Ethics

The Budget Betrayal and Christians

The Word in Hand

Whom do we follow?

Some time has passed since the Federal budget. In that time I have been reflecting on the responses by fellow Christians and non – Christians alike. Why has there been such an outcry? Politicians have lied to us in the past. There is nothing new about that. Why are people so affronted now?

I think I have one reason.  After the confusion and lies of the previous Labor government, Australians were looking for something new and fresh, something different from the turmoil and back flipping that had been going on.  They were tired of it.  Tony Abbott, astutely, played to that confusion and promised certainty and no more lies.  We all knew that the “lie” bit was a lie but we hoped anyway.  This desire of the people to have politics played differently was strong. We have seen that in the move to independent members of parliament and minor parties.

So when the budget came out and promise after promise was broken at a scale never before seen in Australian politics, many people felt betrayed and, I believe, justifiably so.  Even worse, the most vulnerable were targeted with the budget decisions – here and overseas.  If promises had to be broken why wasn’t the Paid Parental Leave scheme, delayed?  Is it too cynical to suggest that most of these people who would benefit would vote Liberal?  Why wasn’t the abolition of the Mining Rent Tax shelved – just as money was starting to come in?  Is it that the miners are too powerful?  There are many more uncomfortable questions like this.  Do I believe that we have to live within our means? Certainly, but there are different ways to go about it.  Starting from the weak up is not it.

But personally, I feel betrayed at a different level as well.  As a child of the King, and many in the Government claim to be His, I cringe when I see fellow children of the King, in politics, obfuscate, justify and support policies that would make the King weep.  Christ directed his followers to support the needy, weak and vulnerable.  He modelled it for us.  He, in fact, has given power to these brothers and sisters in politics and claims their first allegiance – before all else and that includes the Party.

So what is my job now? Matt 18 reminds me that when a brother or sister sins or sins against me I need to go them and speak to them.  And yes, undermining the safety net we have for the vulnerable, I believe, falls into that category. That will have to be my first step.  A step I need to take in grace – even when I feel angry and betrayed.

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Categories: Ethics, Obedience, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 11 Comments

The Injustice System

A little under a week ago an official conference was arranged between my daughters and one of the young men who burned their house down 14 months ago. My wife and I went along to support them. There was a representative from the police, the young man and his mother, his counsellor, their lawyer and a Victims of Crime support worker for my family. Ironically, the support worker was there because she believed the girls needed support. However, technically, as there was no direct impact on my daughters (i.e. they were not in the house at the time) they were not seen, in a legal sense, as victims of crime, despite the fact that they lost most of their belongings and were rocked by the event.

Let me say from the outset I think these conferences are a great idea. They do allow perpetrators to hear of the damage that they have caused. The charges and outcomes were all read out and the questions with regard to motivation and reasons were put to the young man. I also applaud the fact that the system is trying to prevent these young people from committing further crimes. It was pointed out that a 6 months age difference (if technically he had been an adult) could have meant 5-10 years in gaol.

My daughters were amazing. I was so proud of them. They were gracious, forgave and reflected Christ in a wonderful way and were a witness to the gospel. The lawyer even said at one stage that he had never been at such a meeting with so strong a sense of forgiveness.

However, some aspects of  this process still sat uneasily with me.

One of the subtle aspects of this process was that the perpetrator becomes the “victim” in need of help. I agree that he needs help but he is also the person who created this situation. Yet the process seems to turn the tables somewhat. My daughters who were the victims, received no assistance, were largely left out of the information loop, were offered no counselling for the trauma suffered and, largely, became bystanders. All the attention was on the young man.

Maybe I am biased because I am the dad, but the “system” as well meaning as some its motives may be, is not a “just” system. There were all these people involved but the real victims were sidelined. That bothers me – not just for my daughters but for the many others in this situation. My daughters have a strong network of family, friends and church. Not everybody has that. What constitutes a “Victim of Crime” needs serious reconsideration.

For us as a family, however, at the end of the day, even if the legal system had been a disillusionment, we could celebrate the grace of God. We went to their new home, had a meal together and thanked God for His care over the last 14 months.

Categories: Ethics, Family | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

The Dark Side of the Church

Very recently I asked for readers to respond to a query I had about how people remember church when they were children (https://pieterstok.com/2013/07/13/your-experience-of-church-as-a-child/). I am still keen on hearing your responses.

