Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The 's' word

There has been a lot of media attention this week about the role of husbands and wives in marriage, and particularly the idea of submission. I hope you had a chance to read this piece by Archbishop Peter Jensen in SMH yesterday. He expresses a Biblical point of view in a loving tone, which was confirmed again on ABC's 7:30 Report last night. Not all participants have been so loving - a number of my colleagues and old friends were published in letters to the editor, and have been publicly 'burned' for expressing their views. Sounds a bit like Daniel 3...

I suspect when I write to you about this matter that you have been taught a sound Biblical pattern, and see where the media cuts the Bible short... The newspapers quote Paul saying 'wives, submit to your husbands' (Eph 5:22, Col 3:18, 1 Pet 3:1) yet fail to read further on. These passages instruct husbands to love their wives like Jesus loved the church, not to be harsh with them, instead to be considerate, respectful and loving protectors. Nowhere in the Bible do we see the media's characterisation of the tyrannical husband enforcing his wife's submission: in fact, we see the opposite. This is how Christopher Ash describes godly submission in his excellent book:

"The wife's submission in marriage is to be a voluntary and joyful submission, not an enforced one. She submits to her husband as the the church submits lovingly to Christ, not as rebellious powers in the universe submit reluctantly to Christ. Nowhere is the husband told to  make sure her wife submits, and only tyrannical husbands will try. Neither Paul nor Peter writes: 'Husbands, make sure your wives submit.' If, as a husband, I were to try to make my wife submit, her proper response would be: 'Mind your own business! Your calling is to love and serve me. My submission is my free response to the God who loves me. It is up to me to submit, not up to you to make me submit!' So the submission of the wife in marriage is to be a glad and willing submission." (Ash, Married for God, p89)

There is much more to say about this and I recommend Ash's book as a great starting place. And remember to pray for our sisters and brothers in Christ as they put this view out there in the public forum. Many of them will receive substantial abuse as they stand up for God's pattern of living in a sinful world. But the shape of the Christian life is the shape of the cross - the loving service of the other at great personal expense...

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games was released on DVD this week, and Jo and I were keen to see it after we missed it in the cinemas. We weren't disappointed.

The story takes place in a dystopian post-apocalyptic future in the nation of Panem, where twelve boys and twelve girls must participate in the Hunger Games, a televised annual event in which the "tributes" are required to fight to the death until there is one remaining victor. The film is both gripping and disturbing, but it is not for everyone - certainly not for young children. Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games book trilogy has sold up to 26 million copies, highlighting its worldwide popularity.

What makes a story like this so popular, not only amongst young adults, but in wider circles also? I haven't read the novels (apologies to the purists) but here is my best guess based on the film.

First, the story is one of courage. We see young children dragged from impoverished families to participate in a horrific blood sport for the entertainment of society's elite. As viewers, we are drawn in to experience the fear of the story's hero and heroine, but also to share in their courage as they choose to act nobly in the face of death.

Secondly, the underlying plot of the story is sacrifice. The main character, Katniss Everdeen, volunteers to participate in the games in the place of her younger sister, an act likely to end in her death. Katniss continues to risk her life for her fellow competitors, not allowing her fear to conquer her conscience.

Lastly, the story points to future victory. Without spoiling the film for you, this instalment ends with the possibility that society's injustice might somehow be overcome. The Hunger Games is a trilogy after all!

It is no surprise that this story connects with us. In its characters we see both the best and worst of humanity, the depth of corruption and the fragility of life. We are reminded how easily power is abused to devastating effect. And we are also reminded that human saviours are rare, and that victory comes only with rare courage and the willingness to sacrifice oneself for the sake of another. Sounds like another story I trust you know...

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Lessons from Bear

Here they are - a few ideas I took from Bear Grylls' autobiography. If you haven't read this book (blokes, I recommend it!) it is a stirring but reasonably humble account of some of Bear's exploits. The star of TV show Man v Wild, Grylls was an SAS reservist who was discharged after he broke his spine in a parachute accident, then recovered to summit Mount Everest just 18 months later at age 23, the youngest Briton to do so. At 35 he became the youngest ever Chief Scout (head of the international Scout movement).

Here are three lessons I learnt from Bear...

1. You are stronger than you think, although some situations in life can take you by surprise. Spending his childhood hiking, camping, boating and climbing did not prepare Bear for boarding school, where bullying caused him to retreat into himself. It took him a number of years and a black belt in karate to find his confidence again...

2. Achievement is about mental toughness. The process of SAS pre-selection then selection sounds absolutely brutal, with 9 out of 10 failure rate achieved through punishing runs, hill climbs, sleep deprivation exercises and ultimately an interrogation test. Only those truly motivated will push through the pain...

3. A quiet faith in Jesus is a consistent comfort even when life is uncomfortable. "My Christian faith has been such a backbone through so many difficult times. My faith is quite simple in the sense that for me Christianity is about being held; it's about being forgiven; it's about being loved; and it's about being strengthened."

Despite all the action, the book is invigorating rather than exhausting! Reading the book you really get the feeling that Grylls' faith has strengthened him throughout all his experiences, and that a group of close Christian men have been important in that process. I am also thankful that our acceptability before God is not like the SAS selection. We don't earn our salvation in any sense, rather we are carried over the line by Jesus' perfect endurance on our behalf. That said, God wants us to be tough in resisting sin, and he gives us his Spirit to help...

