Tuesday, November 22, 2016

What Breaks God's Heart?

One of the most quoted phrases from contemporary worship in recent times would have to be "Break my heart for what breaks Yours" from Brooke Fraser's well loved song 'Hosanna'.  Every time I sing these words I immediately think of all that is broken in our world through a lens of social justice - war, poverty, slavery, human trafficking, drug and alcohol abuse, family violence...and sadly, this barely scratches the surface! Interpreting these words in this way is consistent with the message of the prophets - "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) - and is in alignment with the mission of Jesus Christ - "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners  and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour" (Luke 4:18-9).  God is clearly concerned about human suffering and flourishing and is grieved by anything that diminishes His image in humankind.  But could there be more than a social justice lens to understand the meaning of these provocative words?  What else breaks God's heart?

Again, I look to God's message and mission as revealed in Scripture and discover that He is as concerned about holiness as He is about justice...

"This is what the Sovereign Lord says: It is not for your sake, people of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone.  I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Sovereign Lord, when I am proved holy through you before their eyes." (Ezekiel 36:22-23)

So when I sing, "Break my heart for what breaks Yours," my thinking needs to extend beyond that which offends my humanity to that which offends God's divinity.  While the two are not mutually exclusive, as God's holiness and justice are inseparable; it seems the former has a declining impact on the hearts of many Christ followers than the latter. In fact, when Christians raise their voices against a violation of justice it evokes a somewhat different response from others than when Christians raise their voices against a violation of holiness. This is an interesting paradox when you consider that the first and greatest commandment is to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (Matthew 22:37).  The depth of this love calls for complete devotion that synchronises two hearts as one, so that the pursuit of holiness reframes what breaks the hearts of those who say they love God. 

Consider these expressions of such love towards a holy God by key leaders in Scripture...


King David, who was described as being "a man after God's own heart" (1 Samuel 13:14), offered a prayer of repentance for his sin against a holy God, whom he loved:  "For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.  Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge." (Psalm 51:3-4)

The prophet Isaiah saw his sinfulness in the presence of the holiness of God and cried, "Woe to me!  I am ruined!  For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty." (Isaiah 6:5)

The disciple Simon Peter, humbled by the authority of Jesus, "fell at Jesus' knees and said, "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!"" (Luke 5:8)

The apostle Paul, fully aware of his own wretchedness and the power of the Spirit, chose not to "live according to the flesh" nor to have his "mind set on what the flesh desires; [but to] live in accordance with the Spirit [with his] mind set on what the Spirit desires." (Rom 8:5)

 
In each case their brokenness led to repentance and their repentance led to holiness and their holiness positioned them for mission.  God says, "Be holy because I am holy" (1 Peter 1:16).  Why?  Only when our hearts are fully aligned with God's heart can our hearts be truly broken by what breaks His.  Only from this posture can we truly identify what is broken in this world.  Only then can we bring a message of hope and engage in a ministry of healing.  Only then will God's kingdom come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10).

God's mission demands a posture of humility before a holy God, otherwise...

How can we preach a mandate of HOLINESS when we continue to justify what is right in our own eyes?

How can we participate in a ministry of HEALING when we cannot recognise the brokenness of our fallen humanity?

How can we promote a message of HOPE when we are seduced by the values of this world?

What breaks God's heart is when the church misinterprets the full counsel of Scripture and misrepresents the character of God by setting holiness and justice against each other, thereby robbing people from experiencing the fullness of life that Jesus came to give all humankind!

Friday, November 11, 2016

Have We Forgotten?

Like many Australians, every year I attend and participate in two culturally significant community events - ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day.  Both days are a time to honour the memory of those who lost their lives on the battlefield and are a sober reminder of the lasting scars that war leaves on our humanity.  Each year at these services the solemn sound of the Last Post played by the bugler is either preceded or followed by the recitation of the "Ode of Remembrance" which ends with the phrase "Lest We Forget".  

While it is right and proper that we remember the fallen, have we forgotten what they fell for?  Has history taught us nothing?  Have we not shed enough blood?  And in the words of songwriter Bob Dylan, "How many times must the cannon balls fly, before they're forever banned?"

The ongoing threat of terrorism, the war on ISIS, conflicts in the Middle East and parts of Africa, tensions with Russia and North Korea, all would suggest to me we have forgotten that war never has and never will bring true peace and freedom for humankind!  

The relative peace that follows when the guns are silenced leaves those who are wounded or displaced by war suffering relentless physical and mental conflict.  The freedom celebrated by some becomes bondage to others and remains elusive for most after a ceasefire is declared.  The human cost of armed conflict only really serves to perpetuate the brokenness of our humanity instead of purchasing the peace and freedom all humankind ultimately craves.