One thing I didn’t expect (maybe I should have), was the number of private emails I have received from people recalling the abuse they received. This abuse sometimes arose because church authorities deliberately turned away from events in their families and congregation, or was perpetrated by them. This abuse ranged from spiritual and emotional neglect through to the more sordid examples we see in the news on a daily basis

20120411-214403.jpgIt reminded me that in my years as a pastor I came across too many examples of events that had never been dealt with properly. The “lets sweep it under the carpet” syndrome was all too prevalent. In an effort to protect the church’s reputation we have mired it more deeply in hidden and unconfessed sin and with no real thought for the victims.

Jesus weeps at the sins of His people but the tears must be even greater when these atrocities touch the innocent and vulnerable who are largely made up of women and children.

So far I have seen two main results of this hidden abuse revealed in the emails. Some people turn their back on the church and faith and want nothing to do with either. This is a tragedy of eternal proportions. The other result is those people who, usually through a Christlike mentor or partner, have, at some future occasion, dealt with the abuse and have come out the other side with a stronger faith and a greater awareness of God’s love for them. This is miraculous!

These emails have convinced me that the issue of children in the church is a crucial issue at so many different levels. What do we do to protect them? How do we make them feel that they belong? What is their role in the church and what can we learn from them? These are just some of the questions!

And from you dear readers, I would still love to hear what you have to say.

Categories: Children, christian, Christianity, Church, Ethics, Faith, Reflections, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

Children as Spiritual Champions – Part 1

The first book I am re-reading as I immerse myself in the topic of “children and church” is George Barna’s very personal confession and realisation, “Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions” (Regal 2003). In this book he acknowledges his own blindness, and suggests that this is modelled by the church at large – especially its leadership, with regard to the importance of children in the church.

In true Barna-esque style he weighs and measures the problem. He looks at the trends and suggests they are alarming (41). He measures the knowledge and values that children have and comes to the conclusion that American children are not being nurtured in the faith. He says this is even more alarming when you understand that most people come to their Christian faith in their childhood.

In a very moving chapter entitled “Why kids matter” he points out that, first of all, they matter to God. They are his gifts to us. Even more importantly, because they matter, He has given clear instruction to parents and the community at large as to the importance of nurture. I would add that we see this most intimately in Jesus’ relationship with children.

Barna also states that children are the battlefront of the spiritual warfare. The battle for the hearts and minds of children is where spiritual warfare is the hottest! He suggests that the more we invest in training, teaching, modelling, encouraging and etc. at this time the less we will have to pick up the pieces in the future.

Part 2 – soon. I hope!

Categories: Children, christian, christian education, Christianity, Church, community, Ethics, Faith, Family, Reflections | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Value of Life and the Media

On the day of the horrific Boston bombings there were many other atrocities around the world. Fifty people died in Iraq, children were killed in Syria, and thousands continued to die from starvation, disease and abuse around the world. But our televisions, computers and newspapers were filled with images from Boston. Newspaper pages and TV hours were crammed with this one story.

Being a first world country there were of course lots of images to broadcast. Also the American networks were pouring out reams of material that others could plug into. But I felt uneasy. I don’t want to decry the seriousness of the Boston event. It was awful and undeserved.  However in the international scheme of things it was not the worst thing that happened in the world that day. Here in Australia the media would make it appear that it was.

There are so many questions and issues that arise out of this situation: What is news and who determines what we should be shown? Are western lives more valuable than others? What impact does this skewed reporting have on our sense of justice for all? What about the child dying in its mother’s arms in a forgotten village – shouldn’t she be noticed? What about the Christians who are dying and having their churches bombed in towns and villages in Asia and the Middle East? Sadly, the list is seemingly endless.

Another question which directly confronts us, is, are we simply watching the news to be entertained? Neil Postman confronted this attitude with his LIAR principle – Low Information to Action Ratio. His point, we gain so much information, but we do so little about it. Is the news just another ongoing sitcom or is it a means by which we can gain understanding of the needs in the whole of God’s world?

I understand that this a very complex area and I am only scratching the surface. Yet we can start with ourselves and critique what we see, and explore other sources of news, such as the news that comes from mission and aid organisations. This would broaden our input, remove some of the power of the big news organisations and would also have the effect of putting us, to some degree, in charge of our own news sourcing. We would also have a more complete perspective from which to pray and act. And acting afterall, rather than being curious voyeurs, is the heart of Christ at work.

