The Goods of God and Man

Romans 12:9

Let love be without hypocrisy.
Abhor what is evil,
Cling to what is good.

I gave a talk on this verse yesterday at Sydney Uni Coptic Society, and it made me think. Allow me to share some thoughts with you.

The thing that struck me most was the command for us to be ONE, to be whole. I am not speaking about a congregation or a family being united here, I am speaking about the individual not being divided against him/herself.

The words are very strong: ABHOR … CLING – there is no wavering here! My interpretation is that St Paul is asking us, “Who are you?” What kind of a person are you? What motivates you, and what moves you? What repels you and what sets your heart on fire?

One of the main ways we define ourselves, or think about who we are, is by what we believe, what we value, or what we think to be important or true. If I try to make up a list of these values I personally hold,I wonder what they would be? Would they all fall under the category of “good”?

Of course they would! I wouldn’t hold those values unless I thought they were good … god for ME, that is. But that’s not necessarily ‘good’ in the sense St Paul was talking about. For him, ‘good’ is not what any individual thinks to be good, but what God thinks to be good, and there can be a very big difference between the two, and often is.

So to fulfil this verse, I have to find out what God thinks is good. That’s not so hard – it’s all in the Bible. What is hard is to let go of my own concept of good. A simple example:

Someone annoys me really badly.

My good: teach the idiot a lesson he’ll never forget – he deserves it, and it will make me feel so much better

God’s good: Blessed are you when men revile and persecute you … and if he strikes you on the cheek, turn to him the other … do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Which one I choose out of those two determines who I am. To CLING to what is good is not easy. There are many, many forces, both within and without me, that are trying to prise me away from what is good. This verse informs me what it takes to hang on: CLING!!! Hang on tight! Never let go! Never give up! If your grip slips, clamber it back on again quick!

And on the other side of the coin: ABHOR!!! Hate! (yes, hate!) This is what hatred was made for – for things that are evil. We are not only allowed to hate evil, we are commanded to hate evil. We must hate evil. We must shun evil, and fight it and escape it with all our mind, strength, heart and soul.

To do anything less than this is to allow oneself to be a divided person. You can’t go for two goals at the same time, when they are at opposite ends of the field! You’ve got to make up your mind whose side you’re on, and then play for that side, aim for that goal.

Only then can love truly be without hypocrisy. Hypocrisy comes from a divided soul. One part of me wants to say and teach nice things. Another part of me wants to practice sins. The two cannot be in harmony. I find I have become a hypocrite.

The Teaching of the 12 Apostles (Didache) (2nd century AD) begins with the famous words:

There are two ways, one of life and one of death: but a great difference between the two ways.

And we will give the last word to Joshua:

choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve … But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

Giving God a Bad Name

I have now come across a grand total of THREE people who have looked on this blog, so I’d better get active!

There have been a lot of attacks on the Christian faith recently. You might have noticed Richard Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion on the best sellers list for some months now. French atheist philosopher Michel Onfray recently visitied Australia and caused a big stir. He was publicising his latest book called The Atheist Manifesto. And then there is Christopher Hitchens and his latest book, God Is Not Great ( aplay on the Muslim confession of “Allaho Akbar” = God is great).

Why this sudden outburst of Atheist propaganda?

I think there are probably two main factors. The first is that 9/11 caused a lot of unhappiness witht he religion that is supposedly behind it, Islam. Personally, I do not believe that Islam necessarily condones terrorism. But I do believe that there are parts of the Quran and the hadith that could be taken out of context and used as justification for such atrocities. The saddest thing about the whole matter is that the ‘sensible’ Muslim community and the leadership of religious Islam has been very very slow to condemn the violence. Even today, their statements against violence have tended to be very lukewarm, although the new Mufti of Australia, Melbourne’s Sheikh Fehmi Naji El-Imam, seems to be much more sensible; so far…

People have reacted strongly to this. The three authors I mentioned above all blame religion for most of the evils and violence in the world. Their views are not new – they have all been saying the same thing for decades. What IS new is that after 9/11, people are far more willing to listen to them. The problem is, though, that they throw the baby out with the bath water! Yes, religion, like anything else in life, can be used for great good or for great evil. Their approach is that religion can only produce evil, so we should be rid of it. They purposely ignore all the good that religion does in people’s lives. One of them, Christopher Hitchens, even goes so far as to attack Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and has written widely of his dislike and disrespect for her.