When we say "Lest We Forget" it must not just be a lament about the past but a resolution for the future!  Every time we say "Lest We Forget" it must move us beyond reflective commemoration towards a robust commitment to find a better way!  Therefore, "Lest We Forget" that ALL human beings are made in the image of God and have been created to live in shalom with our Creator, each other and the world we share.

Monday, October 31, 2016

A Shocking Story!

I was shocked to hear about the actions of the emergency services who responded to the evacuation of a public school during a recent fire emergency and appalled by the follow-up actions of the Education Department!  

The fire was started by arsonists in the library and it quickly spread throughout the entire administration block and surrounding classrooms putting half the school community at risk of serious injury. 

As soon as the fire alarm was activated the school evacuation plan was immediately initiated with the students in relatively unaffected buildings being evacuated orderly through designated exits to the emergency assembly area.  Most of the staff in the administration block were able to exit through the main entrance.  However, a dozen teachers who were overcome by smoke inhalation had to smash a window in the staff room to escape from the thick blanket of smoke. Unfortunately, this window led into a closed in courtyard and the teachers were forced to climb over the timber privacy screens to get out.  

The class studying in the library were completely trapped with no way to safely exit by following the school's well rehearsed evacuation plan. Both emergency exits were blocked by flames and debris from the fire and panic caused the students to become disorientated with fear.  The librarian ushered some of the students to the back of the library and used a chair to break through a dividing partition into the classroom next door to find another way out.  The students on the mezzanine level with their class teacher climbed up the wall mounted book shelf and helped each other through a small overhead window onto the roof of the library.  Once on the roof they ran across the metal cladding towards the fire brigade frantically waving and yelling to get their attention.

As expected, the students who followed the school evacuation procedures were immediately attended to by the designated fire wardens to ensure they were accounted for and were assessed by first aiders for any injuries.  But to my surprise the staff who broke through the window and climbed over the timber screens were reprimanded by the police for not following correct procedures before being treated by the paramedics for smoke inhalation.  What I found most outrageous was how those trapped in the library were treated by the emergency services after their ordeal of escaping from the worst effected area of the school.  The librarian and students who broke through the partition wall were refused medical treatment by the ambos!  And those who climbed onto the roof were told by the fire brigade to go back the way the came and exit the building the right way!!

If this wasn't bad enough, an internal investigation of the incident by the Education Department found the teachers who had helped the students escape the 'wrong way' were in breach of department policy. The teachers lost their jobs and the students involved in damaging property were expelled from the school! Just when you thought this story couldn't get any more bizarre, the Minister for Education pursued legal action against the school principal to deter other schools from breaching emergency procedures in the future.

Sounds outrageous?  Absolutely, because it's not a true story!  If this fictional story was true, it would justifiably evoke the condemnation of every reasonably minded person associated with this made up school scenario. 

However, it does serve as a confronting allegory of the outrageous policies of the Australian government for handling traumatised people pursuing any means of escape possible from the dangers they face; irrespective of whether or not it complies with what is considered to be acceptable. In the face of imminent danger, real or perceived, there is no such thing as a 'right' or 'wrong' way to seek asylum. When you are in danger your survival instincts don't stop and ask if your safety is logical or even legal. When your family is at risk you don't stop and ask permission to make them safe.  If we are brutally honest and put our fears and prejudices aside, there is very little that any one of us wouldn't do if we genuinely felt our safety was threatened.  

Any parent who has ever said, "I would do anything to protect my family," needs to rethink condemning a mother or father who has acted on that statement.  Any government that has ever sent troops to war needs to reconsider policies that inhibit victims of war from escaping a conflict zone. Any society that values peace and freedom needs to reassess who is entitled to that same value.  

Finally, if you felt any level of outrage at the treatment of the students and teachers in this imaginary story then next time you hear a real story of people seeking asylum use your indignation to advocate for their universal right to life, liberty and security of person.

Friday, October 21, 2016

LEADING FROM THE TRENCHES: Paralysed By Failure

LEADING FROM THE TRENCHES:  Paralysed By Failure
You can choose to allow failure to paralyse you or propel you towards new discoveries. Don’t allow a moment of failure become a lifetime of disability.  Read more...

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

I'm Offended!!

I'm offended that as a new father I was unable to use a public 'parents room' to change my babies nappies without feeling I was intruding on a mother's only space.
I'm offended that when I was a father of five year old twins I couldn't take either of them into a change room at Kmart without being looked upon as a deviate.
I'm offended that today as a father of a sixteen year old daughter I am subjected to suspicious glances when I take her out to a cafe on a daddy/daughter date.
I'm offended that the designation of leadership roles in our home and ministry between my wife and I, based on our shared values and individual gifts and abilities, are judged by some as chauvinistic.

I'm also offended that men in general are singled out in social and political commentary as child abusers, perpetrators of domestic violence and instigators of sexist behaviour.




BUT...




