Monday, November 30, 2015

The Gift of GRACE

One of the great paradoxes of Christmas is the conflicting messages presented by the two cultural and biblical characters most commonly celebrated during this festive season.

Culturally, we celebrate a jolly old man named Santa Claus who is “making a list and checking it twice” because he’s “gonna find out who's naughty and nice.”  

Culturally, this means the Christmas message we tell our children is that their gifts are dependent upon whether or not they are good enough.

Yet, in contrast…

Biblically, we celebrate a man named Jesus Christ through whom God “shows the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us…for it is by grace [we] have been saved, through faith – and this is not from [ourselves], it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Biblically, this means the Christmas message is all about the gift of Jesus who is “good news of great joy that will be for ALL the people” irrespective of whether or not they are ‘naughty or nice.’

In fact, the entire Christmas story, from a biblical perspective, is a demonstration of God’s extraordinary grace that is so far removed from a cultural image of Christmas that has been wrapped up in colourful paper and tinsel.  The Christmas story is about a gift of grace that was unwrapped when Jesus "made his dwelling among us...full of grace and truth."

The Gift of Christmas was a descendant from an adulterous relationship…that’s a gift of GRACE.
The Gift of Christmas was presented through an unmarried woman…that’s a gift of GRACE.
The Gift of Christmas was rescued from the hands of a tyrant…that’s a gift of GRACE.
The Gift of Christmas was raised as a refugee in a foreign land…that’s a gift of GRACE.
The Gift of Christmas was rejected and despised by His own people…that’s a gift of GRACE.
The Gift of Christmas died a criminal’s death…that’s a gift of GRACE.

The circumstances of Jesus birth, life and death are a grace saturated environment!

Song writer and author Geoff Bullock summarises this grace saturated environment well in his book ‘Hands of Grace’:

“If Christ owned the rejection of a teenage pregnancy, if Christ owned the suspicion of a Jewish country town, if Christ had to be born out of town, out of the way, out the back, then we have no other choice than to acknowledge that God does not place his favour on those who look like they deserve it.  God, by the choice of the conditions of his Son's birth, shows us that he does not judge the book by its cover…We have a saviour who knows the plight of the homeless, rejected, misunderstood misfits that the world wishes would just go away.” (Bullock, Hands of Grace, 60-61)

The gift of GRACE is a gift that keeps on giving beyond the Christmas story creating a grace saturated environment for ALL people for ALL time that is not dependent upon whether we are naughty or nice but upon God's unmerited favour!  That's a gift of GRACE!!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

More Than A Number!

Today I had the opportunity to witness another side of the immigration process by supporting a friend who is seeking asylum in Australia at his Refugee Review Tribunal.  For confidentiality reasons I won't comment on what happened in private, but I want to make a brief comment on what happened in public.  

After checking in at reception my friend was given a "number" and invited to take a seat and wait for a Hearing Officer to take us to the Hearing Room.  We almost missed our call, as both the solicitor representing my friend and I heard the Hearing Officer call out the name "Emma Fyfe".  After ignoring the first call, we heard the name "Emma Fyfe" called again, but there was nobody else in the waiting room except us.  It was then that I looked across at my friends "number" and saw "MR5" (eM-aR-Five).  We heard a "name" but what was actually spoken was a "number"!

In that moment I was struck by the paradox within a process that is supposed to verify the identity and story of ordinary human beings experiencing extraordinary circumstances, but instead violates their identity by assigning a "number" in place of a "name".  

My friend and every other person, regardless of their race, religion or means of arrival, are more than numbers!  They have a name and a story and an identity that cannot be diminished or erased by a system that puts politics before people.  

Despite the awkward moment in the waiting area today, I am glad I heard a name and not a number!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Overcoming Evil

In 1914, at the outbreak of World War 1, British author and social commentator H.G. Wells is credited with penning the phrase "The war to end war" in several of his published articles. 
  • Yet, wars continue to wage!
In 1963, during a civil rights march on Washington, American civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech calling for an end to racism.
  • Yet, racism continues to divide!
In 1990, in response to the international stock market crash, Australian Federal Treasurer Paul Keating described the Australian recession as "the recession we had to have." 
  •  Yet, economies remain fragile!
In 2001, after the terrorist attacks in the US, President George Bush declared a 'War on Terror' in his speech to Congress stating, "We will not tire, we will not falter and we will not fail."
  • Yet, terrorists continue to terrorise!
In 2013, during the Australian Federal election campaign, Liberal leader Tony Abbott pledged, "We'll stop the boats" as a commitment to end people smuggling.
  • Yet, refugees continue to be displaced!
It seems we have learned little from one hundred years of endless conflicts, eloquent speeches, economic bailouts, evading terror and emigrating people.  Our best attempts to resolve human conflict has done nothing to change the human condition.  Our advances and achievements are unable to answer the universal question - "Why?" - about all the suffering in the world.  Our humanistic ideologies fail to compensate for our religious inadequacies.  If our past and present failings as the human race have taught us anything, it is that there are forces at work in this world that transcend our humanity and have corrupted our human nature and continue to disrupt the created order.  These forces are not of human origin but are manifested through human behaviour.  Until we acknowledge that the evil in our world is fundamentally a spiritual battle we will continue to fight against the agents of evil while not addressing the source of evil.  

There has been no conflict, no diplomacy, no sanctions that have ever had the power to destroy evil.  That's because we are fighting the wrong battles with the wrong weapons, "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (Ephesians 6:12).  The only time in history when a person possessed the power to overcome evil was when "The Word [aka Jesus] became flesh and made his dwelling among us" (John 1:14).

In the first century, during the reign of King Herod and Roman governor Pilate, a Jewish man named Jesus Christ affirmed, "In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).

In the garden before being arrested, Jesus Christ confronted the forces of evil as He determined, "Not my will, but yours [that is, God's] be done" (Luke 22:42).

In the moments before He died, Jesus Christ confounded the forces of evil as he stated before His accusers, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34)

In the days following His death, Jesus Christ conquered the forces of evil as His disciples witnessed His resurrection and heard Him say, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me" (Matthew 28:18).

In a time yet to be disclosed, Jesus Christ will return to earth and consume the forces of evil so "There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away" (Revelation 21:4).

The only way we can overcome evil and experience peace on earth is through a relationship with Jesus Christ who has the power to transform the human condition and restore the created order.  He has defeated the real enemy of humanity and has established His kingdom on earth.  Through Jesus "the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God have come.  The authority of his Messiah has come.  Satan, who brings charges against our brothers and sisters, has been thrown down.  He brings charges against them in front of our God day and night.  They had victory over him by the blood the Lamb spilled for them.  They had victory over him by speaking the truth about Jesus to others.  They were willing to risk their lives, even if it led to death. (Revelation 12:10-11).