I am ashamed of Church Abuse

In 2018 Pope Francis expelled Fernando Karadima from the priesthood. He was Chile’s most notorious clerical abuser and as a result of the crisis in their country, 34 Chilean bishops offered their resignations to the Pope. It was this event which turned the tide on how the Catholic Church looked at the abuse crisis in the present.

It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. Ephesians 5 v 12

What does this mean?

Well it does not mean it is giving licence to cover-up.

It does not mean that the disobedient are not exposed because the Apostle has told us to do just that.

In 2016 the Church of England in the UK were dealing with 3,300 complaints of sexual abuse. This can be added to all the other Churches who were dealing with official complaints. Then what about those who didn’t complain or who weren’t heard. Now stretch that back decades, generations, to the time of the Apostle in prison who says what I think he is saying, “There are some acts that are so bad that we will be ashamed to talk about them, they disgust us that much.” He is not saying don’t talk about it in order to deal with them.

Perhaps the Church should step into shame even for the previous generations who abused and covered it over.

This is a hauntingly powerful story of a woman from Bethlehem. She was a concubine. In a fit of anger she ran away from her master and owner to her father’s house in Bethlehem of Judah. The man found her and wooed her back.

 On the way back to his home in the hill country of Ephraim, it became late in the evening and they needed a place to stay. They depended on the hospitality of the people of Gibeah, but there was no hospitality forthcoming. Finally, an old man offered them a place to stay in his home.

 That night a set of townsmen knocked on the door. They demanded the body of the male visitor. In order to appease the sexual hunger of the men outside, the old man grabbed the concubine and threw her out and shut the door.

The crowd outside gang-raped her, abused her all night. When dawn broke they left her lying on the ground. When her husband came out he saw her lying dead at the door of the house with her hands on the threshold.

It is a horrible story told in Judges 19 and there is no mention of God. Does He not care? Was it too shameful to even make an appearance or speak a word?

Her memory calls out. It calls out to the psychological numbness of those around her, and it calls out to us down the centuries to amplify her silent cries.

There are people crying today because of acts that are too shameful to even mention where the presence of God seems remote. We need to speak up and out. We need to step into the shame and feel the dirt and the pain and we need to stand for justice. For the greatest shame is on those who turn away from that cry.

One of the victims in the Chilean abuse scandal said these words after meeting the investigating team led by the Archbishop of Malta, Charles Scicluna, “For the first time I felt that someone is listening, I think [Scicluna] was sincerely moved by what I was saying. He cried.”

Whatever nation you are in today it is certainly time to cry over the shameful pain that has gone on for too long.

I am not a Morality Policeman

The Talmud speaks of 7 different types of Pharisee. One of which was called the ‘bruised Pharisee’ who walked into walls to avoid looking at women. Ridiculous but true.

Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. Ephesians 5 v11

Set apart yourself from the world.

Come out from among from them.

I have heard these mentioned so much in church over my whole life. But what did they mean? They were often said within the context of some prophetic utterance by people I didn’t necessarily want to become.

Last night I watched a repeat BBC documentary Inside the Bruderhof. Founded in Germany in 1920 there are over 23 communities scattered around the world which members move between them throughout their lives. These communities seek to live like the early Church in the sense of sharing all their possessions and not owning anything. What is interesting is their approach to separating from the world. “To avoid clothing that indicates status or wealth as well as anything provocative or sexualised.”

Yesterday I also watched a video posted on Twitter by Masih Alinejad an Iranian who in 2013 started a movement which has thousands of women following who are protesting against the compulsory wearing of the hijab. The morality police in Tehran are regularly filmed slapping or arresting women who are exposing their faces. Part of the commentary of the video I watched has this:

Man: If my son rapes you, then it’s your fault because you’re not wearing proper hijab.

Woman: I am Christian.

Man: It doesn’t matter. You still have to wear Islamic dress-code.

So what determines a provocative piece of clothing? Do women have to wear dresses to their ankles? Where does the darkness truly lie, in a women’s face or in the desire of a man to abuse her?

What are the deeds of darkness the Apostle mentions? What needs to be exposed? Perhaps what was dark in the 1st century is not dark in the 21st? Or is it we get used to the darkness?

I’ve often eaten food outside in the dark in Africa. I don’t like it. I am always concerned about what has jumped onto my plate without being introduced to me! I don’t like going into restaurants when I can hardly see what the menu says. I like to see my food, I like to see the table cloth and I like to see who I am eating with. But in both settings I know that if I stay in the dark after a while my eyes will become accustomed and I will be able to see.

