28 March, 2008

Justice Vs Evangelism

"Who cares if we rescue the slaves if they still go to hell and burn eternally"

Now you would think that I would dismiss this comment instantly and brand the person a fool. However, while it is a controversial point, it is also a valid one and one that I agree with to an extent. Having said that, I will start by saying that this point is far from a holistic perspective and fails to embrace the full purpose and promise of the gospel.

Repentance toward God, faith in Jesus and regeneration by the Holy Spirit is the journey we ourselves seek and a journey we strongly encourage for others. And where does this path take us? To an eternal life worth living. Who taught us this path? Who made it possible? Jesus! But is that all Jesus did? Is this all he commanded? NO!

There are numerous accounts of Jesus healing, of negating injustice, challenging the selfishness of others, and of sending the disciples out to the same. Read through the sheep and the goats if you want an account of the sort of things Jesus wants us to engage in whilst here in our temporal home (MT25). Of course, we want to head into the marvellous mansion of happiness and take as many with us as we can. Salvation is most definitely a key component of our journey with Christ and as such should be a key component as disciples of Jesus. But as Jesus prayed, your kingdom come, and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Essentially our mission on earth is to win souls for the kingdom. However God's will is also to bring the kingdom to earth too! What does that look like? What is God's will for our time on earth? Well I refuse to believe that allowing continued suffering, abuse, torture, and neglect is God's will. It is therefore God's will for us to do something about it.

So, interesting questions without answers from me...
First, where is the doctrine on this stuff? Where is the doctrine stating our intention to bring about the kingdom on earth? This appears to be a huge value of our Movement.
Second, what Christians are doing justice without evangelism? Those that engage in ministry specifically designed to a journey with the last, least, and lost, anywhere and everywhere, are doing a wonderful job if they are bringing comfort and relief. However the Christians mandate and mission extends wider than a portfolio of community care and you know it. If you are leading them simply to 'good times', then you are leading them on to a journey to nowhere.

When I started ministering in my community, I was overcome with injustice. I couldn't comprehend how a community could be so overlooked and neglected. My work aimed at helping the community achieve all that was possible in life. Education, support and advocacy, inspiration, food...all key components in my ministry. And they still are to this day. However I refuse to gently lead my people that I love along a pathway that leads straight to hell. They didn't deserve it in this life and they certainly don't deserve it in the next. "Oh Gen, have you turned into a right wing conservative nut?" NO! I am still to the left of Whitlam and I advocate strongly for justice and welfare approaches that will free those trapped in negative circumstances in the here and now. But we are a 'Salvation' army, and it is clear that Jesus wants souls and not just smiles.

So, in a coherent response to the quote:
I care! So let's get out there and do our duty to end injustice in this world whilst simultaneously leading them firmly away from Satan’s eternal grasp.

Come to FREEDOM DAY on Saturday in the Australian city near you.
Melbourne has a wet weather plan of Box Hill Corps, so don't be disheartened if you see dark clouds!


24 March, 2008

IMPORTANT AND URGENT - Pray for Zimbabwe elections on Saturday

Zimbabwe (previously known as “the Fruit Bowl of Africa” ) has been in an economic mess in recent years due to the abusive asset-stripping of Robert Mugabe’s ruling Zanu PF party. The party, which has been in power since the declaration of independence 30 years ago, has resorted to tougher and tougher human rights abuses as their grip on power had become more and more untenable. (For more on this check my blogs at http://schoolofprophets-australia.blogspot.com/search/label/Zimbabwe .)

Over the past year or so neighbour South Africa has had only mixed success in acting as broker to set up some mechanisms to make sure that the election this week will be free and fair. These mechanisms include no police being allowed within 100 metres of polling booths, to prevent intimidation of voters.

According to local and international NGO’s, the police are major perpetrators of human rights abuses. The police have been named as torturers, and police premises as places of torture in hundreds of cases. Police Chiefs have vowed to crack-down on any political violence during the election. This is widely understood to mean they will rig the vote by intimidation and violence.

One of my Zimbabwean friends tells me any rigging will be immediately obvious if it happens because the opposition are getting about 40,000 people to their rallies, compared to 1,000 that the Zanu PF is getting.

1. Pray that no-one will be hurt in police violence during the election.

The number of polling stations are restricted in the areas known to be strongholds of the opposition. An independent watchdog, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), warned that thousands of voters will not be able to cast ballots. They fear a repeat of the 2002 presidential elections when tens of thousands of voters were turned away after polls had closed. Most polling stations can handle 600 people on the day, but some have up to 6,400 living in their catchment. There is currently a court battle going on to resolve this.

