‘Quando A Justico se Torna Real’ – ‘When Justice becomes real’

Beira is a much quieter city than Maputo. Situated 450 miles to the north-east, its roads do not have so many vehicles, there are fewer street vendors and markedly less potential customers. It does, however, have four Universities to serve approximately 550,000 people.

The smaller population is not similarly reflected in the number of mosquitos. There are many more here – and they really do bite hard, leaving painful, itching lumps that are not noticed until a few minutes after ‘the deed is done’. It’s important not to forget to take the daily anti-malarial tablets.

The gym at the Universidade Jean Plaget de Mocambique was full of mosquitoes on Friday evening, as was the hall with lecturers and their Law and Human Rights students. There were at least 130 of them – that was the number of copies of ‘Quando A Justica se Torna Real’ that AMAC (The Association of Mozambican Christian Lawyers) had brought with them, a number that was insufficient to provide everyone with a free copy. Further copies were, however, available for collection at AMAC’s offices the next day.

As always, the evening began with speeches. From the Director of Law at the University, then Pastor Moises (the local AMAC Chair, Pastor of First Baptist Church Beira and also a lawyer) and finally myself. I spoke on the importance of the rule of law, access to justice and suggested responses (a copy of my notes will be published on a later blog).

There were a number of questions afterwards. All thoughtful and well-constructed, mainly expressing the hope that Mozambique would have a better, fairer, future. A further theme was the need for more widespread ‘Public Legal Education’ so that citizens could understand their rights and responsibilities. The response was similar to words attributed to Gandhi – ‘You too can be, must be, part of the change you want to see’.

Then the book signing by us both, as co-authors. A marathon session as everyone wanted us to write their names and a short message on the title page. The hope is that the book will be read, considered, and will help to make a difference.

The English version of the book is available from BMS World Mission at the bargain (!) price of £4. Follow the link below:-

http://www.bmsworldmission.org/node/56322

With thanks to Central Baptist Church, Chelmsford, for paying the printing costs of the Mozambican version.

 

 

 

Advertisements

The Power of Twelve

Thursday afternoon, 1st June. Our initial destination, a simple stone building on the outskirts of Beira where we met staff from Oasis (part of the Oasis that we know in the UK). The surrounding area was dotted with small, basic shelters made of breeze blocks and any suitable (loosely speaking) materials to hand.

The Oasis team took us to a shaded area outside one such home. There, a group of women aged between 18 and 40 were sitting on grass mats learning how to budget and save. This was part of a teaching programme that also included subjects such as health and legal rights, including issues relating to Gender Based Violence.

The concept is simple, but very effective. Firstly, one woman, a ‘Mother Leader’, is trained. She will then train twelve other women who, with support from Oasis, will be encouraged to train a further twelve women etc. Visual training materials are provided to guide each session. It is an easy to replicate, ‘cascade’ model…

…and very reminiscent of the way that Jesus taught his disciples. He, of course, trained twelve men and told them to go… and disciple others!

This world needs such disciples – those who understand that their role is to make other disciples, teaching them “to obey everything I have taught you.” (Matthew 28:18-20). It’s simple. It’s easily replicable. This is not rocket science. So…why do we find it so hard?

Maybe it is because we so often focus upon ‘our rights’ and not ‘our responsibilities’. Maybe it is because we want the benefits of knowing God, but are too self-centred and individualistic to be sufficiently concerned to share those benefits with others.

The Oasis team in Mozambique have learnt that teaching the women their rights is important, but helping them to understand their responsibilities is even more so. Empowering a woman without helping her to recognise her responsibility to empower others could create imbalance within the community.

I wonder whether empowering a disciple without helping him/her to recognise their responsibility to empower other disciples could create imbalance in the church?

The Oasis team are seeking to empower people to build healthy communities.

Are we seeking to empower people to build healthy churches?

Matthew 28, verses 18 to 20:-

Jesus came and told His disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” 

Lindsay

 

 

 

 

 

Text….

Saturday and Sunday in Beira

Beira is markedly quieter than many African cities. There are not so many vehicles on the roads, fewer street sellers, less people on the pavements. The central area is even quieter at the weekend, with the exception of the long road along the sea-front and (this Saturday) various parties to celebrate International Childrens day. The beach area needs a decent clean-up though – there are too many piles of uncollected rubbish and more than just an occasional rat.