Has the Church become accustomed to the darkness?

Yes we may shout! But before we start painting our placards with catchy slogans think about this. What if the most religiously observant Christian denies love and mercy to those who clearly have broken the ‘rules’? Who is actually in darkness then? The religiously observant Christian will believe it is the rule-breaker. What do you think?

The Apostle has already told us in this prison letter that the Gentiles are darkened in their understanding and that we should live as Children of the Light. But are we meant to be like the Morality Police of Tehran?

Paul says ‘expose them’. That’s not to follow any religious governance whether done in the name of Mohammed or Jesus of denouncing the shameful deeds committed or burning witches at the stake as the Church still does figuratively. But it is definitely to allow the Light of Christ to shine through our lives. To be different not with a new darkness. But to allow the glory of Christ, His love, His beautiful, selfless, sacrificial life to settle into the darkness of people’s lives. To treat people as human beings. To see them not as sexual objects but as people created in the image of God. To love so that God is seen and to live so that we are not seen.

I am made to please Him.

How many woke up this morning knowing that today they want to please God?

Here’s a slightly different question:

How many woke up this morning knowing that they are pleasing to God?

In the middle of 50 activities of putting off and putting on the Apostle says this:

“Find out what pleases the Lord.” Ephesians 5 v10

Surely the answer is in the activities he mentions? “Do these things and you will please God.”

Why does Paul say this?

It is because pleasing the Lord is not found in activity.

Ingrained in us is the belief that God is not pleased with us and He wants more from us.

Of course activity is important. Sin hurts others. But sin also hurts us in that we will not love God as much but it will never mean He loves us less.

However, pleasing the Lord is not putting off or putting on. The opposite of pleasing is disappointing and many are fearing God because they don’t want Him to feel this way about them. So they work harder, they do more, they beat themselves up and it is because they fear.

Remember how Paul told us that we were predestined for His glorious grace? (Ephesians 1:5-6) That’s it. That is what pleases the Lord. His glory. That He be made known.

There are 2 key principles that have become the centre of my discipleship. These are my focus:

Live so God is seen

Love so I am not seen.

I am made for Truth

“9 out of 10 dentists, cats, budgies prefer, say, want ….”
“The deluxe range (which is the same product as the non-deluxe range).”
“Spending makes you HAPPY.”
I love this old advert: “Give your throat a vacation, smoke a fresh cigarette, smoke CAMELS.”

If you love films, then you must watch ‘True Story’. It tells the story of Michael Finkel who through a lot of cost to himself learnt the importance of telling true stories.

If you love dramas, then you must watch ‘The Capture’. It follows British soldier Shaun Emery and a case against him in which CCTV footage plays an important role. Surely CCTV cannot be wrong?!

Just because the story is amazing.
Just because the storyteller is charismatic and amazing.
Just because you desire to be part of the amazing.

Just because it has been amazing whilst it lasted.
It doesn’t make it true.

Next time it sounds unbelievable well just slow things down and check out the facts.

The Apostle says, “for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth.” Ephesians 5 v 9

Truth.

You have many stories I am sure. I recall a man who went to Bible College many years ago for a 12 month course and had his spouse do every single essay for him. He passed, so she did well!

Truth is a person, Jesus.

But Truth can be put under great scrutiny itself. Lies can bring doubt to Truth.

Jesus was on trial for subverting the nation, opposing payment of taxes to Caesar, claiming to be the Messiah and stirring up the people all over Judea with his teaching.

Now here’s the point: You can see elements that are true but they are packaged in lies. There is a distortion of the truth. A misrepresentation of the accuracy of the situation. It is what the father of lies specialises in. All that needs to happen is to convince others to see just a glimpse of the accusation and then the lie has worked.

It is so difficult when people are speaking lies about you or when they believe things about you that are not true.

Here is what I have come to believe:

What is spoken against you is not as established as it may look.

What is spoken to you about someone else is not the evidence of the reality.

The lie against you can lead you into the destiny God has for you, it can become a servant.

It takes wisdom to dissect a lie.

It takes courage to walk through a lie.

Truth sets prisoners free even if they have wrongfully served years in prison.

Untangle the lies and Truth will lead you out.

Truth will bring something beautiful out of the ugliness of the situation.

