Oh come all ye faithful…beer drinkers

Christmas carols are coming to a church near you. If you’re anything like myself BC, you may love a jolly singsong of ye olde carol favourites, but possibly fidget in the scripture section. Sort of like, “Yes, yes, we know the story: virgin, baby, no room at the inn, manger, star, kings with gifts, shepherds and angelic hosts. But are you going to do Jingle Bell Rock? Or that Mariah Carey one they sing in Love Actually?”

It’s fairly easy to do ‘-mas’ nowadays. If you pick council-run carols over churchy ones, you’re going to get more ‘-mas’ than Christmas. Taking the Christ part away just makes it sooo much easier to get people along. No confronting conversations about Isaiah and prophecies and someone dying to take away your sin. Makes it easier to get sponsors for the petting zoo and face-painting.

What’s a church to do when competing with -mas? As one church announced recently, you can offer Carols and Beer. I think this is fairly good, given evangelism works best when you meet people where they are at and within their context. Nothing an Aussie likes better than free cold beer. They may not come along for the Christmas message, but if Jesus slips in with the Coopers Pale Ale, excellent! url

But where would we be without social media to discuss sin? Some Christians voiced concern that beer is not an appropriate beverage to be served at church and carols. Hear, hear. Our Lord and Saviour was all about fine wine (remember the wedding at Cana), so let’s at least make it Grange and French Champagne.

I met someone recently who got to know the Jesus fella whilst serving the craft beer at a Men’s Event in a metro church. There he was, doing his job, serving up sensible nips of beer on those fancy wooden paddles for all the men attending. He couldn’t help but listen to the talk. Within a year he was enrolled in bible college and is now in rural NSW leading a fast-growing church. If beer had been deemed an inappropriate beverage that night, he’d likely have not met the Jesus fella. And what really stood out for him? “Well, you don’t expect a church to do a beer-tasting, do you? It made me think I’d missed something.”

The element of surprise. Not a bait and switch, more a beer and save!

I appreciate the damage of alcoholism, alcohol abuse and everything around it. There’s delicacy and I can see why – if the church is meant to be a guiding light, doing as Jesus would for others – some Christians have voiced their concerns. Yet, like any event, it’s about responsible service of alcohol. I’d trust that the beer and carol organisers would not encourage ‘every time you hear the word ‘angel’ take a drink’ games. It’s a large leap from offering a social beer with carols to say that the church is ignoring those who struggle with alcohol and putting temptation in their way.

Yet, even if that was the case, surely a church can be pastorally-smart enough to manage it? I have an amazing friend who is celebrating ten years dry. When we have dinner, I let her choose if I drink or not. Most days it’s a yes, but some days it’s a no. A ‘no’ becomes my prompt to ask what’s causing her to struggle and how I can help?

The same kindness could be extended at a carols where beer is being served – it would take some forethought, planning and a willingness to address the elephant in the room, but it can be done. Broached well, it could be its own pastoral opportunity:

“Welcome everyone to our carol service. You may be surprised to notice that our church is serving beer and also wine tonight. For some, that might be a welcome surprise and may even challenge some stereotypes of Christians being like Ned Flanders (insert pause for laughter). But for others, who choose not to drink for personal reasons, it may be a challenge or a struggle…. and so, what we’ve done is….[insert what suits your community best]….”

Each church is different. Each community is different. So meet people where they’re at. Your church may have a whole bunch of AA sponsors happy to float and mingle. Or there may be a strict confidentiality so you do some pre-work beforehand to have people available to walk alongside those who struggle.

It may not even be needed. But it certainly demonstrates to those folk who are visiting, the ones who are simply there for the beer and the carols, that Christians care. About people and their struggles. Or simply just to offer a cold beer on a hot day to toast the birth of the one who saves.

Sounds like God on the radio

Not only was the weekend Valentine’s Day, it was also world radio day on February 13th. I used to work in both BBC and ABC radio donkey’s years ago and, after producing a three-episode series on divorce over three generations, some lovely souls at Radio National gave me an award. So whilst I love to write, I’m fairly aural – probably why God shoves songs and lyrics at me in the early hours to get my attention. 12107060_537762879709626_4083684520642864060_n

Which He did fairly strongly in June last year regarding a job application, meaning today I write this as operations manager of the Australian arm of Far East Broadcasting Company, a global not-for-profit that uses radio and internet to broadcast the gospel into impossibly hard to reach places.

