Protecting the kids

Australia has just received the report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, after five years of hearings. It’s been necessary but terrible. There have been awful accounts of institutional power used to cover up abuse and protect abusers – including a number of churches or ministries. The police referrals from the royal commission number in the thousands.

As a Christian minister, and also with some junior sports involvement, I have wondered what to do to improve safety. There are a number of good and widely-known protective measures: comply with your state’s Working With Children Check (NSW here); complete safety training; have nominated safety contacts; arrange groups so children are not left alone with an adult.

But here’s an idea I’d like to suggest. It’s a message for any adult-trainer-teacher to communicate to every child and family under their care. I’d like each adult to say this:

Make sure that you tell people everything you learn here. There are no secrets!

I reckon this statement has a few good things going for it.

  • Abuse loves secrecy.
    So many accounts of those hurt include things like, “It’s our special secret”, “If you tell anyone I will …” Let’s make secrecy explicitly against our ways.
  • It’s a great way to teach.
    A child who can communicate the lesson has learnt the lesson. It might be a Sunday School message about how Jesus’ death brings forgiveness of sin, or a cycling tip about how to hold the handlebars.
  • It can develop enthusiasm.
    “Guess what I learnt this week!”
  • It tells teachers and trainers that we expect kids to share all that happens.
  • It tells parents and carers to expect communication about our program.
  • It’s good promotion.
    If you’re teaching Sunday School, surely you want more families to join in and hear the good news. Similarly for a sports team, music group, art class, … Happy participants who speak up are a walking invitation.
  • It tells the whole church/club/group that we have a culture of openness.
  • Biblically, there are no secrets.
    God’s judgement is coming, and all secrets will be revealed. Christians especially should know and live by this. Jesus said, “For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light.” (Luke 8:17)

This is only a small tip. But I think I will begin to try it out. I certainly pray for better protection of children in all sorts of institutions across Australia.

50 words

Here’s my entry into the 2017 Write Around the Murray Nanostory competition.

The task: write a 50 word (exactly!) story. This year, the theme word was shadow. The title is not included in the word count.

I’m sure you can see what I’ve done. It’s far more obvious that last year’s obscure effort!

We trail.

Penelope is my boss. ‘Pen Umbra Undercover Protection,’ she answers the phone. Dark and dim are our daily duty. When trust clouds, business shines. The faithless fog their indistinct way, yet we follow. Murk and dusky paths mark our way of gloom.
I’m Hue.
My employment is under a shadow.

 

God and refugees

At Albury Bible Church, we hosted a meal with discussion – called Serious Eating – on the topic of God and Refugees.

The format included a short talk, about five minutes, as a thought-starter. Then, on each table, there was a menu for further discussion. For a lighter conversation, you would choose the entree. For more depth and difficulty, go for the main course.

I had a request to write up what I said. So here it is, expended from my brief written notes to make some sense on its own.

There’s a refugee problem right now. For example, quoting last week’s news, 10,000 people every day are fleeing Mosul. The stories we hear on the news are heart-breaking.

We care because of our common humanity. Common humanity is a biblical idea, but now so widely accepted we do not think of it as a ‘God idea’. But that’s OK, because there’s more to say about God and refugees.

When he was a child, Jesus became a refugee. In Matthew 2:12-15 we hear about the real risk to Jesus’ life. Herod then murdered of Bethlehem’s boys, and Matthew 2:18 could describe the TV shot of any modern refugee mothers in grief.

Furthermore, the Bible’s confronting message is that we all are refugees – though of another kind. We are refugees from God, running away not because he is bad but because we are. The way people respond to modern refugees does show positive humanity in compassion, but it also demonstrates our dark and evil side. As individuals and as a nation, we are far from perfect.

The real mind flip about God and refugees brings together these two points, about Jesus and about us. Jesus became a refugee to save refugees. We see this on the cross.

Jesus died as a Jewish man executed by the Roman empire – typical political oppression. Jesus’ death was also spiritually oppressive: his own national leaders abandoned him, as did the empire, and his disciples. Even God the Father was silent when Jesus called.

In his death, Jesus became the most excluded man in history. He said this was in order to include us with God. Jesus became the oppressed outsider to welcome outsiders to God. Romans 5:6 fits the idea that Jesus became a refugee to welcome refugees.

So to understand God and refugees, we need to take seriously God’s works to offer us salvation. Do we know and trust Jesus? All refugees have basic needs. Forgiveness is our basic need before God!