Mother Teresa? Wow! Now that tells you a lot more about Mr Hitchens than it does about Mother Teresa!

The second factor is the growing power of American Protestant fundamentalists in politics. As you probably already know, Southern baptists have increased their political influence greatly, and both Bill Clinton and Goerge W Bush have come under their umbrella. This has resulted in a situation where President Bush can publicly state that God told him to invade Iraq. What’s wrong with this? What’s wrong is that I am pretty sure that God told him no such thing! He is simply using God to back up his own philosophy, whether sincerely or deceitfully, we may never know.

This opens the Christian faith to attack. “Your God tells you to invade Iraq, and kill thousands of innocent women and children? Well then, we want nothing to do with your God!” That’s pretty much the reaction the above authors have expressed, and sadly, they have found a lot of sympathetic hearts out there.

The latest Australian census data shows “No Religion” to be growing at an amazing rate. It is likely that this means that many people who were Christian in name only are now being more honest and putting ‘No Religion’ instead of the Church of their parents, but it is sad, for I ma sure that such abuses of faith as those above have indeed turned many sincere people away from God.

And that’s the big issue here, and the issue that all those athiest authors seem to avoid. All this evil does not come from the religion itself, it comes from the abuse of the religion. I can speak with confidence only for Christianity, but it is certain that Christ never intended His followers to be doing the sort of things our friend President Bush has been up to, and to associate Jesus with those actions is almost blasphemy!

I think it is a really wake up call for all of us. It is a warning to all Christians that we must get back to the basics of our faith and not allow it to be hijacked and corrupted in these ways.The Kingdom of God was never meant to be an earthly kingdom. Sure, we have to get involved in the society around us, and strive to be a light in the midst of the darkness, but if we allow that very darkness itself to enter our hearts, haw can we shine? If the salt loses its flavour, how shall it be seasoned?

So we MUST build our own lives with God first. All that we do in society must be firmly grounded in the foundation of a sincere, Biblical life with Christ. He must be the one who speaks and acts through us, not we ourselves, and this requires a lot of honesty and humility on our part, not to mention genuine submission to Him.

We are in the midst of a major battle, and the temperature is rising. I think that over the next 10-20 years, this direct attack from atheism is going to be the biggest danger to our Church in Australia. We have to start equipping ourselves from now, if we are to be prepared to meet it head on…


The Stranger

The little boy walked out of the classroom and on to the crowded school playground. Everywhere he looked, he could see kids. Kids chatting away happily. Kids playing games excitedly. Kids chugging down sandwiches ravenously. Lots of happy, contented, comfortable kids … except one.

The little boy walked slowly across the playground, hoping that someone would say something to him. They didn’t. He stopped to watch a soccer game optimistically, hoping someone would invite him to join. They didn’t. Finally, awkwardly, he reached a bench by the fence under a tree. He sat down, alone, and began to chew on his lunch, trying all the time to look as if he was deep in thought, and sitting alone by choice.

Of course, he wasn’t.

Have you ever had an experience like this? If you have, then you probably grew up with a fear of being the outcast. you will understand perfectly the horror of the kind of situation I have just described. There’s no doubt about it: being the stranger, the outcast, must be one of the worst experiences in the world.

Or is it?

There was one Outcast who didn’t seem to mind very much. He sort of hung around with other outcasts and strangers, until He sort of made His own little circle that every stranger could feel a part of. This new circle was well outside the normal ‘in crowd’, and most of those in the in crowd smirked and then wondered, and then grew jealous and decided to squish it. But the nice thing is that although they thought they squished it, it is still growing bigger.

Even now, strangers and outcasts are finding this society of outcasts, and being welcomed with open arms. In fact, most people don’t ever find their way into it until they are outcasts and strangers. Which means that you generally don’t get in unless you’re pretty down and out, at the end of your tether, on your last legs, and any other metaphor you can think of.

