ultimate answer to all our hopes and fears—and maybe this is a time for getting our focus back onto that message.

So now may we walk in the beautiful tension of living uncompromisingly, disagreeing respectfully, engaging purposefully and loving relentlessly.

06 November 2017

Why are we all so busy?

Well I’m back from an extended break from writing and accessing that app on my phone that stars with F. Incidentally, I have the Facebook app located in a random folder inside a folder inside a folder on my phone, so it takes just long enough for me to think about why I’m accessing it before I do – which is surprisingly helpful sometimes.

Why the break? Why not! Resting from being ‘productive,’ resting from expectation and denying oneself that consuming habit of checking your news feed is simply good for the soul sometimes.

So, I’d like to say I was just totally resting, but that is not completely reality, is it? I find rest so incredibly hard to do at this stage of life – and I know I’m not alone. If there is one narrative I hear more than any other in people’s lives today, it is that life is ‘soooo busy’ (and frankly I’m often no exception). Busy is not just the realm of the high-flying executive, the school teacher, the tradie nor the parents of young ones. Busy finds most of us, and sadly, busy defines many of us. I'm acutely aware that many in my community perceive me as a busy person - perhaps too busy to interrupt. My dilemma is that busy is not what I want to be known for, nor the example I want to set - but I am.

Now busy is not necessarily bad. Living productive, full lives can be immensely rewarding. However, busy is not typically something we are aiming for in life because of the effect that it has on so many dimensions of life. For example, I and my pastoral colleagues in every church I can think of lament the same trend in their faith communities. Attendance is becoming increasingly sporadic, as people are torn between commitment to the rhythm of weekly worship and everything else that seems to crowd in. Sadly, it is common these days for people to come monthly to a worship service or not at all. I conclude that the problem is not necessarily the waning spirituality of the people. It is more possibly the unprecedented demand on their time and the dilemma of how to make the average week work when Sunday may be the only moment to breathe, (or catch up on everything else that didn’t get done the other 6 days).

For those who feel like that today, can I say, I get it. The pace of life leaves us all constantly choosing between the urgent and the important – and usually the urgent wins.

But let’s push back a little on this trend, because in as much as busy is a reality we all know; we are not simply passive victims of time and circumstance. We all make real choices with the same 24-hour time period that everyone has enjoyed through all of history. And perhaps we need to examine the why behind all those choices?

For example, why do I need to earn that much money? Why do I need to work so many hours? Why must my kids be in 5 different activities or private school? Why is the football game more compelling than friends or worship? Why do I need to fill every spare minute with some kind of digital stimulus or media? Why do I feel guilty doing nothing? I could go on but I’m sure you get the idea. Why is such a great question.

I’m sure we all think we have sensible answers for our choices. But our choices are probably the truest manifestation of the real values of our life. Sometimes we genuinely feel powerless to change our situation, but my hunch is that in most cases, we are strongly motivated by the need for a type of control and comfort. We have a deep longing to be in control of our circumstances and relationships, and obtain whatever we think will satisfy. And we buy the story that when we have control and comfort, happiness, significance, security and peace will then flood into our lives. But does it? And if it does, for how long?

I wonder how often our sensible choices sabotage the very life we long for?

God makes people not machines. We are flesh and blood, designed to both work, and rest. And rest is not simply a sleep in on Sunday, rest is far more purposeful.

The Bible’s answer to this is Sabbath, a concept largely overlooked today. Sabbath is the work and rest pattern woven into creation. The land was to be worked for 6 years and rested the seventh; people were to toil 6 days and rest the seventh. God is into sustainability – sustainable use of the land and sustainable lives. The Sabbath was a day of ceasing from toil and exchanging it with fellowship and worship. A positioning of our lives around abiding and connection to God, and each other. Jesus in John 15 would say that it is only from this position that real flourishing in life happens.

There is great wisdom in this ancient pattern which is as relevant today as it has ever been. Jesus was frequently critical of religious types who applied Sabbath in legalistic and prescriptive ways. But Jesus never disregards the Sabbath and he says in Mark 2 ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.’

The Sabbath was a gift for people to keep them from ceaseless toil and create margin where their hearts and lives could be reoriented toward God and one another.

I wonder if it is worth considering how we build this pattern back into our lives?
Where would you begin? Here is an interesting exercise to try:

1. Make a two-column table with ‘Toil’ on left side and ‘Sabbath’ on the right. Take a look at your calendar for say a month and categorise all your activities into one column or the other. Ask the ‘why’ question behind each activity.

2. In the Toil column put a question mark next to anything that may need further reflection. Why must this activity remain on my list?

3. Consider and pray about what you may need to reduce and how you may need to restructure your time to create more margin for Sabbath.

Experience tells me that when people get super busy the first thing to go is the right-hand column and the priority of Sabbath activities. What if we valued this right-hand column so much that we would instead ask ‘what needs to go from all my toiling?’ Perhaps we would eventually discover not only a more sustainable life, but a more productive one too?