Within this huge overarching good news story, it’s clear also that God is all for refugee care. By looking at Jesus’ own cross-shaped love, we see the principles for refugee care – it is service that’s difficult, costly, patient, and not selfish.

What does that mean for you and me? I don’t think there are direct biblical political policies to apply to the world. I don’t see there’s a ‘Christian politics’ – but there should be action. Inaction and apathy just don’t fit what we see of God’s passionate love for the helpless.

Quick review: 40 Rockets

40 Rockets40 Rockets by Craig Josling

“40 Rockets which, when translated, means 40 short and punchy tips on sharing the message of Jesus with people at work.” (With apologies to verses like John 1:42.)

Lots of good tips. And easy quick read, but not designed to be read quickly. Each tip is for thought and reflection. Preferably with someone else.

This is not a theology of the message of Jesus, nor of the reason to share Jesus’ gospel. It’s not a listing of all the blessings Jesus’ death for the world. This is not an academic treatise. But none of these things are a problem – for 40 Rockets does not aim to be any of these things.

So what is this book? Words from an experienced, but far from perfect, Christian to help us all do better at promoting the news of Jesus.

Here are some chapter headings to give a feel for the topics/rockets: Be convinced that the workplace is a great place to share Jesus; Be gracious in conversation; Don’t let work define your value; Memorize Romans 6:23; Give honest and sincere appreciation.

I’m thinking how to use this book, because it strikes me as totally usable. Some ideas:
* pair up, and have a 5 minute phone chat each week to discuss that week’s tip
* give a copy to every member of a Bible study group, spend a few minutes each week at the start of your group looking at that week’s rocket
* for two months of Sunday church, pick a rocket a week for someone to summarise
* include a rocket a week in the church bulletin
* read a chapter each day with housemates (in a share house, with family, whatever)
* read a chapter on the bus to work, and summarise it in an email for fellow believers in your business

Undoubtedly there are many more.

And I want to get on with using 40 Rockets when I am. From Matthia Media.

View all my reviews


 

How to break the second commandment

This is yet another internet ‘how to’, but one that I don’t really want you to follow.

The Ten Commandments are on the lips of Moses just after Israel is saved from Egypt (Exodus 20:1-17), and forty years later as they finally get close to entering the land of promise (Deuteronomy 5:1-21). The forty year gap had a lot to do with Israel’s failure to follow the law, especially commandment number two.

Here’s the commandment, from Exodus:

You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

It’s a strong warning about idols, false gods, and not competing with the one true God. Through the Old Testament, Israel (very!) slowly seemed to learn this lesson, so they became known for their opposition to idols of all sorts. Paul’s revulsion at Athenian idols (Acts 17:16) shows a pretty standard Jewish reaction to false religion.

The commandment says: don’t worship as God that which is creation, do not honour made things as in any way like their maker.

Sadly, Australians fall into this false worship all the time. Here are the two common sayings I hear that prove it:

“The best place to feel close to the divine is in the bush/garden.”

“Music moves me in a way that’s truly spiritual.”

That is: God is in the world; or, God is in a human manipulation of the world. They (metaphorically) bow down to creation, or serve something made out of creation. They are the same as saying, ‘I worship the sun,’ or, ‘Here is the god my silversmith manufactured.’

Christians, of course, should know this error – it’s sin in a most blatant form. But we mess it up all the same.

So often we (ok, yes, it’s me!) make the error of thinking God is more close in a beautiful garden than a city street. Or that the experience of fine music leads us more directly to the experience of the Holy Spirit than the Bible reading in church.

These are terrible errors, sins most awful.

Jesus, victor over death and ascended to God’s right hand, is with his disciples always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20). There was no mention by Jesus of ‘only in sweet gardens’.

I agree that singing and music work better when in tune. But we must remember that songs (any art form) do not mediate God to us. They are human responses directed to the God who is already with us – thanks, praise, honour, rejoicing.

We can be thankful to God for his good gifts to us. But to turn those gifts into ‘God’s presence’ is an assault the second commandment, an attack on God himself.

 

“You’re not listening” – main meanings

It seems to me there are three primary meanings to the statement, “You’re not listening to me!”

  1. You’re not listening to me.
    You really did fail to pay attention, and notice what was said.
  2. You did not do what I want.
    They said it, you understood but didn’t follow their idea, which they take as proof of not caring.
  3. You didn’t read my mind.
    Come on, you must have known what I wanted.

There are probably more, but I think these are pretty common. Which have you heard? What have you said?