Funnily enough, we spend most of our lives pretty much trying to avoid joining this group, and thus never get to meet it’s wonderful Founder. We invest a tremendous amount of effort and time into fitting in and making ourselves feel at home. We do this in a hundred different ways. We are doing it when we laugh at that crude joke, or let ourselves get so attached to that electronic gadget, or feel that we are part of the furniture at work.

I learned how to be a stranger at a young age when my family had to move from the house I had grown up in. I loved that house! On the last day, I even secretly gave the wall a kiss to say goodbye (I was pretty young). I learned that day that it is painful to be too attached to any material thing on this earth, because sooner or later, you were going to have to lose it, and then it would feel like you were losing a part of yourself. Better not to let it become such an important part of yourself in the first place!

But you have to be attached to something. No one can live their life in a sort of free fall! Every single one of us has to belong somewhere. Enter the Stranger. The nice thing about Him is that He will never disappear on you. Never. Ever. When you feel you belong to Him, you feel like you don’t need to belong to anything else. You have your identity, you know who you are, you know where your house is (and your treasure and your heart also).

… and we too who are sojourners in this world, keep us in Your faith, and grant us Your peace until the end …

Things are moving! PART 2

I forgot to mention a very important thing in that last post.

This was not the first such event I took part in recently. A few weeks ago, our blessed youth enjoyed a bracing retreat near Wiseman’s Ferry (where the days are cold and the nights go way beyond cold). Somehow, they managed to thaw their brain out enough to go through a similar process over three days and develop, for the first time I know of, a detailed Vision and Mission for the Youth of Archangel Michael and St Bishoy Coptic Orthodox Church.

It seems that I am doomed to be continually surprised and highly impressed by the sheer quality of our youth! They did a brilliant job (may God protect them from the envy of the devil, and pride, and all that yucky stuff). The statements they came up with are absolutely marvellous: clear, comprehensive, inspiring, and very, very Christian. The Vision Statement says exactly what we want to be all about. Here is a sneak preview of it in its draft form (it still has to be run by the Fathers and the Church Committee):

To live a genuine Christ centered life, acquiring understanding and truth, while preserving the beauty of the Coptic Orthodox Church and its traditions

To welcome and to serve people of all backgrounds by providing a safe, tolerant and caring environment uniting all in the love of Christ.

To me, it sums up in a nutshell both the beauty of our past and the fastmoving changes of our future. You’ll gat a chance to see the full set of statements soon at Friday Night Youth Meeting, but again, a whole lot of nice things in words means nothing if it does not translate into actions. True enough, but in order to make sure we have the right actions, we need to first agree on what we are all working towards. And that is now happening.

At the retreat, they also came up with a six month Action Plan, just to keep us going until we have a chance to get a more formal plan of action in place. This includes the following goals for the next six months (ie by Christmas):

– Organise a committee to monitor and follow up on the attendance of youth at Church.
– Organise a summer camp and graduation ceremony for year 11 and 12 students.
– Raise funds for:
Agahpy TV
The English Church and
The Poor
– Utilise the fundraising BBQ option at Bunnings warehouse.
– Explore options into hosting a Coptic stall at the next Blacktown festival
– Organise sponsorship for our church sports teams to purchase much needed equipment
– Form a sports committee that will develop programs that will involve young kids and promote female sports
– Plan and organise fun and appealing outings for the youth.

Now of course, there are already a number of really good activities and services going on, and these are in addition, but it is so wonderful to see that things are not stagnating, but moving forward. It is even more wonderful to see people getting involved, coming forward to help and to do things, and achieving things that are so worthwhile. We have a special opportunity in Australia to do so much to help others, since we ourselves have been given so much. And we can achieve so much more when we pull together and work as a united team.

And the needs are so many! Going through all these exercises has certainly opened my eyes to see so many services we need desperately in our community, and so many services the community around us needs, that I had never thought of before. We need an army to even scratch the surface!

The Church is the House of God and it belongs to Him, but He, in His love, shares the onwership with us. It is also OUR Church, and it will always be what we make it. As much as you put in, that much you will get out.