2. Pray that everyone who wants to vote will be able to.

The opposition are calling for unfettered access for international observers, especially in the Zanu PF Strongholds where there are they have been unable to enter on previous occasions.

3. Pray that international observers will be allowed free access to all polling stations.

There are a number of countries who are friends of the people of Zimbabwe waiting in the wings to support a new government get the nation back on its feet. They will bring an end to the targeted sanctions (that only affect Zanu PF heavies) and encourage investment and aid. Zimbabwe has great natural resources and good infrastructure. It can become viable again in a very short time in the hands of a responsible and diligent government.

4. Pray for a responsible and diligent government that will use the natural resources, the existing infrastructure, and the goodwill of supporter nations to get the country back on its feet.

There are thousands of Salvos in Zimbabwe doing their best, but struggling with their own hardship and desperately needing good quality leadership. They are largely cut-off from the rest of the Army world. With the right leadership and international support they could have a key role in the nation’s recovery. (The photo above is of the Masango’s, a Salvationist family living in Zimbabwe. Read more at http://www.salvationarmy-usaeast.org/SApublish/priority/pr_article.cfm?article_id=245 .)

5. Pray that the Zimbabwe Salvation Army will be able to find or develop strong leadership and become a vital part of the nation’s recovery.

21 March, 2008

Poverty Vs Power

The thought for this week comes from a uni reading that I had to do. I found it quite confronting and while I am not sure I agree 100% with the assessment of the rich and their agenda, it does raise some significant self reflection.

“For the first time in human history it is quite feasible, economically to wipe out hunger and preventable diseases world-wide without real inconvenience to anyone. In the twentieth century, many more people have died from poverty than from violent conflict. The few years since the end of the cold war have seen over 200 million deaths due to poverty related causes. Yet conflict management ranks much higher on the agenda than combating poverty. Why are Western governments doing so very little toward the eradication of severe poverty abroad even while they are prepared to spend billions on other humanitarian initiatives? A cynical answer is that helping the world’s poorest populations emerge from poverty tends to strengthen their states and thus to weaken our own. Addressing global poverty will affect global inequality which in turn will affect domestic inequality and thus reduce the maneuvering room of dominant political and economic elites. If many among the privileged abhor poverty, they blame the poor and rely on economic growth as a remedy and, if these beliefs fail, they may still desire privilege, or fear losing it, more than they abhor poverty. The self serving orthodoxy of neoclassical economics, the charms of power, the trappings of privileged, the cult of celebrity, all concur to maintain the overall healthy balance of power. And so the world’s hyper rich and the poor majority are intertwined in a joint rendezvous, mirrors to one another, but at quite a remove” (Nederveen Pieterse, 2002).

Let’s just say for a moment that poverty eradication is relatively easy. Would we do it? Would we do it knowing that our country would not be quite as dominant? Are we prepared to give over power or just money, just medicine, just building supplies and farm animals? Are we really prepared to sacrifice our 'happiness' for the sake of theirs?

Essentially money, and the ability to make money, is related directly to power. Just think where the world gets most of its resources for industry. The first world is largely in control of these resources even though the majority of the first world does not hold them in their land. What would happen if the third world was equally empowered? What would happen to us?

The message of Easter is sacrifice for the greater good; enormous cost for the redemption and freedom of all. God was prepared to sacrifice his Son for the powerless and poor race of man. Are we prepared to sacrifice our man made securities and trappings for the sake of that same dying race?

- Remember Freedom Day is just 8 days away! Saturday the 29th of March from 2pm-5pm at the Box Hill Gardens, Box Hill. A great and rewarding day for the whole family!

May the full grace of God overcome you this special weekend.

20 March, 2008

At last! A bi-partisan approach to Aboriginal Health!

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson have both signed a pledge to close the 17-year life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians by 2030.

According to Mr Rudd funding to help curb smoking and encourage Indigenous Australians into health careers is at the top of the agenda. He said: "The Government is 100% committed to working in partnership with you over the weeks, months and years ahead."

Ironically opposition Indigenous Affairs Spokesman Tony Abbott refused to sign on to the plan. He made the excuse that he was only given short notice. Thankfully his boss Brendan Nelson has a big enough heart and he has signed the statement on behalf of the opposition. Nelson said: "Of course we support the pledge in closing the gap. There would be no sensible Australian who would believe otherwise than closing the gap."

Dr Mick Adams, the Chair of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO), who helped wordcraft the pledge, said he is overwhelmed by the Federal Government's promise. He says it is a milestone and he will work hard at making sure the Government sticks by its commitment.