Search for the Truth amongst the misconception and the path will become clear.

Truth is hard to discover when there is no sacrificial self-awareness.

Put Truth on the cross and wait for Him to rise to a new day.

I am made for Truth.

I am made to be Straight

To know and to act are one and the same. (Samurai proverb)

Up on my Facebook page a few days ago was the picture of our day out at the last Olympics. Unfortunately for me it was horse-jumping which I actually don’t mind but worse than that it was something called Dressage.

Now apparently Dressage is an advanced form of riding and training that tests the horse and rider as they perform difficult manoeuvres based around a horse’s natural movements and tests the accuracy of horse and rider, together with the physical ability, suppleness, responsiveness, balance and obedience of the horse.

For me it just looks like the horse is moving awkwardly. Straight but awkward.

It is awkward only because my perspective is from an amateur position. I know nothing about horses.

But I do know about Church pews and pulpits and those who occupy them. I am concerned that there have been so many deviances from the path that those who walk straight do so in a counter cultural way from what seems to be the norm.

I have heard people talk of a faithful Pastor as someone who could be trusted but who isn’t very successful, who hasn’t had the ability to build anything large and successful.

I have heard people talk of faithful members as people who turn up, sit down but don’t do much.

Being faithful is one aspect of the straight path but can be seen in a derogatory way.

However …

for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness … Ephesians 5 v9

The Apostle continues and says that to show we are Children of the Light we will demonstrate righteousness as the NIV translates the word which actually is the word that is derived from ‘straightness’. To be what I should be.

So often when a Christian is demanding to be seen as right they have lost the argument because they appear not to be what they should be in their efforts to be so. God is perfectly righteous because He is 100% who He should be at any given time. As we live in the light of Him that is our goal.

Throughout history those who speak for God and are sent from Him have been killed, they still are. But throughout history those who believe in God have done the killing, they still do.
A lot is done in the name of God.
There’s a lot of hurt inflicted by people who believe they are right.

Being right isn’t the goal in life for Children of the light but being righteous is. That means how I get there is more important than being there. I go straight. I choose straightness. To be what I should be in light of He who is perfect. That might mean we begin to appear awkward to others. We need to straighten out being straight again.

I was made for Goodness

South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, author of “Made for Goodness” was answering readers questions in the TIME magazine.

 Q: After all you’ve seen and endured, are you really as optimistic as your book, ‘Made for Goodness’, says you are?

 Tutu: I’m not optimistic, no. I’m quite different. I’m hopeful. I am a prisoner of hope. In the world, you have very bad people—Hitler, Idi Amin—and they look like they are going to win. All of them—all of them—have bitten the dust.

For the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, Ephesians 5 v9

David referred to himself as a flea on two occasions, a dead dog and a worm.

Moses looked at himself and said he was not up to the task.

Gideon believed he was the weakest.

The list can go on. It seems every Bible hero had to get rid of the worthless things that were clinging to them, that had become the focus of their life and the shaper.

We need to stop thinking negatively, either about ourselves or circumstances. We need to think about our purpose in this world and about Him.

We have a Good Shepherd, Good News and we should be the Good Samaritan. Goodness is the trait of the kingdom of light.

If you have given out more than you have received back then you are venturing into the Goodness.

There needs to be loss in your life for Goodness to emerge.

The loss of loving someone who doesn’t return that love.

The loss of helping those who just take.

Loss because there is no hope of getting anything back from your kindness and generosity.

When you question whether it was worth it; when you ask whether you have been taken for a ride; when you see nothing from your acts of kindness it is then when you are bordering on the entrance of Goodness.

Goodness is a life where you look like God, especially in front of your enemies. They may be ungrateful and they may not recognise what you do but He sees. God can see you identify with Him for this is who He is and what He has done and does today.

So if today you meet that awkward, self-centred, seemingly unavoidable person then be kind. Lose. Be like God and then step into Goodness.

I am not in Darkness

Madam X is an Elim Church planter in an Islamic nation. One Saturday in September 2016 having never been told the truth about Jesus she began to meditate on a verse from the Quran in Surah 1:6 “Guide us in the right path”. Suddenly in the corner of the room a ‘bright light’ filled the room as Jesus revealed His identity to her. She fell to the floor and her life was never the same again! This was noon, it was light, but THE light was so much brighter.

