Monday, September 30, 2013

Prayer answered in unexpected way.

God has a sense of humour.
Australia’s “boat person” issue is complex. I understand the arguments of my Christian friends who see the issue as completely one of social justice and providing hospitality to those in need. I also understand the issue of the business of people smuggling driven by profit and responsible for untold deaths at sea. I understand those whose loving heart simply wants to embrace need. I also fear the reality that money triumphs need and those who arrive are not necessarily the most in need. I understand the plea for compassion. I know however that sometimes love must be tough.
Some time back I determined to react to the issue in two ways. Firstly I determined to stop thinking about the politics as frankly whatever I thought made no difference. Secondly I determined to pray. I admit my prayer was driven by desperation; what else could I practically do? I determined to pray especially for those in authority, as I knew behind all the rhetoric men, women and children continued to drown.
On taking up the role of a Chaplain in the Royal Australian Navy I forfeited my right to express a political point of view on this topic. I determined to keep praying.
Then a few months ago I was shocked to receive a posting for 2014 as Chaplain to Fleet North, the Patrol Boat Fleet based out of Darwin. I realised that God cared little for my politics but maybe cared a little more about what I was practically doing to make a difference. Then a couple of weeks ago I was crash posted as Chaplain on a major warship for 9 weeks from mid October this year to assist in what the new government is calling Operation Sovereign Borders.
I still don’t know about the politics. I do know that young men and women in the Navy are the meat in this political sandwich. I know that they are doing it very tough rescuing people at sea. I know their job is to serve their nation and government and my job is to serve them.
I invite you to pray too.
“I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone — for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.  This is good, and pleases God our Savior”
(1Tim. 2:1-3, NIV)

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

When a Preacher Stops Preaching

Some time in the next week will mark a rather unusual anniversary.  For the best part of 30 years I have been a preacher. In the early days I preached monthly, for most of the time I preached weekly, and in more recent years normally three times a week. A year ago I preached my last sermon as a local church pastor before joining the Royal Australian Navy as a Chaplain.  As a Chaplain I engage in all sorts of ministry but don’t really preach. So what has God taught me over this last year when the preacher has not preached.
Firstly, looking back I probably underestimated the privilege that people afforded me by turning up to church to listen. Sure they were ultimately turning up to listen to God’s Word, but by turning up where I was the preacher they were making a decision to listen to me. Maybe over the years I underestimated that incredible honour.
Secondly, I am a little fearful that I may have caused too much suffering and too little blessing. Now as a listener, when I nod off I am reminded of my previous preacher’s ‘self-righteous judgement’, convinced that inattentiveness was always the listener’s fault. As the listener I am conversely convinced that the preacher is not always worthy of my attention.
Thirdly, I do miss preaching but in a rather unusual way. I had the joy of being the pastor of three wonderful churches, where increasingly preaching became a dialogue where we corporately struggled to relate our faith to life. Question times after preaching was a regular feature for me for over 20 years. These questions (and often the unsaid questions made clear by expressions, grimaces, dropped heads or even the odd walk out) made me engage in many struggles, fears and doubts. It made me question my faith to see if it really stood up. In a strange way I am sure my faith was personally stronger by having to preach. To be truthful I am sure at times my preaching sounded more like the ‘party line’ than a genuine reasoned defence.  However, mostly the people who listened helped me to preach genuinely and honestly in a society where growing secularism causes even the most devout to doubt.
Finally, I am learning afresh that you don’t have to be a preacher to preach. In the Navy every day I deal with blue collared (well, grey actually) men and women who are a long way from traditional Christian belief. Some have church backgrounds, most don’t. Almost all of them would be probably not make much sense of what I use to preach. But in all sorts of ways they come to me, or I come to them, where essentially I listen and occasionally have a few words to say. Surprisingly, by and large they appreciate that I listen and warm to what few things I have to say. Much like church the dialogue continues and I hope they are as blessed by these encounters as I am.
If I am not incorrect, the original word in the Bible we translate ‘preach’ has little to do with standing up in a church and teaching. It has more to do with proclamation – telling people the good news, the important news that God loves them outrageously in Christ.  
Ironically the Navy refers to a public talk you give to impart information as a ‘brief’. As a church preacher I fear I was too seldom brief.
So maybe even though I am preaching less I may actually be proclaiming more.
Rom. 15:20 It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known …

Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Little ‘Yesterday’.

Changing careers and joining the Australian Defence Force at age 52 was always going to be difficult. Amongst the many, many challenges I faced was the technological one. Now readers may interpret that and think of the challenges of facing the cutting edge technology in a military environment, but in my day-to-day work the challenge is quite the opposite. As an original Mac-man I knew my first technological hurdle was going to be using a PC for the first time in my life. It felt like abandoning the light and embracing the dark side! With the courage instilled in me by my military training, I overcame the early challenge of clicking on ‘start’ to shut down. Simple things like selecting a printer caused issues. Then I discovered last week that hiding behind ‘start’ were the previously unfound Word, Excel and PowerPoint programs. Surviving the initial pain however only softened me for the major subsequent technological shocks to come.

