Tom Hanks is everyone’s favourite actor and I’d like to apologise to him from the outset for distorting one of his most famous and frequently quoted lines – ‘Australia, we have a problem!’ But I think Tom (as he insists on me calling him) wouldn’t mind once he found out the gravity of the problem that Australia is facing. This problem has been front and centre of Australia’s attention for the past few weeks and while all of the attention has been on the seedy side of Canberra, it was a brave Tasmanian girl, Grace Tame, who set the ball rolling. The shameful scandal over the sexual abuse of the former Parliamentary intern Brittany Higgins may have given some the impression that Canberra has a problem, but the truth is that Australia has a problem, and since this year’s Australian of the Year was announced, we here in Tasmania can no longer deny that the problem is actually rife in our state as well!
WOMEN’S GREATEST FEAR
Brittany Higgins’ resolve to seek justice for what happened to her and the way she was treated was spurred on after Grace Tame, herself a survivor of predatory sexual abuse, took up the cause of many other women in a similar situation to her where the legal system seemed to protect the perpetrator and offer no such similar rights to the abused. On the morning of the Prime Minister’s response to the scandal of what had happened to Brittany Higgins broke, the ABC TV News Channel interviewed a woman who was a former lawyer-turned-Canberra-journalist who described her time in the Parliament House Press Gallery where she repeatedly endured inappropriate sexual harassment (which included inappropriate touching and lewdness) during her time there, and, she said, to her shame, that did not report it. Eventually, she too suffered what women fear most. She is now a women’s rights campaigner.
In that interview she said that the problem was that men wrongly viewed sex only on a purely physical level which in their minds has very little consequence beyond the momentary physical encounter. She went on to say that most men do not understand what really happens when they sexually assault a woman. There was, she said, a starkly different reality for women who endured unwanted sexual violation from a man. This stark difference between the viewpoint of men and women was borne out in what men and women fear most. According to her, all of the surveys of what women fear most reveal the same thing: the fear of being raped. Men’s greatest fear, on the other hand, was the fear of being humiliated. She explained that rape was not just a violation of a woman, it was a “breaking” of a woman. It leaves her broken. I was fascinated that she chose to use this word to describe what happened to a woman’s soul as a result of rape.
Our western legal system is largely based on the Judeo-Christian moral code (or at least it used to be). The protection of women was enshrined into that code and the rape of a woman was equated to the capital crime of murder.
¶ “But if the man meets the [engaged] woman out in the country, and he rapes her, then only the man must die. Do nothing to the young woman; she has committed no crime worthy of death. She is as innocent as a murder victim. Deuteronomy 22:25-26 NLT
It is a sad reality that women are routinely objectified by men (treated like sexual objects for their gratification) rather than treated as human beings worthy of respect. This is one of the reasons why we can no longer as a society regard ‘porn’ as an “industry” — then deceptively describe it with the euphemism (the art of using nice words to describe something horrible in order to trick people into thinking it as a good thing) that it “empowers women.”
You might remember that when Playboy Magazine founder Hugh Hefner died he was widely described in the media as someone who empowered and helped to liberate women, when what these confused journalists should have said was that he objectified women for the gratification of men and in the process robbed them of something sacred! I recently asked a female lawyer how I as a pastor should go about addressing this problem, she said, “Teach men about biblical manhood—how to properly treat women!” So here I go.
[Treat] older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity. First Timothy 5:2
I MEAN BE A MAN, NOT A MEAN MAN
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matthew 11:29
I was told recently that the term gentleman referred to a man of substantial means. The Oxford dictionary seems to confirm this definition, but it also states that a gentleman is “a chivalrous, courteous, or honourable man.” The word chivalrous isn’t used very often today, but I hope that after men have read this pastor’s desk article this adjective might be heard more often. To be chivalrous is to be “courteous and gallant, especially towards women (typically used of a man or his behaviour).” It is a word that describes a man’s respectful and kind treatment of women. It is therefore a word that we should hope to hear used more often. The best example of a chivalrous man is Jesus of Nazareth. Women felt safe around Jesus. Jesus never hit a woman. When alone with a woman in a private setting (note John 4 where Jesus was alone with the Samaritan women at the well), Jesus never did anything inappropriate.