I am more OFFENDED by the men in our society who do abuse their position of trust and violate the innocence of children.
I am more OFFENDED by the men in our society who do use their physical strength to inflict unthinkable violence against women as a means of exerting control.
I am more OFFENDED by the men in our society who still think that unwanted sexual advances, sexist jokes and sexualisation of women is just 'boys being boys'.
I am more OFFENDED that the inappropriate behaviour of a few men in our society can leave lasting physical, emotional and mental scars for a disproportionate number of women and children whose only vulnerability is that which is imposed upon them by the distorted use of power.

If singling out the role of men in the abuse of power is what it takes to restore a right image of self in the lives of women and children, then I can live with being offended.  My offence pales into insignificance compared to the greater OFFENCES being perpetrated by men who need real manhood role modelled to them by the men in our society who treat their mothers, sisters, wives, daughters and female friends with dignity and respect.

History has proven that the pendulum needs to swing in the opposite direction for a season to correct the imbalance of power in society.  So guys, if you feel offended like I do, don't allow your offence to become self pity but turn your offence into influence so that we can change the attitudes and behaviours of those men who cause the real OFFENCE, which is what really makes us feel OFFENDED in the first place!

Thursday, October 6, 2016

LEADING FROM THE TRENCHES: Loyal To A Fault

LEADING FROM THE TRENCHES:  Loyal To A Fault
While loyalty to a leader or a team is a highly valued virtue in any organisation, there are times when blind loyalty can distort our view of reality and become a liability.  Read more...

Thursday, September 29, 2016

LEADING FROM THE TRENCHES: Keep Them Engaged

LEADING FROM THE TRENCHES:  Keep Them Engaged
Whether you are a teacher or preacher, coach or mentor, facilitator or consultant, the creative tension between content and delivery is the space that must be managed by all effective communicators.  Read more...

Friday, September 16, 2016

LEADING FROM THE TRENCHES: Professional Partnerships

LEADING FROM THE TRENCHES:  Professional Partnerships
We need each other.  We need competent people with complementary gifts to partner in pursuing a shared vision and common purpose.  Read more...

Thursday, September 15, 2016

LEADING FROM THE TRENCHES: Managing Demands Of Leadership

LEADING FROM THE TRENCHES:  Managing Demands Of Leadership
Alcohol may ‘mask’ the reality but cannot ‘mitigate’ the responsibilities of leadership.  Leaders must build healthy strategies and networks to effectively ‘manage’ this space.  Read more...

Friday, July 29, 2016

Why Australia Needs Pauline Hanson!

Love her or hate her, Pauline Hanson is in the political spotlight again after being voted back into the Senate at the last Australian Federal election!  Personally, I don't agree with most of Pauline's views and I am often offended by her public comments.  You only need to read my blog posts on asylum seekers, poverty & justice, Christian values, and interfaith dialogue to get a sense of my political views.

But far from writing her off as an "irrelevance" as did former Prime Minister John Howard or dismissing her as "not a welcome presence in the Australian political scene" like current Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Pauline Hanson represents an important voice that needs to be heard.

No, I haven't gone mad!  Nor do I support "politics of fear and hate" (as categorised by Opposition Leader Bill Shorten).  So please stay with me as I explain why I think Australia needs Pauline Hanson...

There has been a seismic shift in social dialogue about critical issues facing Australian society with a strong left of centre voice primarily represented by mainstream media. Tolerance, inclusion and compassion are today's socially acceptable values with any views interpreted as violating these values condemned and shut out of the conversation. Recently, a number of celebrities have been publicly criticised and censored for expressing such points of view.  On the surface this appears to be a positive shift in societal attitude, but below the surface another type of intolerance is emerging that violates the same space that is being defended.  When opposing views are labelled or stifled, robust conversation descends into one-sided commentary that pushes frustrated views underground.  If these views are not allowed to be expressed in respectful public dialogue, no matter how distasteful they may be, they will manifest themselves in behaviours that may have far greater social consequences than offending someone. 

People need to be heard.  Leadership consultant Patrick Lencioni says, "people don't so much have an innate need to have their own way as to have their way considered." Someone like Pauline Hanson has been granted a platform by 587,250 frustrated Australians to have their voices considered.  We may disagree with some of these voices but we need to listen to them.  To dismiss them as 'stupid' or 'bigoted' without considering the concerns underlying their view of reality only serves to widen already deep divisions among Australians.  During the 2013 election, former Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson is quoted as saying, "The greater the potpourri of ideas we've got in a pluralist society the better the chance we have of getting good policy out of it."  We will never resolve the serious issues facing our country while we continue to suppress complex views and demonise the people who attempt to bring them to the table for open discussion.

I may not like or agree with Pauline Hanson but Australia needs people like her who have the courage to represent unpopular views that are rumbling under the surface.  My fear is that unless the tone and manner of public debate changes soon, these rumblings will erupt into serious social unrest.