Not simply broadcasting tracts of scripture. Christ’s love may be captured in the Bible, but it was also seen through his acts, so FEBC’s radio programs cover education, social issues, literacy,  and health. Practical love and help broadcast in the listener’s own language, produced by volunteers who come from the communities they are broadcasting to. This is no ‘fly in, fly out’ mission. It is vine and trellis, tent-spreading mission with longevity, insight and understanding.

In Northern India, rife with sex trafficking, fathers hear FEBC’s radio programs and are educated to understand that their daughter being sold ‘to a better life away from poverty’ is actually a life of brothels and hopelessness. As a direct result of FEBC’s radio programs about legal rights and the importance of each individual, no matter their gender, there has been a drop in young girls trafficked and the number of female foetuses aborted.

As Ebola ravaged Sierra Leone, FEBC’s first response disaster radio programs offered practical health advice on dealing with the virus but also shared Christ’s hope. That there was love in amongst the horror. Last October, in response to Typhoon Koppu, the Philippines First Response Radio, in partnership with FEBC Philippines, used the suitcase radio station (pictured) in partnership with OCHA, The Office of Civil Defence (OCD) and other NGOs to get vital health and infrastructure messages broadcast.

You see, like God, radio gets in. On a loop. It may be the background noise to everyday life, but the message is there. From mobilising Russian Christians to adopt over 50,000 social orphans out of terrible situations in orphanages, to offering the means to educate new pastors via Bible Correspondence courses for effective church planting in Mongolia, I have been slack-jawed by the breadth, depth and width of the work that FEBC does. Which can all start from a tiny, A$30 wind-up or solar radio.

Could I EVER have imagined myself working there? Well, given the first Christian job I applied for knocked me back for having no faith and set me on a path to Christianity, I’ve learnt to be cautious with what God imagines! There’s a danger in praying ‘over to You.’

He has heard me mutter, “what were You thinking?” plenty of times in my short time at FEBC. I bring a default of commercial leadership to this Christian not-for-profit because, dear Lord, I’ve only being doing this G&J biz for not quite two years. The wiring is sometimes off. There can be a tension in that – there have been plenty of meetings when I’m on my knees ahead of time. Only recently I was battling with what I term ‘commercial rigour’ and the SAP gently suggested I used ‘good stewardship’. Ah, yes. Same intent, yet more positive and Christian.

The BC (before Christ) me wants to sprint at speed, get stuff done, and struggles with impatience. Re-wiring to ‘lead like Jesus’ does not happen overnight, no matter how much of the Holy Spirit God is gracious in bestowing.  “Because that would be too easy,” He whispers. Some tests are needed to prove mettle. Thank God for grace.

I’ve also learnt that working in a Christian mission is harder than secular. Harder to get stuff done. Not simply due to lack of funds or skills, as often can be cited in NFPs. It may read as ‘woo-woo’ but when you work in a mission that spreads God’s word across the globe, I’m certain the horned mother-trucker throws extra obstacles. I have learnt I cannot race and get stuff done at all unless I pray for God’s help, blessing, guidance and, yes, protection too, first.

It has proved both my biggest challenge and greatest blessing (discounting coming to G&J in my 40s!). If you want to know more about a cost-effective mission that you or your church could be involved in,  please take some time to learn about FEBC Australia’s work, especially if you didn’t know they turned 50 last year. This month’s story in Eternity is a great place to start. Download is below. Happy World Radio day!
http://issuu.com/biblesocietyau/docs/e66_p1_p20_final/4

 

 

Suffer the little children

My almost 11 year old son lies in his bunk tonight. He is burrowed as only a sleeping boy can do, wombat-like beneath hillocks of doona and pillow. Lean and sturdy, I see little of the toddler he once was.

Until I see Aylan, face down in the surf, echoing the repose most parents recognise: bottom up, face-planted, soles of shoes patterning outwards. images

There I see the echo of my boy, now grown through the gateways of life and memory-making that Aylan will never gain. His soles will not make patterns running in the sand. His starfish fingers will never again grasp his Father’s, as my 11 year old will do this coming Fathers’s Day.

I pray Aylan grasps Our Father’s hand. That this suffering child will be suffered by the One who somehow sees redemption in a world that has so skewed its priorities.

I am ashamed. Over backyard bbqs we smile at escalating house prices, quietly smug at locked up equity while we lock up others for fear of sharing boundless plains that are not as spare as we like to sing.

I am ashamed. Our churches squabble over marriage acts and how to speak on same sex unions while Rome burns, Greek islands sink and small boys swallow sea water. It clogs their lungs: burning, gasping, splashing,  their tiny star fish hands seeking purchase and sneakered feet frantically kicking.

