Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Legacy Of A Leader

Today, as I gathered with a crowd of Salvationists at the Melbourne Town Hall to celebrate the life of General Eva Burrows, the following exhortation by the writer to the Hebrews who gave testimony to a long list of men and women of faith resonated deep within my spirit...

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith."

I was indeed among a "great cloud of witnesses" on this historic occasion giving testimony to a faithful woman of God and extraordinary world leader who "[ran] with perseverance the race marked out for [her], fixing [her] eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfector of [her] faith."
The Lord Mayor of Melbourne gave witness to a recipient of a Companion of the Order of Australia who loved and served the most vulnerable people of our city in her retirement.
The Corps Officer of Melbourne 614 gave witness to the then territorial leader of the Australia Southern Territory who spoke words of encouragement into his life as a young man.
The current Territorial Commander gave witness to a spiritual leader whose life conviction and theme was in everything for Christ to have supremacy.
The current General of The Salvation Army gave witness to a courageous and compassionate leader who was equally comfortable talking with world leaders and walking with common people, earning her the affectionate title 'the people's general'.

As one among many, I add my voice as a witness to the legacy of a leader who encouraged a 12 year old boy by signing my Bible while visiting my home Corps when she was a Commissioner and who believed in the vision of a Corps Officer by endorsing my book as a retired General.

“You must read this book. It is alive with the Spirit of God sweeping through a group of believers from many churches who united together in response to a vision of what God could accomplish through prayer. They discovered the mighty, transforming power of prayer for themselves and for others. It’s like a scene from the book of Acts, but set in a modern suburb in South Australia, and alight with the same fire-power and faith to achieve wonders in His name.” - General Eva Burrows AC (Rtd), Former International Leader of The Salvation Army

The years in between these two encounters have given me a vision of Salvation Army Officership that personified a shared covenant of those "Called by God to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ...to love, trust and serve Him supremely all my days; to live to win souls and make their salvation the first purpose of my life; to maintain the doctrines and principles of The Salvation Army and, by God's grace to prove myself a worthy officer."

Monday, March 30, 2015

Worship & Justice

"If we don't cry, we shouldn't sing.  The connection between lament and justice is an oft-neglected relationship.  Engagement in justice and our worship and knowledge of God are inextricable."
Ken Wytsma, Pursuing Justice

Today, as we celebrated Palm Sunday, I experienced the relationship between worship and justice as I participated in both praise and protest throughout the day with our church at Cranbourne Salvation Army.

During our worship service we sung songs of praise to honour Jesus who rode into Jerusalem declaring the majesty of God.  Our worship together was full of joy as we sung with the congregation, "Hosanna to the Son of David!  Hosanna in the highest!"

After our worship service we marched in solidarity with refugees through the streets of Melbourne calling for the justice of God.  Our walk together was full of lament as we shouted with the crowd, "Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here!"

The words we sung this morning - "may injustice bow to Jesus, as the people turn to pray" - took on flesh as we marched this afternoon.  If our worship is truly about magnifying the worthiness of the Creator then surely that includes advocating for the worthiness of His creation.  Worship and justice are indeed inseparable!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Making Things Right

Over the past couple of days I have been enriched and challenged at the Surrender:15 Conference in Melbourne as I interacted with a diverse group of Christians passionate about social justice.  Such a conference created a variety of spaces to explore a biblical basis for justice in the church and a practical expression of justice in the community.  Through prayer, bible studies, worship and workshops we were invited to journey together as the gathered community of God with the theme of justice under the title - Making Things Right!

The bible study I chose to attend captured my attention on the program because it focused on the life of Oscar Romero, one of my heroes of the faith, to give a context to the biblical theme of justice being studied.  However, the actual study challenged my expectations, presenting a very different learning style and interactive space that took me way outside of my comfort zone.  I resisted the temptation and desire to attend a different study on the second day because Holy Spirit challenged me to remain in this space to allow myself to be stretched through a different learning experience.  I'm glad I stayed!

Together, we journed through Romans 12:1-8, which coincidently is also one of my favourite passages of Scripture and has featured many times in my devotional life and preaching ministry. 

However, reading this passage through a lens of social justice instead of personal holiness or corporate worship or even spiritual gifts, reframes the context of what it means to live more fully "in view of God's mercy" as a "living sacrifice" in the world.  

Below are some reflective thoughts and questions that emerged for me from this study... 