 


 

Death: by Karl Barth

Commenting on Romans 5:12 (some paragraph breaks added) –

Death is the supreme law of the world in which we live. Of death we know nothing except that it is denial and corruption, the destroyer and destruction, creatureliness and naturalness. Death is engraved inexorably and indelibly upon our life. It is the supreme tribulation in which we stand. In it the whole riddle of our existence is summarized and focused; and in its inevitability we are reminded of the wrath which hangs over the man of the world and the world of man.

So completely is death the supreme law of this world, that even that which, in this world, points to the overcoming and renewing of this world, takes the form of death. Morality appears only as the denial of the body by the spirit; the dying Socrates is the only fitting emblem of philosophy; progress is no more than a restless negation of the existing natural order. No flame – except the flame of the Lord! (Exod. iii. 2) – can burn without destroying. Even the Christ according to the flesh must die that He be appointed the Son of God (Rom. i. 3, 4).

We too must pass through death, if we are to render unto God the honour due to Him. We have to learn that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. We would like to turn our backs on all this, if we could. We would like to protest against death in the name of life, if it were not that the protest of death against our life is far more venerable, far more significant. We try to bury out of sight the suspicions and reservations which accompany every unbroken affirmation we make, and to protect our eyes against the grey light of the final negation which is preceded by a whole host of preliminary negations. But we are unable to persist long in our attempt; for it is all too evident that the grey light does not proceed from our caprice, but has a primary origin. It envelops our whole life (Rom. i. 10), for there is no vital and creative human action which is not born in pain and revolution and death.

We are powerless; we are lost. Death is the supreme law of our life. We can say no more than that if there be salvation, it must be salvation from death; if there be a ‘Yes’, it must be such a ‘Yes’ as will dissolve this last and final ‘No’; if there be a way of escape, it must pass through this terrible barrier by which we are confronted.

From The Epistle to the Romans.

Speaking of church

“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the golden lampstands.'”
Revelation 2:1

[To the church in Smyrna] “I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) …”
Revelation 2:9

[To the church in Laodicea] “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realising that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”
Revelation 3:19

These verses from Revelation demonstrate a couple of important things about church – that church is all about Jesus, and that church appearances can be wrong.

Firstly, church is all about Jesus being present. In Revelation, the image of seven stars and seven lamps symbolise the seven churches. No church is defined by its building, its programmes, its leadership, … It’s a church because Jesus is there. Take away Jesus and you have no church.

But secondly, church appearances can trick us. The church in Smyrna was described as poor – yet Jesus’ point of view was, “but you are rich”. The church in Laodicea was very confident that they had everything, and more than enough. But Jesus’ words could not be more different: “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked”.

So how should we speak about churches? I reckon we speak in two ways: one way for our church, another way for other churches.

Talking about other churches: humility

The way to speak about other churches is with humility.

We have good reason to speak about other churches – it’s not gossip! I want to hear about churches. I try to listen and remember what I hear about churches. If I know someone moving to a new town, I want to be able to say, “Hey, when you move, try out Church X.”

On the flip side, it’s a great help to know if a church might be going astray. If I meet someone from there, or they move to my area, this knowledge gives me a head-start on what issues to be wary of, and what conversations to have.

And yet …

And yet appearances can be wrong. Reputation might be inaccurate. So while I argue that we can talk about other churches, we must be humble. In others words, we admit that we don’t know everything – only Jesus does – and we might be plain wrong.

Talking about our own church: not humility

But when we speak of our own church, let’s drop the (false) humility. If we are part of a church, it should be because we are convinced that Christ is with us by his Spirit. A church with Jesus lacks nothing.

In short, we know our church as a real and living church because of the presence of Jesus – no matter what the appearance may be.

So let’s speak up confidently!

Let’s forget the, “We’re not doing much. Nobody really knows us. You’re probably not interested in this, but I’ll invite you anyway …” Instead, we remember that Christ walks among us!

Nano story

Write Around the Murray is an annual festival in Albury. With writers. And writing competitions.

One competition – excellent in particular for schools – is the Nano Story. Fifty words, exactly, and including a theme word. The 2016 word: forget (or a version of it: forgets, forgot, …).

I entered. I tried something tricky, which didn’t really work. Can you spot it?

“Remember”, you said, “Always.”
We lie in a little, create moments.
“Promise lasting joy with me no matter what. Forget dreams – others exclude.”
“I will.”
“Won’t you accept our word: memory fails that mind – yes, you.”
Bereft. Sadness. Temporary denial.
Time destroys. Immense the truth they never heard, “I forget.”

My hint if you’re interested – you could perhaps call this story tidal.