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The art of parenting

Charlotte turned 10 last Monday, which means Jo and I have been trying our hands at parenting for a decade. Time flies when you're having fun, but it can also grind painfully slowly when things are difficult.

We each have our own experience of parenting, whether good or bad. For many amongst us, this topic is tinged with sadness: relationships with family are not always positive; the desire to be married or have children is not always fulfilled; the loss of parents or children through death, divorce and other circumstances can leave deep wounds.

Our Father in heaven knows our longings, feels our pain and promises one day to heal them completely. The image of little children coming to Jesus is a reminder to us that we will one day come into the presence of Jesus and know the same love, trust and blessing. Whatever your experience as a parent or a child, we all have a perfect, loving heavenly Father who will never let us down.

For these years that God has given us on earth, He has given us earthly families and church family and friends who all struggle with sin and imperfection. It can be hard to learn to love them warts and all, but this is what Jesus commands us to do, just as he came and loved us with all our failings.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A long way from home

Almost French traces the emotional journey of Sarah Turnbull as she moves from Sydney's leafy North Shore to Paris, chasing her dream to participate in the glamorous Parisian lifestyle. She finds, however, that there is more to being French than she initially thought. Despite living with a French man, Turnbull frequently finds herself out of her depth in language and custom. The book portrays with awkward honesty her experience of living as an outsider in a fiercely guarded culture.

Having spent a little time in Paris myself with locals, one particular moment resounded with my experience. Despite her determination to associate only with the French, Turnbull accepts an invitation to an ex-pat dinner party, and it is there that she finds her first true friend in France: an English ex-pat pursuing a fledgling career in journalism, like Turnbull herself. There is a bitter-sweet irony to their friendship, each wanting to live like the French, yet finding themselves unable to connect on a deep level with the French way of life. True belonging is found with those similar to themselves. And so both women remain tantalisingly almost French.
As Christians, we walk a similar path, whether we recognise it or not. We too are far from home, living in a foreign culture which mocks our simple values and moral prudishness. We are strangers in the world (1 Pet 1:1)...

The problem is, much of the time we don't remember our heavenly citizenship. We were brought up here, we live and breathe Western culture. ydney culture. Shire culture. We don't always feel like strangers when the media trashes the Christian faith. We don't feel out of place when our colleagues talk about their drunken weekend. We are not shocked and offended when the footy boys talk about their sexual exploits. It just seems normal.

If we recognised our heavenly citizenship more, church would be like the ex-pat dinner party. It will be the only place where we can find true community, deep relationship and cultural understanding. It will feel like home, and the world outside will start to feel like a rude shock by comparison.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Making a difference

At the moment I am reading Three Cups of Tea, the story of American mountaineer Greg Mortenson's mission to build schools in the poorest parts of Pakistan. After a failed attempt to summit K2 in 1993, Mortenson stumbled lost, confused and exhausted into a small village in the lee of the Baltoro glacier. The head man of the village took him into his home, placed him under his finest quilt, and nursed Mortenson back to health. Indebted to the village chief, Mortenson vowed to return and build a school where none had ever stood before.
The book traces the difficult process of raising American funds for schools in Islamic Pakistan, the cultural lessons Mortenson had to learn, and the freedom and hope the education can bring. Three Cups of Tea is an engaging read, and I am anticipating an interesting ending as the book was written post September 11.

It also led me to think about God's heart for the disadvantaged. Throughout the Bible, God's compassion is expressed in the protection of the vulnerable, particularly widows, orphans and aliens, that is, foreigners living amongst us (Exodus 22:22 ; Deuteronomy 24:20; James 1:27). As Christians, our love for our neighbours must include those near and far, those like us and those different. In the Shire we don't often see the front line of charity, such as extreme poverty, homelessness and refugees, but we must keep these on the agenda.

Loving Miranda is more than just sharing the gospel, it is extending God's loving heart to those around us. I'd love for us to keep this on the agenda.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ 
(Matthew 25:34-40)

Thursday, June 7, 2012

More thoughts about family

Modern views about family are captured incisively by sit-com writers as they exaggerate, lampoon and lament the way generations relate to one another. The current batch of shows stereotype Baby Boomers as empty nesters, Gen X as families coping with growing children, disobedience and divorce, while Gen Y are looking for love.

One of the things I appreciate about sit-coms is that they tend to value families, and though the family is often a source of tension, they are usually also a source of strength and comfort to the characters in the shows.

What these shows distort is the idea that happiness is only found in love and procreation. The success of shows like 'Friends' (showing my age, I know - perhaps 'How I Met Your Mother' is a more recent incarnation) came from the creation of a new 'family' by friends sharing life together, with all its joys and struggles. While sexual tension was ever-present, the overall message of the show was that friends can form close-knit, loving, supportive communities in the way that biological families do.

For us as Christians, God creates a new family in the church, one no longer defined by biology alone, a bit like the characters in 'Friends'. In Christ we become part of a new family, a larger family, in which all members of the church are our brothers and sisters regardless of their age. And in this new family, love for one another is not restricted to the biological family unit; instead God's people ought to extend the same grace, generosity and care to all members of the family, regardless of family of origin or marital status (likewise age, gender or ethnicity). The church, when understood correctly, will feel like a real family to all.

12 Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.
14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household... (Ephesians 2:12-19)