Our time in Mozambique continues to be used fully and Saturday and Sunday were no exceptions. Over the last two days the focus was more on opportunities to share in a local church context and so Lindsay was asked to speak on three occasions at various meetings.

Saturday morning was spent at AMAC’s (the Association of Mozambican Christian lawyers) monthly fellowship meeting. We both shared with the lawyers and law students, translation for the first section being provided by Samoas before a break for samosas! Lindsay brought another orange and mango (see an earlier post) and encouraged those present to let Jesus have control of each part of their lives.

After a break for a light lunch with Annet Tendo Miller (the leader of BMS’s legal volunteers in Mozambique), we returned to First Baptist Church in Beira for the weekly Womens Fellowship meeting. Here Lindsay shared from John, chapter 20, verses 19 to 22. The message was centred on the words ‘Peace be with you’, specifically on the meaning of the word ‘Shalom’ and peace with God, peace with ourselves and peace with each other.

Sunday morning 9.00 am was the time that the Sunday service at First Baptist Church was supposed to commence – it did seem to be somewhat flexible though! Lindsay had taught those at the fellowship the previous afternoon the words and actions of ‘Our God Is A Great Big God’. This song had caused amusement then and did so again at the Sunday morning service, particularly when she persuaded the same ladies to teach the song to the whole church.

Pastor Moises, the Pastor of First Baptist Church, translated Lindsay’s message. After the service he took us in his vehicle to see the sights of Beira. The most pleasant part is certainly the area alongside the beach – Beira is a working town rather than a tourist destination. Pastor Moises then took us back to his flat to share a superb lunch with his family and some members of the Church youth group.

In England, I guess that the time after Sunday lunch with a visiting preacher would be spent with a cup of tea or coffee, sharing gentle conversation. Here it was different. Max (Pastor Moises’ son) got out his electric guitar, his daughter (who had played the drums at the morning service) fetched a large, empty  plastic cooking oil container and a long-handled wooden spoon from the kitchen, someone else brought a keyboard and a ‘praise and worship’ party followed. It was incredible singing, excellent music and phenomenally exuberant dancing.

They did not need oversize speakers*! We were expecting either the neighbours or the police to turn up at any moment because it was far from quiet. They did not do so – it would seem that the Sunday afternoon after-lunch nap is a tradition that has not yet been adopted in Mozambique……

PS: when Pastor Moises saw us the following day he told us that subsequent to the ‘praise party’ he had had a very positive conversation with a young Muslim man (an occupant of another flat in the same building), who had heard the joyful celebration and was intrigued!!!

*Peter R will understand!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

samosas

coffee with Annet

ladies meeting

morning service

trip around Beira

lunch and praise

 

Talk to the Association of Mozambican judges – 25th May 2017

THE RULE OF LAW AND ACCESS TO JUSTICE IN THE UK

Thank you very much for inviting me to meet with you. This is my second visit to Mozambique. I was made extremely welcome 12 months ago and have been looking forward to returning.

Firstly, to introduce myself. I am an English qualified lawyer. From 2014 until 2015, I was the President of the Law Society of England and Wales. The Law Society is the Bar Association for all Solicitors qualified within the English jurisdiction.

I have been asked to speak to you about the rule of law and access to justice in the UK. However, before  I do so, it might be helpful to highlight some points about the English legal system:-

1. England has a Common Law system, not one based on Civil Law. Common Law systems are adversarial. They are lawyer led and not Judge led, and the Judge is more of an ‘umpire’ within the hearing itself. There is a big emphasis on oral advocacy and also upon the use of “precedents”.

2. You may have noticed that I said that I was the President of the Law Society of England and Wales. I did not mention Scotland. This is because Scotland has a system based on Civil Law. An accident of history!

3. The legal profession in England is split between Barristers and Solicitors. There are about 16,000 Barristers and 160,000 Solicitors. The difference between the two is essentially how they practise. Barristers are self-employed, whereas Solicitors work within firms and employ other lawyers and administrative staff. Both have the right to represent clients in Courts.

4. The appointment of judges is also very different in England. There is no judicial career path leading direct from university. Judges in England are always senior lawyers who have first had a number of years’ experience as advocates – often around 20/25 years. As you know, many of our judges wear wigs – there is a joke that judges need their wigs to cover their ‘grey hair’ or ‘no hair’!