¶ Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that He might present the church to Himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. Ephesians 5:25-27
A chivalrous man protects women. A man who truly loves a woman will patiently listen to her and give her his attention.
A SCARRED WOMAN
Broken women are inevitably scarred and also invisibly scarred. Men have an odd appreciation for scars. Women don’t. Many women who have experienced the humiliation of scarring will use different forms of ‘make-up’ to cover and hide their scars including personality make-up, hairstyle make-up, fashion make-up, and even cosmetic make-up.
A glad heart makes a cheerful face, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is crushed. Proverbs 15:13
Some men seem to be able to sense a scarred women and for some despicable reason see them as fair-game. Jesus didn’t. It is my hope that every man who might be disposed this way will accept the challenge to repent, change their view of such women, and learn how to be sensitive to her.
And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind Him in the crowd and touched His garment. For she said, “If I touch even His garments, I will be made well.” And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. And Jesus, perceiving in Himself that power had gone out from Him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched My garments?” And His disciples said to Him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched Me?’” And He looked around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth. And He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” Mark 5:25-34
THE SACRED INVITATION
Australia — Tasmania — we have a problem. The rate of sexual assault in my home state is unacceptable. It is sad to hear that the problem has become so prevalent in some parts of our state that some Tasmanian communities have had to establish their own community based sexual assault support services, such as in Geeveston (which has a population of 616). But there is a solution.
If what I have shared sounds like pious moralising then I have failed in my attempt to persuade men that women should not be considered as objects. If to those who have endured their worst fear I have sounded like an out-of-touch just-get-over-it ignorant male, then again I have failed. The pain – the brokenness – is real. What I hope to have made clear is that what has been happening in Australia’s Parliament House behind closed doors is not isolated or restricted to Canberra. Spend a day in any Magistrate’s Court during an open sitting and you too will begin to realise the extent of Australia’s problem. It is a cultural problem that effects millions of homes across Australia and therefore thousands of homes across Tasmania.
WHERE WE MUST START
It is my hope that all men who know and have surrendered to Christ will commit to helping their local church community to become a sacred space where the scared find sanctuary, and the scarred find soothing. The gospel of Christ offers hope and healing for those who have been traumatised and betrayed. It offers the hope of a new start, a new beginning — not just as the moment of conversion — but any moment that a child of God cries out to their Heavenly Father. Salvation, or deliverance, is available to the son or daughter of God any time they call on the name of the Lord — especially when they have been wounded.
For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved [rescued].” Romans 10:13
If you are a woman who has been scarred, the Spirit invites you to come into the Father’s sacred place by simply calling on the Father (Matt. 7:7). If you are a man who the Spirit is now convicting of your wrong actions or attitudes toward women, then He invites you to come into the sacred place through the door of confession and repentance (1John 1:8-9). And while I hope that each Sunday becomes a safe and sacred place for every man, woman, boy and girl, I also hope that as we continue to build a church without walls, we might imagine that ‘Houston’ might respond to “Jim Lovell” (Tom Hanks) — “We’ve found a solution Jim, a sacred solution, it’s Christ’s redeeming and rescuing and transforming grace that heals, saves, and delivers.”
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Anthony (Tony) Robbins is perhaps the best known motivational speaker in the world. One of his catch-cries is “Why live an ordinary life?” Since I assume that he is asking me, I will humbly respond to Mr. Robbins (albeit very belatedly). I wish to put in a good word for the ordinary and feel reasonably qualified to do so. In answering to “Mr. Motivation” I would also like to address all those others who have subscribed to his ideas such as, “You can do anything … You can be who you want to be … Nothing will be too hard to achieve if you just work hard and put your mind to it.” Because I think none of those statements are true. I do not, however, want to be a dream-crusher or sound like I am an advocate for mediocrity. I am not. But I do want to take this time to pastor people to approach life with a sense of reality about what is possible and why this is so. And I suspect in so doing I may be able to help many people who feel like nobodies or even life-failures.
¶ First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior First Timothy 2:1-3
ADJECTIVES BECAME TITLES
You might remember from Primary School that an adjective is a word that ‘describes a person, place, or thing (‘nouns’).’ At some early point in British history, the King decided to use certain adjectives that could have fairly been used to describe any deserving person and ascribe these words to a new class of people – the aristocracy (which adopted another ordinary adjective “peers”). Words such as noble (a good and virtuous person), sir (a man worthy of honour), lady (a woman worthy of honour), earl or duke (a leader of people), became titles that seemed to suggest that only a select few were now worthy of these adjectives.
