Getting poured out in Sydney

The four of us sit at a plain round table. Inside the room is a there is a stillness but it is not quiet. Other tables and chairs surround us but they are empty for now. Peak hour continues on the busy city street visible through the window. A taxi toots its horn, a bus slams on its brakes, the pedestrian crossing makes its’ ‘green man’ noise.

I am one of the women in the room and I’m there to join in prayer for Sydney, for the people in my city who are lost and broken, poor and oppressed, in desperate need of hope. And for God to use His people here in this city to help love people – that they might see Him, know Him, follow Him.

Hope for Sydney is the name of this network and tonight was their third monthly prayer meeting. It was my first meeting with them. I’m told that different people come each time and there’s usually a few more than tonight, but we know it doesn’t matter – God will hear our prayers!

The Hope for Sydney mission:

Connecting volunteers with Sydney’s poor and marginalised in the name of Jesus Christ.

We shared little snippets about our own churches, read from Isaiah 58 and reflected on the picture therein of God’s heart for the restoration of the oppressed.

We prayed for God’s people here in Sydney to be convicted by the Spirit of God’s love and that we would generously pour ourselves out for those in need. And we prayed for Partners like Anglicare, the Salvos, Mission Australia, International Teams and others, who are already engaged in helping the poor and marginalised – from the homeless, to the disabled to the refugee. God loves them all, and as His people we need to share His love with them.

I am excited about this movement of people uniting in prayer, and mobilising toward action. Ever since reading Generous Justice by Timothy Keller, I have been praying and dreaming about how I could be more deeply engaged with reaching out in Sydney, and how I might help others get involved too.

This is just the beginning, but I have a sense of being part of something bigger than my little world, that God is on the move and that change – both within our churches and our communities – is possible – only by His grace and guidance.

A deep social conscience and a life poured out in deeds of service to others, and especially the poor, is the inevitable sign of real faith and a real connection with God. ~ Timothy Keller

Generous Justice – A book review

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I can be pretty naughty when it comes to reading non-fiction books. Seriously. I tend to have at least 2 going at a time, and if I start reading a fiction book, the non-fiction ones have no hope of being read until the fiction one is done – despite being (usually) far more inspiring and challenging. So, I recently set myself a challenge of reading a non-fiction book all the way through without picking up a fiction one. I haven’t quite finished it yet and I did briefly pick up a fiction book, but the first two pages were so strange that I wasn’t easily captivated.

Thankfully I picked a book for my challenge that I am really enjoying reading – “Generous Justice” by Timothy Keller. I feel that God is using this book to grow both my understanding of how God’s grace to us in Jesus, makes us just in the way we live, and also to deepen my heart for justice, as I dream and imagine how I might help bring this into others’ lives.

Chapter 2 of the book is all about Old Testament laws of justice. I confess that my Old Testament knowledge is not great (though I’m working on it – currently read up to Genesis 23) and so I was amazed at the detailed rules and requirements God had for his people in order to ensure that “there should be no poor among you” (Deuteronomy 15:4-5).

The year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25:8-55) is part of this – every 49th year, God’s laws required that all the land would return to the original landowners – so that if you had made decisions or calamity had come upon you, there was an approximately once in a lifetime second chance at life, without the baggage of past poverty. Keller doesn’t propose a return to the year of Jubilee (my mind wandered there though, trust me!) although there is much we can learn from this idea – of somehow breaking the cycles of poverty which are so present in many communities in Australia and overseas.

I also had a ‘lightbulb’ moment reading through an examination of Jesus sermon on the mount. Jesus said “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3). I have never thought deeply about this statement, and I have never really understood it either. Most scholars believe that God’s blessing and salvation come to those who acknowledge spiritual bankruptcy(p.101). I had a debt because of my sin, I can’t do anything to repay it or redeem myself but God’s generous gift of grace in sending Jesus  is the only thing that saved me.

As a person who has received God’s grace can I look at a woman who is deep in debt and say “get yourself out of this mess.”  God didn’t do this to me. This is profoundly challenging for me. Where and to whom is God calling me to be generous?

Lots of the examples given in the book are about churches helping to transform poor communities in the US. As you may know I go to church in Redfern – a part of Sydney where the middle to upper class live across the road from the unemployed, the forgotten and the struggling in Department of Housing towers. There is huge spiritual need in Redfern for all of these people but there is also great physical needs – and this has been on my mind and heart a lot as I have read this book. I’m super encouraged that some of the guys from our church are running a Soup Kitchen a couple of nights a week to start to help meet some of the needs.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8

I want to learn to live justly, to live generously and to keep growing in my understanding of what this means. I have much still to learn and that is really exciting to me. How will God’s grace make me just?

This may be only part 1 of my review of this book – if I get inspired to share more of what I have learned once I’m finished.

music and my heart for justice

the week

A Tropical Cyclone in Queensland and a heatwave here. My love of summer has been somewhat diminished by this crazy week.  Right now I’m loving the relief brought by the evening breeze.

This week is my sixth postaweek2011 post. Yay! I’m trying to stick to my goal with loose rules about what counts as a ‘week.’

live music show #1: sufjan

We had the blessing of seeing two great musicians in two nights last Friday/Saturday. The first was Sufjan Stevens at the Opera House. A great last minute decision to take some cheap tickets offered by a friend (spontaneous decisions to change my plans for the evening are not my forte, but I am learning to embrace them!). Sufjan is a very talented, rather eccentric performer – but I confess I spent about half the time watching the backing vocalists as they sang, danced, played percussion instruments and other bits n pieces. I also loved that a giant net of balloons, small and large was let down in the last song. They used to do this at the Family Concerts my parents took us to at the Opera House when we were kids and as they bounced about the audience and the stage, it brought back fond memories.

live music show #2 – brooke

Brooke Fraser - Live in Sydney

I bought the tickets months ago. I’ve listened to her albums over and over…and over again. This show was much anticipated and did not disappoint. Brooke Fraser‘s songs are rich with stories of life and love, loss and hope. And you can appreciate them through your iphone headphones, but the words and melodies have a whole new depth when she sings them live.

I hadn’t paid much attention to the title track of her latest album Flags. But this song brought me to tears on Saturday and it’s hard to put into words why. I think the song paints a picture of our broken world – of injustice to the vulnerable and innocent. This is the part that got me:

You who mourn will be comforted
You who hunger will hunger no more
All the last shall be first
Of this I am sure

You who weep now will laugh again
All you lonely be lonely no more
Yes, the last will be first
Of this I’m sure

Oh what a beautiful day it will be when the broken world is redeemed. I look forward to this day so much, but for now on this earth and in light of my faith, I can’t ignore injustice. It tugs at my heart like nothing else. I hate it. I hate it happening to people close to me in small things and I hate it happening to people I don’t know in big ways. I can’t let my life ‘blow about like a flag on the land,’ as Brooke says in this song. I want to stand up and make a difference with my life count.

During the song I sensed God answering a dilemma I’ve been struggling over for a couple of weeks. I’m still praying about it, so you’ll have to read one of my future posts to find out more.

But for now…

“Open your mouth and sing out your song, life is short as the day is long.”

(‘Here’s to you’ by Brooke Fraser)

Will you sing out your song too?