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light. Ephesians 5 v 8

I have heard first-hand accounts from many who have met Christ and every one of them saw a bright light. The light of Christ is more than just shining brightly in the darkness, any light can do that, but it shines brightly at noon, in the light. That is bright! Christ can penetrate the light, any light. He is brighter than the mid-day sun.

I have been reading of an Afghan woman explaining to a correspondent that the women who continue to wear burqas (the full-body coverings mandated by the Taliban) do so even though they don’t like them and are no longer forced to wear them because: “We have lived in darkness for so long that now we are afraid of the light.”

Some today even though they may have faith cannot see the stars in the sky. They are unable to see the sunrises that happen every day. They only see clouds not the sun, not even the rays through the clouds. The lights have gone out. Actually the light is there, but they cannot see it.
Today come out from the darkness, forgive and let go where that is needed, trust the God of light again. Do not be afraid to change. Do not be afraid to step into the light. He is waiting for you. He has not stopped shining.

I and who I walk with

When was the last time someone corrected you? What did you do about it?

Therefore do not be partners with them. Ephesians 5 v 7

Who are you hanging around with? (From the Message version).

Don’t let it be with deceptive people.

Choose your friends carefully. Who are you walking with?

We don’t need to hang around people who tickle our ears and who sympathise with our lack.

We need friends who will not deceive us but who are not afraid to speak the truth to us.

Western Christianity is so individualistic. We have our own walk with God, we hear God individually and we make decisions alone. But not so in other parts of the world where community is powerful and decisions are made as a group. Perhaps this is the way it should be. Maybe there would be less mistakes made if others advised us.

It is never too late to bring into your life accountability partners who will continually ask you “Why do you think, speak and behave this way?”

An unchecked, unquestioned man is not a strong man. Strength is not in what you can amass, or the people around you, it is not in a title or a position. It is whether or not you have been bridled.

If you see a destructive flaw in your friend’s life and say nothing then you are no friend.

I and Deception

I had just finished preaching a short series of 4 messages from Malachi and living a life of holiness, when the 2 friends came to see me in my office. “Pastor you are too severe, all this talk of holiness. We are leaving the Church.” Six months later the friends had fallen out with each other and it came to light that they were living an immoral lifestyle.”

The deceivers were trying to mislead me.

Having shared a list of sins (and there will be more) the Apostle says, “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.” Ephesians 5 v 6

Who are the deceivers? It is those people who come and lead you away from the Apostle’s teaching. They will demonstrate that to use people for gain is a blessing; to grab for the riches which do not belong to them is to be rewarded by God; they come with attractive large personalities but it is just a shell of emptiness; their words sound good but they end up being powerless dialogue.

Not everything that you see and hear is what you think you see and hear.

Not every friend is a friend because of what they can bring some are friends for what you can make them.

No one” are usually “Someone” They are usually good with words, respected leaders perhaps, they may have a following, but it doesn’t make it right.

No one” can be “Everyone” and there can be a consensus of opinion, but it doesn’t make it right.

The problem is when deception has struck it is hard to see it is deception. The deceived don’t know they are deceived till it is too late.

That is why we tread carefully in the light of God’s wrath which was poured out onto Christ on the cross. We walk in the light of that surrender.

If we live not to gain then we will not be deceived.

I and the Kingdom

The rule of Christ, the sphere of His activity, the realm and presence of God, the Kingdom, only has citizens who have lived for others.

“You can be sure that using people or religion or things just for what you can get out of them—the usual variations on idolatry—will get you nowhere, and certainly nowhere near the kingdom of Christ, the kingdom of God.” Ephesians 5 v 5

The Apostle is very firm on this, “For of this you can be sure” if your life on earth is about you then you will not come into the Kingdom. You may be religious but if your faith is about you becoming someone then forget it. If your focus is not to serve and to help but to get and to gain because you are not thankful for what you have received then forget it. You may think you are in the Kingdom and you may think you will come into it but forget it, you won’t. Others may think you are in the Kingdom because of your personality and charisma but forget it, they are of no help.

You cannot grab what you think you deserve and hold the hand of a God who is generous.

You cannot use people and expect God to use you.

You cannot be a big man and have a big God.

These will get you nowhere.

You may think you are in but you are definitely out.

So how do you get into this Kingdom of Christ and of God?

It is obvious isn’t it? Just look at those words in bold.

God loves and God sends, Christ came and Christ is crucified.

Selfless citizens of the Kingdom.