Did he cry for his mama, do you think? As the waves broke over his head, as he sobbed and cried with fear, did she hear him and, frantically, did she try to hold him up? Did she use all of her last mama’s strength to push him, float him, hold him? To tell him not to be afraid, that she loved him, that he wasn’t alone? Did she try to sing him one last lullaby as the waves pulled them down?

I am ashamed. That I will, one day soon, have to explain to my son why we let small children drown, why we fail to love our neighbours as ourselves.

And on that final day, when I stand before Him, what answer will I give? That it seemed too hard and far away for me to make a difference? And then, if by His grace I walk on in, what then? I picture a small boy in a red t-shirt, his siblings and mother coming over and offering their forgiveness – and it is just too large and bitter a lump to swallow in my tear-clogged throat.

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.”

Matthew 18:10 NIV

Dear God, I think Jesus would bake two wedding cakes, don’t you?

Quite often I tell myself I was remiss in conducting due diligence on this whole Christian business. G&J snuck into my heart whilst my head was playing catch-up, kind of like some divine Navy SEAL team rappelling through my soul, dragging me out the bunker, ripping off a blindfold and shoving me into the light before I’d even had a chance to catch a breath. And once they’re in your heart? It’s incredible difficult to evict them. Holy squatters rights. No matter how often my head wants to explode.

Who knew cake could be so divisive? Marie-Antoinette started it all, and now we’ve got The International Convention on Civil and Political Rights in on the act. In the American state of Oregon, a case is underway after a bakery declined to provide a cake for a lesbian wedding. mr-mr-wedding-cake-topper-same-sex-wedding-lgbt-wedding-gay-cake-topper-groom-and-groom

On the one hand, homosexual people are entitled to be free from discrimination. The International Convention on Civil and Political Rights provides that all people, including people who identify as homosexual, are entitled to non-discrimination and equality before the law.

On the other hand, Christians and other religious people are entitled to the free exercise of their religion. The International Convention on Civil and Political Rights provides that: Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

For many people, religious beliefs are part of their everyday life. This includes operating a business and providing commercial services to others. Which is how ‘Cakegate’ has occurred. Based on their religious beliefs, a bakery-owning, Christian-couple declined to bake a cake for a lesbian couple’s wedding. They were sued, ended up closing their retail store due to public backlash, and face damages up to $120k.

Now, given that Jesus flouted the religious law of the time and hung out with lepers, tax-collectors, and adulterous women, I have to ponder how little ‘Cakegate’ has to do with Jesus, and rather too much to do with religion and legalism? I recently read an excellent ‘Cakegate’ article over on the blog Ten Thousand Places referencing Jesus’ sermon on the mount and his response to the (unpopular) Roman law of the time:

One of the Roman laws stated that any man could be required to drop what he was doing and carry a Roman soldier’s equipment for him for up to a mile. In the sermon on the mount, with his followers gathered around him, Jesus referenced that law and told his followers what they should do in that case: “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.” ~Matthew 5:41

Applying this in the present day, under the law of  non-discrimination and equality, perhaps those Christian bakers should have baked not only one cake, but two?

These bakers were standing by their personal Christian belief that marriage is a God-sanctified union between man and woman. But Jesus walked around breaking the scriptural laws of the time in the name of God’s love. Like when he healed on the Sabbath and the Pharisees confronted him.

“What man is there among you who has a sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will he not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable then is a man than a sheep!” Matthew 12:11

Jesus is holding up his love, God’s love, against the limiting scriptural laws of the day. And as Christians, blessed with the Holy Spirit, that sort of love needs to be acted out over and over and over. No matter how hard.

In Australia, Christian Youth Camps refused to take a booking from a group wanting to run a suicide-prevention camp for same-sex-attracted young people. The case ended when Christian Youth Camps lost their appeal against a finding that they had breached equal opportunity laws.

Surely in a group feeling so marginalised it leads to suicide is the EXACT PLACE a Christian should be. In the mess and the mire. No matter how it rubs up awkwardly against any scriptural passages. Showing love and compassion. Loving your neighbour as yourself. 

Jesus was the antithesis of everything everyone expected at the time. Instead of being a victorious leader overthrowing Roman rule, he hung out with the weak, the marginalised and the oppressed.

On days when I read about ‘Cakegate’ and try to stop my head exploding, I often wonder what Jesus would be like if he popped in to check up on us today. Probably what we least expect, designed exactly to hold a mirror up to our beliefs, just as he did before. So a same-sex attracted, celibate, person of colour, wedding cake baker, perhaps?