So, the Rule of Law and Access to Justice…

It is particularly relevant that I am speaking to you about these two subjects. As President of the Law Society, I launched a national ‘Access to Justice’ campaign in England in 2014. Further, the following year we celebrated the 800th anniversary of the ‘Magna Carta’.

At that time that Magna Carta was sealed (in 1215) England had a bad king called King John. He used his position to enrich himself at the expense of just about everyone else. Justice was at his discretion and could often be purchased by the payment of large bribes.

England was on the brink of a civil war. Realising he had no choice, King John came to a compromise with the leading citizens and the result was the Magna Carta.

It is from this document that in England we trace the creation of our first Parliament, the idea of ‘trial by jury’ and, most importantly, the concept of ‘the rule of law’. The rule of law means, of course, that all are subject to the law, none are above it. Not the king, Parliament, rich or poor.

English history tells us that it took many centuries before ‘the rule of law’ became as integral as it is today. Successive kings of England revoked the Magna Carta. For example, in the 17th century, King Charles II of England began to act above the law and without the aid of Parliament. The result was a civil war. We even had a republic for 10 years – ie no king at all.

The common people did not really feel the benefit of the rule of law in the first centuries after Magna Carta as it primarily benefited the already wealthy landowners. It was only in the 20th century that it could truly be said that all citizens in the United Kingdom were fully included. It has been a hard road – for example, it took many years for everyone to be given the right to vote.

How does the rule of law work in the UK today? Pretty well, although there are some challenges.

It is accepted that no one is above the law, including the Government, politicians and even our Queen. Bribery and corruption within our legal system are very, very rare. Integrity is regarded as being fundamental within all areas of public life.

There are some challenges though:-

1. There have recently been a number of legal actions against British soldiers stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The suggestion is that some have acted inappropriately, using torture and even killing prisoners. This is a tricky area as there have been a number of false claims. The British Government is trying to do all possible to stop any such claims being made, in almost all circumstances. It is even an issue in our current General Election campaign.

2. I think you have heard of Brexit? Last year a referendum was held in the UK as to whether we should remain part of the European Union. As you know, the public decision was to leave. The UK Government wanted to proceed with the exit process without going through Parliament. This was challenged and the Supreme Court decided against the UK’s Prime Minister. Our Prime Minister complied with the Court’s decision and the issue was debated and decided in Parliament.

3. The legal case regarding the UK leaving the European Union was by means of ‘judicial review’. This is a specific type of legal action, where someone who is affected by a decision of the Executive can challenge that decision through our courts.

This type of proceedings has become more common over recent years. It means that our judges decide whether or not our Government has acted properly – the rule of law in action. Needless to say, there have been a number of attempts to restrict the ability of citizens to take judicial review proceedings.

ACCESS to JUSTICE:

Access to Justice is a fundamental part of the rule of law. I know a little about the Mozambican constitution and that it gives your citizens many rights and imposes a number of obligations. Strangely, we do not have a written constitution in the UK. But various Acts of Parliament, decided cases and long-held custom have given our citizens rights that they should be able to exercise.

This is an important point. We all agree that the rule of law is fundamental. But if there is insufficient access to justice then the rule of law becomes just a concept, an ideal. Rights cannot be exercised, responsibilities cannot be enforced.

We have a system in the UK known as “Legal Aid”, which provides free legal advice and representation for poorer citizens in respect of legal issues. It is similar to the concept of IPAJ here in Mozambique. The body responsible for Legal Aid in the UK does not, however, employ lawyers. Rather, individuals make a written application to the Legal Aid office with proof that they have little money and an explanation of their legal problem. The Legal Aid office then assesses the application and, if the person and the matter fits all the criteria, they pay a private lawyer a relatively modest amount to represent that person.

Legal Aid used to be very generous in the UK. Many people were able to access it and lawyers were paid a reasonable fee to represent the clients. However, successive governments have consistently failed to fund our Legal Aid system properly.

In particular:-
1. The fees paid to lawyers acting in Legal Aid cases have either been cut or not increased for over 20 years – with inflation, this is like a cut.