¶ For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. First Corinthians 1:26
YOU DO NOT NEED A TITLE FROM THE QUEEN
You may never be honoured in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List but that does not mean you cannot live an honourable life! Your parents may not have been of the noble class, but that does not mean that you cannot be a noble person — one who is good and virtuous.
For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Second Peter 1:5-8
To live a noble life does not mean that you have to do something particularly extraordinary Mr. Robbins. In fact, it seems that history reveals that by far most people who did live a good and virtuous life lived ordinary lives. But when I say ordinary, do think unimportant or even of no consequence. Recently I had a long chat with a lady in our church who told me that after she was married, she spent a deal of time caring for her sickly mother-in-law. She shared how she nursed and cared for her mother-in-law willingly and gladly. She was even there when her mother-in-law died peacefully. After her death, this lady was then, with her husband, charged with the care of our her disabled sister-in-law who had multiple health issues throughout her life. Without complaint, she told me, she tended to her sister-in-law, and cared for her needs. It largely required twenty-four- hour-a-day attention. She battled exhaustion and fatigue for several decades as a result, and even though her sister-in-law’s various medications often effected her demeanour, this lady continued to show patience and care. As I heard her life story, I considered that she had made sacrifice after sacrifice to care for her in-laws. I wondered how many others would have been prepared to enter a marriage involving so many sacrifices. But as she drew her story to a close she stated that all of this was her delight. For her, it was not a sacrifice, it was a privilege. Her life has not been a case-study in national or international political leadership. Her life has not been one decorated by Olympic Gold Medals. Her life has not been honoured by the Nobel Committee. Her name has never featured in Australia Day Honours Awards. She has lived what many might consider to be an ordinary life — a life where you care for those you take responsibility for and show kindness to them even when that kindness is not always returned and must sometimes seem tough. But she has lived a noble life (you may have noticed that I deliberately referred to her as a lady). And truth be told, down through the ages, there have been hundreds of thousands of others who have “given up their lives” to serve others whose names and stories will never be recorded in any history books or be the subject of a major Hollywood movie.
DISCIPLES OF CHRIST ARE NOT CALLED TO CHANGE THE WORLD
What did Jesus train and commission His disciples to do? We might answer that it involved preaching the gospel and making disciples and if we do, I agree. This is what Jesus modelled to them. After Jesus ascended, His disciples eventually left Jerusalem and were led by the Spirit into various parts of the world and from the pages of Scripture, we never hear of them. What we do know from tradition is, with the obvious exception of Judas Iscariot, they were each faithful in fulfilling what Christ had commissioned them to do. And with the exception of John, they were each martyred in doing so. Their stories are largely lost and untold to the usual annuls of the histories of the great. But their stories were never lost or unknown to the One from whom all true honour derives.
I think of the hundreds of thousands of pastors who have never been household names, or achieved international accolades, or whose stories have filled the pages of biographical books, yet have served Christ and His Church faithfully free from scandal. These ordinary pastors are not “losers”. These ordinary pastors have fulfilled a noble task nobly. Their lives highlight that God does not call each believer to be someone who changed the world; rather, God calls each believer to make a difference in their world — which includes their friends, their family, their church, and their community.
¶ The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. First Timothy 3:1
I have been around long enough, and attended more church conferences than I care to count, and I have often seen pastors leave these events feeling inadequate, and as if their ministry was ineffective because some international keynote speaker told them to do something extraordinary. This is sad.
This coming week, I will be conducting the funeral of a young pastor. He never pastored a big church. He never considered himself much of a preacher. He never wrote a book (or read very many either). He was never a featured conference speaker. But he was faithful – and together with his wife they touched the lives of people who once thought their lives had no hope, but found hope and transformation in Christ.