For some reason, the ADF uses Word version 2004. Personally I resist updating to the latest version, but Word 2004 was released when I was still a young man. Then recently I unpacked my brand new ADF issued phone, which can best be described as a very dumb phone. It is actually made by a company called Nokia, who I was not even sure was still in business. Unlocking the thing, entering contacts and generally using it is like driving an EH Holden when your current drive is a 2011 Subaru Forester. Of course driving a column shift EH has a certain charm, but adjusting back to a dumb phone has none. Somehow, sitting on my desk next to my iPhone, the Nokia even looks dumb. Once you have tasted a technological advance it’s hard to go back.

As a Christian one of our joys is to help people experience the love and grace of God, sometimes for the first time. Knowing God is in many ways an emotional, intellectual and spiritual breakthrough. The thrill of technological advancement is minor compared to the enlightenment of a living, personal relationship with the creator and designer of life itself. Knowing you are loved, forgiven and valued by God changes everything.

To the believer there is no turning back to the dark side. Tragically in the darkness many are unconvinced that the promised light is either real or worth the effort. Knowing God involves the realisation that our systems and senses are defective and we need a better way.

Once you have tasted the goodness of God, the world’s pleasures simply seem a little ‘yesterday’.

Once you have seen the glory of God there can be no turning back to old ways.

Taste and see that the Lord is good, blessed is the one that takes refuge in him.  Psalm 34. 8 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The demise of an Australian motoring institution.

Am I the only one lamenting the recent announcement that Holden Commodores and Ford Falcons will cease production in Australia in 2016?  Actually I am not really lamenting the demise of Falcons. My father drove Holden’s (except for one Ford that would never start in the rain) and for most of my driving life I have followed the family tradition. The statistics explain the demise of these once loved cars. In 2000, actually the production year of my current Commodore, over 90000 were sold. That year about 70,000 Falcons tried hard to compete with Holden superiority. (To be fair Ford did have a rare win at Bathurst that year). In 2012 Commodore sales dropped to 30,000 and Falcons below 15,000. Logic would suggests that more economical smaller four cylinder cars replaced big Australian six cylinder cars . Statistics suggest that even bigger 4 wheel drives are the real reason behind the demise of an Australian motoring institution.

In business you don’t want to be a sunset industry, one that has seen the peak and boom and is now facing terminal decline. Running a video shop is obviously tenuous.  Some even fear that retail in general is facing an uncertain future in an online world. With a recent 30% drop in its share price some are even suggesting the mighty Apple Computer Company, post Steve Jobs, is looking shaky.

A question many also ponder is whether the Christian Church is a sunset industry in an era when faith is in terminal decline. Certainly the stats are not encouraging. One commentator recently claimed that not only do the majority of Australians not attend church but now the majority of Australians don’t even know anyone who attends church.

A little understanding of history might give a little more hope. The church’s history is longer than any product and most industries. Since its founding over 2000 years ago the gathering of Christians into groups called churches has waxed and waned. Repeatedly, the external threat of many kinds aided by self-inflicted wounds of corruption and abuse threatened the church with extinction. Renewal however has often sprung from the most remote of places, working at times through the most unlikely of people as the side effects of godlessness and the despair of atheism are painfully discovered.

Faith is not a fad but a classic virtue.
The church is not an industry but a gathering of a remnant who dare to stand against the predominate culture of unbelief.
The sun will set, but the God who created it neither sleeps nor slumbers.

He will not let your foot slip — he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over God’s people will neither slumber nor sleep.” Psa. 121:3-4.
Richard Q

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Well Maybe Not!

When Australians discuss gun violence and the need for legislation, we become a little self-righteous. At the time of the Port Arthur massacre in 1996, when 35 people were killed and 23 injured, Australians possessed about 3.2 million firearms. Due to fast political action at that time, a million of those guns were surrendered and destroyed. The drastic reduction in the number of firearms resulted in a safer country, or so the theory went. The lesson was simple: reduce the number and ferocity of guns to ensure a massacre never occurs again. It worked for us so why can’t the USA just face this issue: change the law, reduce the guns and reduce their risk. Simple! 

Well maybe not! A Sydney University study revealed this week that the number of guns imported into Australia has grown steadily over recent years and estimates now suggest the number exceeds the number held in 1996. The ban on automatic, semi-automatic rifles and handguns led people to replace these incredibly lethal weapons with less lethal (but still lethal) single-action weapons. The article pointed out that as the majority of gun related deaths are domestic and suicide, then tragically one bullet is still one too many. Of course at these levels gun ownership in Australia is still about 80% less per capita than gun ownership in the US. Legislation does have a part to play, but culture may be way more ingrained than most of us can appreciate.

Self-righteousness - the view that I am much better than you - remains very popular, especially amongst the religious. The conviction that I am better than you, more holy than you, more worthy than you and more deserving of God’s love, too often becomes the default religious conviction. Though popular, self-righteousness has three overwhelming drawbacks:

Firstly, self-righteousness is so unattractive and at times downright ugly. So many people are inoculated against faith for life, because of unappealing and hypocritical self-righteousness.

Secondly, self-righteousness simply does not match the evidence. The religious are often no better than anyone else. Those who think they have solved all their moral dilemmas often find themselves exposed by their own weakness. He who thinks he is without sin is simply involved in a cover up!

Finally, the message of the gentle Nazarine was anathema to self-righteousness. The realisation that we have all fallen short of God’s glory and all need a saviour is indeed our only hope. Humility, not self-righteousness, is the great virtue of a life of faith.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”  Matthew 7: 3
Richard Q