Categories: christian, christian education, Christianity, Church, Ethics, Faith, Reflections, World Views | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments

The Christian and Generation Changes

WHATEVERMuch is made of the various generations nowadays – from Baby boomers, to Gen X & Y and whatever other nomenclature is attached. What it tells us is that every generation is impacted by the previous generation and the social environment of the time. Baby-boomers arose out of the dust of war and entered a prosperous new age. “The Pill”, the sheer numbers of young people, wealth and education all had their impact. Today’s young people have a totally different set of influences that shape their view of themselves and the world.

My aim isn’t to analyse the influences on each generation, many sociologists and psychologists have done that, but rather, ask the question: What is the Christian response to this?

I would suggest that every era has had to weigh its life in the light of the gospel. In the time of the disciples, Greek and Roman culture were massive influences on the people of the day. They needed to ask, what is Godly and what isn’t? How has my thinking and behaviour, values and world-view  been influenced in ungodly ways by the environment in which I live? The apostle Paul continually reminds his readers about the culture from which they have come: “Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth…”(Eph 2:11) “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods.” (Gal 4:8)  “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces[a] of this world rather than on Christ.” (Col 2:8)

Paul is passionately aware that we are shaped by our environments – by the popular world-views of the day. He reminds his readers that it is time to be shaped by their new relationship with God through Christ. This is a radical (from the root up) new way of looking at life and the world.

Image:stickergiant.com

Image:stickergiant.com

That is no different for us or for our children. Our lives should be continually lived in the light of the gospel. Our use of time, wealth, gifts and talents, technology, leisure, social media, entertainment, relationships and so on, all need evaluation in the light of what it means to live a Christ-like life. Our very perspective of how we live life and why we live live life the way we do, should be anchored in Christ.

My dad grew up in the “radio” era, I grew up in the TV era and my kids in the IT and social media era. Each had different challenges and subsequent generations will have new challenges again. The one certainty in all of this is that Christ and the gospel don’t change. It is the constant lens through which every generation must look at the world in which it lives and ask the question: Does my life honour God?

Categories: christian, Christianity, Devotional, Ethics, Faith, Family, Uncategorized, World Views | Tags: , , | 7 Comments

The Father Sacrificing Dignity

Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets. 2 Sam 6:14&15

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. Luke 15:20

When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. John 19:23

Rembrandt’s “The Prodigal Son. Courtesy: Google Images

On Sunday evening I heard a young man preach his first sermon. It was on the prodigal son. There was much to commend but one phrase leapt at me. When the father ran towards his returning son the young preacher stated that “he sacrificed his dignity.” It was one of those phrases that invites immediate reflection and meditation. The further I thought about it the greater the realisation that more God has dealt with a rebellious and sinful humanity the more our heavenly father sacrificed his dignity – set apart the honour and glory that is His due and came into our chaos to free us from our self inflicted mess.

What we see a glimpse of in David, and the dad of the prodigal son, we see perfectly in Christ. The son, whose rightful place was and is beside the father, came to earth as a human being and died at our hands so that our condemnation would dealt with. That is sacrificing dignity – sacrificing all that is rightfully his for the our sake.

But, I thought, do I really comprehend this sacrifice? Do we as the church understand this? I am thinking particularly of the middle class church in which appearance, reputation, success and honour are so important. If Jesus sacrificed, not just his dignity, but his life for us, how I do I/we reflect that reality in the way I/we “live” our Christian lives and “live” church?

Inspired by Rembrandt’s painting of the prodigal son, the respected Catholic theologian, Henri Nouwen left his University post and began caring for, and cleaning up after, mentally ill patients. Nouwen glimpsed what my young friend alerted me to on Sunday night – to be Christlike requires us to sacrifice our dignity. To be like Jesus means to sacrifice all for the kingdom – even what people think of us!

Categories: Calvin, Camino, christian, Creation, Ethics | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Good and Bad Ethics

If there is one thing worse than the modern weakening of major morals, it is the modern strengthening of minor morals. Thus it is considered more withering to accuse a man of bad taste than of bad ethics. Cleanliness is not next to godliness nowadays, for cleanliness is made essential and godliness is regarded as an offence.
 
G.K. Chesterton 1909
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