"One of my ways of doing it is going to sit down with them and generally discuss on how we together could work together in achieving things," he said.

Well done guys! This is a great statement of intent, one of the many good noises coming out of Canberra at the moment. But, please make sure you follow through and turn the rhetoric into substance!


14 March, 2008

"For those who come across the seas..."

I was talking with a friend this week about immigration policy. I am one of those ‘throw open the gates’ kind of people which is not overly helpful or practical I know. But I get the impression that there are some who are more reserved for two reasons. One, for me, is legitimate. There is an obvious security and sustainability issue that shoots down my position fair and square and I am fine with that. Then there is another, perhaps more selfish issue which I struggle with big time. That is, that our country will be over-run with ‘foreigners’ and that we will lose our special Australian culture. I love a good barbeque, and I am happy to lounge around and watch sport all day on the couch with a nice cold can of Diet Coke. But I am not willing to shut the ‘iron Venetians’ on those desperate for relief from war and oppression just because it might disturb my comfortable Aussie culture. Now don’t get your knickers in a knot. I know Australian culture is more than food and sport and that our culture is special and unique in its own right. But can that be a reason to limit immigration? I love my country, but I love God’s people more.

Anyway, during the discussion, my friend brought up a third issue which I really hadn’t thought about before. He suggested (and I won’t do the argument justice) that when communities immigrate and are encouraged to segregate from the national culture for the sake of retaining their own cultural identity, it decreases the opportunity for missional facilitation. Essentially, if cultural groups stay together then the nation will be divided into smaller sub-sectors and evangelism will be impeded. Additionally, there are some cultural and religious practices strongly opposed by Christians that should not be accepted within a ‘Christian’ country.

Within this whole debate, I feel there may be two Biblical paradigms at play. One takes an Ezra/Nehemiah approach. That is; we can't take infiltration. Our people are not strong enough to withstand the influences of other cultures/faiths/practices. So, we shall build a wall and keep them out and us in. We will be protected, and while they are of course not reaping the benefits of our clearly superior faith, it is for the greater good. Now I am not dissing the practices of these two fine servants of God. They were right. But from this, a culture of segregation emerged, a culture that was superseded and redeemed by Jesus. Because of this, Paul creates a pattern of ministry that deliberately infiltrates other cultures and attempts to, not coexist, but turn them toward his own. This is our second paradigm which seems to work for and against my argument of immigration. Cultures and races when mixed create a range of distractions and there will be of course a bunch of practices that are an abomination to God. But is it the government’s responsibility to ensure that the Christian culture stays dominant? Are they to be our Nehemiah? Or are we to be like Paul; accept that we are in the midst of a culture requiring transformation and act on it despite the potential negative ramification of large scale mixing? Paul ultimately dominated and he did not have the government on his side, nor did he work within a dominant culture.

Anyway…food for immigration thought!

Have a great and holy Easter everyone and go easy on the blood chocolate!

07 March, 2008

'Nobody puts baby in a corner'

Sorry for the lateness of the blog, but inspiration was lacking today. After a rather busy week I started to feel quite ill and had to cancel my afternoon plans and substitute them with a DVD. Can you guess the movie by the title of the blog? A great quote…but not really a quote or a movie that inspires a thought provoking or worthy social justice response. And yet…

I was out to coffee with some friends and their children tonight and spent a great deal of time talking with a ten year old girl. She was intelligent, competent, articulate, interesting and engaging. I was not humouring her in conversation, she was holding her own and we had a wonderful talk about a range of topics including food, sport, authors and the relevance and appropriateness of fantasy in a Christian child’s life. And there it was…Patrick Swayze’s passionate command popped into my mind; ‘Nobody puts baby in a corner’.

This child is ready and willing to contribute to the work of the Kingdom. She is ready for her share and not worthy of some token, cute part to play for our own amusement. She has a voice and a brain and would like to be given the opportunity to use both. But how often do we really trust that children have the capacity to make a difference now and not just in the future? It is so often children that are affected by unjust situations, and their voice so often muted. Advocacy is wonderful but empowerment takes children out of the hidden corner and onto centre stage.

And centre stage she will have. She will be speaking publicly at Freedom day on the issue of child slaves. This will be no performance. She will be researching and writing her own speech and be rest assured she will expect you to take her seriously. Will you?

- Remember Freedom Day in Melbourne is on Saturday 29th March from 2-5pm in the Box Hill Gardens, Nelson Rd Box Hill. It is going to be an awesome day with great amusements for both kids and teens, important information on the chocolate slave issue and an exciting march through Box Hill. Don’t miss out!

Pray hard,