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 

  • What is your understanding of sacrifice? 
  • Why is it that some people/groups are sacrificed more than others?
  • Offering yourself as a living sacrifice changes the dynamics of power relationships.
  • Romero was sacrificed while offering the elements of the Eucharist representing the sacrifice of Christ.
  • Some people need to sacrifice for the good of others.
  • The old sacrificial system required a blood offering - blood is the life of the body, so my 'blood offering' is literally offering my LIFE; that is, the way I live brings life to others.
  • Reversal of sacrificial system - something or someone has to LIVE in order for others to experience the fullness of life.
  • "In view of God's mercy" - Mercy must be seen for Justice to be expressed.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. 

  • What is the world specifically to you? - cultural, generational expectations and patterns; worldview and theology; exploitation; social structures? 
  • We are a part of each other's transformation.

Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. 

  • A part of Romero's transformation was seeing the abuse of his people - what was once seen as acceptable and good to society was no longer.   
  • This led to religious and social conflict that he could no longer ignore.

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you:  Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought,

  • Injustice is the abuse of power - a higher view of self over others.
  • Has the church thought more highly of her position in the community than she ought?
  • Are we overly obsessed with protecting our reputation at the expense of sacrifice?

but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. 

  • Sober judgement helps us to more effectively engage the gifts that have been given to the body of Christ.

For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.  We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.  If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.  (Romans 12:1-8 NIV)

This study of Romans 12:1-8 may not have been a thorough exegesis of the passage but it was a thoughtful reflective journey through a different set of lenses.  The lens of justice made me look more deeply at God's mercy and more inclusively at God's world.  It redefined what it means to be a living sacrifice in a world of suffering.  It reframed personal transformation in the context of community transformation.  It challenged power relationships when one person or institution is elevated over another.  It put spiritual gifts in their right place to administer God's mercy and justice.  It restored righteousness and justice as an inseparable relationship to "Making Things Right!"

It also transformed me as I was challenged to engage in a space that took me out of my comfort zone and into community with other followers of Jesus on a mutual journey of discovery.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Dear Prime Minister...

Dear Prime Minister Tony Abbott, 

I take serious issue with what you presume on my behalf.  You may "think Australians are pretty sick of being lectured to by the United Nations."  However...

As an Australian, I am sick of political manipulation and abuse of vulnerable people!

As an Australian, I am sick of the lack of accountability by your government!

As an Australian, I am sick of your arrogance that dismisses any credible report or review that exposes your blatant disregard of human rights!

As an Australian, I am sick of our national values being violated in the name of national security!

As an Australian, I am sick of hearing about how you have 'stopped the boats' when we continue to perpetuate the conditions that drive people onto them in the first place!

As an Australian, I am sick of our country being misrepresented to the rest of the world!

As an Australian, I am sick of misinformation and missing information dividing our nation about our common humanity!

As an Australian, I uphold the value of a "fair go" and as a Christian I uphold the biblical principles of "justice and mercy."  Neither of which are dependent upon where people come from, how they got here, or your government's political agenda!   

Signed, a very unhappy Australian.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Transposing The Gospel

In an attempt to effectively communicate the gospel message in the modern age, I have often heard people suggest that we need to make the gospel more relevant.  While the intention is to make the gospel more accessible, this suggestion can infer that the gospel is no longer adequate or compromise the integrity of the message.

I hold a strong conviction that the gospel is always relevant and entirely adequate with its message transcending time and culture for all generations!  The only inadequacy it faces is our ability or inability to communicate it effectively.  This is the space where the relevance of the method often gets confused with the truth of the message.

We can attempt to translate the message, which runs the risk of changing its form and altering its original meaning and intention.

We can attempt to transfigure the message, which runs the risk of embelishing parts to appear more attractive or palatable to our audience.


We can attempt to transpose the message, which transfers it to a different place or context without changing its original state.

The word transpose is most often used in the context of music to describe the process of changing the key or the sound of the music while remaining true to the structure of the original score.  A thoughtful transposition of a piece of music preserves the integrity of the original compositon, compliments the gifts of the musicians performing the arrangement, and makes a meaningful connection with the target audience.

When it comes to effectively communicating the gospel today, the idea of transposing the message, like with a piece of music, seems to fit well and resolves the conflict between the message and the method; preserving the integrity of the former while promoting the innovation of the latter.