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved His appearing. Second Timothy 4:7-8
MR ROBBINS, HERE’S WHY AN ORDINARY LIFE IS WORTH LIVING
Ambition can be good. Striving for continual improvement can be good. Wanting to be the best can also be good. But these all come at a cost—and often a too high of a cost. God does not necessarily call us to live extraordinary lives (in the sense of achieving fame, fortune, or power). God calls most us to be faithful—a faithfulness that often seems small. We can, however, strive to be the best that God has potentialled us to be. And if, along that journey, we are kind to others, humble instead arrogant, caring instead of indifferent, dependable and reliable, we may indeed run the risk of having others (like Mr. Robbins) think of us as ‘ordinary’ — but I think we should see this as a high compliment indeed when it means that we have lived faithfully to do the ‘little things’ that God has called us to. But in reality we will not just be ordinary, we will have attained the elusive honour (even if the Queen never notices) of being ordinary and noble.
His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ … And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ Matthew 25:21, 40
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For a good many years, my life revolved around plants. I grew up with a fondness and deep fascination for using plants to make well-planned and kept gardens. Back in the days before the internet, there used to be these things called ‘magazines’ and I didn’t know of any other kid my age who relished reading through garden-design magazines. I dreamt of the day when I would have my own home to build my own garden. As time went on I began a full-time job in a nursery where I sold plants and garden supplies. It was during this time that I first encountered bonzai plants. Bonzai gardening is one of the most fascinating horticultural art-forms I can think of. It was a technique developed by Japanese gardeners who experimented with how to reduce an ordinarily very large tree to be a full-sized extremely small tree. Thinking about bonzai trees it is striking to me just how many parallels there are for our spiritual development.
I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. First Corinthians 3:6-7
TALL TREES BECOME SMALL TREES
Bonzai trees are amazing. The Japanese discovered that they could trick a big tree into thinking it was always meant to be a very, very, small tree. They would take a cutting of a maple or oak tree and coax it to form its own roots and then plant it into a very shallow glazed earthenware pot. Each time it developed a shoot they would prune it back appropriately. Once the root system was developed, they would upheave it out of the pot and trim its roots back before repotting it back into its shallow pot. They would then repeat this process over and over and over until the miniature tree resembled its fully mature huge relative — except in miniature form. At some point the bonzai tree becomes convinced that it was always meant to be a miniature tree. Again, I think there is a spiritual parallel to draw from this process of bonzai tree making.
They are planted in the house of the LORD; they flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green Psalm 92:13-14
OUR SPIRITUAL DEVELOPMENT IS LIKENED TO A GROWING TREE
Consider how the bonzai gardener tends their bonzai trees. They must continually keep cutting it down to size and uproot it repeatedly to cut its roots back. I wonder whether this hurts the little tree to be continually uprooted and cut? I know it hurts a person when it happens to them. I also know that the result to both a little tree and a person is the same. Both are stunted in their growth to some degree. While I marvel at the artistry of the bonzai gardener, I can’t help but feel somewhat sorry for the bonzai tree. (I also feel sorry for those people who get treated—or worse still, treat themselves—like a bonzai tree.)
¶ But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever. Psalm 52:8
The Scriptures describe God as a Gardener who plants people (note Jer. 11:17). The Psalmist describes the blessed person being like a tree planted by streams of water that grows and bears bountiful fruit (Psalm 1:3). But the Scriptures also indicate that we are gardeners of our own soul. And while it is not a horticultural metaphor, the same point is made by the apostle Peter when he wrote that every new Christian should desire to nurture their soul just like a newborn baby who desires to drink milk in order to grow, but as a Christian, Peter says, there should be a desire for spiritual milk in order to grow into their salvation (1Pet. 2:2).
Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. First Peter 2:2-3
Sometime later, the apostle Peter wrote what would be his last epistle. This time, in the very last verse of his last epistle he doesn’t just exhort new Christians to actively take steps to grow in Christ, he now exhorts all believers to grow in the grace and knowledge of the LordJesusChrist so that God is glorified.
But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. Second Peter 3:18
It is God’s will for each of His children to grow tall, strong, and mature. That is, it is God’s will for you to grow into the man or woman of God He has always designed for you to become. This can only happen if you are spiritually planted, spiritually well-watered, and able to spiritually grow without allowing hurt to hold you back. Or, another way of putting it is, God hasn’t called you to be a bonzai Christian!
Let me know what you think below in the comment section below and feel free to share this someone who might benefit from this Pastor’s Desk.