2. The areas of law that are covered by the Legal Aid system are being continually decreased.

3. It used to be that over 50% of the population qualified for some measure of Legal Aid. This has now been reduced to the very poorest.

It is very difficult to compare our Legal Aid system with what is available here in Mozambique. Our system would, in comparison, be seen as very generous. However, we do have problems in the UK. There are still injustices. Too many people try and represent themselves – it can be difficult to do so because our system is adversarial and there are often complex rules of evidence and procedures. Many people simply ‘walk away’. Further, fewer lawyers are choosing to concentrate upon Legal Aid work as the rates being paid to lawyers dealing with other areas of Law are so much higher. Expertise is being lost.

This is why we launched a national Access to Justice campaign when I was President. It was the year of Magna Carta, yet the rule of law was under threat because of increasing restrictions to access to justice.

To give an idea of some of the things that we emphasised-

1. That our Government should consider increasing Legal Aid funding in some specific areas. For example, in Domestic Violence cases. Our Ministry of Justice estimate that 1 in 5 women are subject to domestic violence in the UK every year. There could be more or less, but any such violence is not acceptable and victims must be given fair access to justice.

2. That some proceedings be simplified. In an adversarial system, a lot of cost is incurred by the advocacy necessary at Court hearings. Could it be that elements of a Civil system of law could be incorporated, with more responsibility upon judges to act in an inquisitorial capacity?

3. Further, that more of our lawyers give some of their time free of charge – pro bono –  to assist those on limited means. In some countries pro bono work is compulsory. I do not think that it will become so in the UK, but it is so important that the number of lawyers providing such services increase. A good many do through different associations and many firms have pro-bono departments, but still not enough lawyers provide this type of service.

Just a few more comments. You are aware that I am a guest of AMAC, the Mozambican Association of Christian lawyers. I myself have a strong Christian faith and would like to finish with some thoughts from the Bible:-

A. In England, we regard the rule of law as dating from 1215 and the Magna Carta. Actually, it is a Biblical concept. In the time of the prophet Moses, God made it clear to the Israelites that when they had entered the Promised Land and appointed a king, he should not enrich himself at the expense of the people. He had to administer justice without fear or favour. He had to be fully conversant with the law and had to observe the law himself.

B. Secondly, judges and lawyers have an important role in the Kingdom of God.

This is from the Book of Proverbs, chapter 31 verses 8 and 9:-
“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

C. And judges have a vital role. Zechariah 7, verses 9 and 10 says this:-
This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor.”

Finally, Micah 6, verse 8:-
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.”

I like to remind lawyers and judges that they are those best placed to influence others, to be agents of change. Just think of some of the famous lawyers in the past. Abraham Lincoln, the American President who ended slavery in the US. Barack Obama, up until recently US President and one who was very concerned at social injustice. Gandhi, the great leader of change in India was originally a South African qualified lawyer. As was Nelson Mandela.

So, continue your work, it is right by God and it is vital for society.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you.

 

Shalom!

Shalom in our troubled times….

On Saturday afternoon, Lindsay led the ‘meditation’ for a womens’ group at First Baptist Church, Beira. She shared a message entitled ‘Called and Sent.’ Many, if not all of the women here, have felt ‘pushed down’ at some point in their lives and Lindsay was keen to remind them that they too, in spite of their fear/sense of inadequacy, could be used by God to make a difference in their families and communities.

The text used was John 20:19-22:-

‘On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’.

In the wake of the events of Saturday night in London, how should we respond? Lock ourselves in a room or reactor with aggression? Maybe the events that took place in John 20 can help us.

In John 20:19-22, we meet a group of disciples so scared that they have locked themselves in a room. Jesus unexpectedly appears, seemingly out of nowhere, and says to them ‘My peace I give to you.’

In the wake of Saturday nights incident in London, I believe that Jesus would say to us ‘My peace I give to you.’

The word translated as peace here is ‘shalom’. This word carries with it a sense of healing, wholeness, restoration and lack of anxiety.

After giving His shalom to the disciples, Jesus then breathes on them and says ‘receive the Holy Spirit.’

We desperately need His shalom today! Likewise, we desperately need Him to breathe His Holy Spirit upon us this Pentecost…and beyond! Only then we will we be able to respond to the fractured world around with the healing shalom of Christ.

My prayer is that we would each know SHALOM!

Lindsay

Maputo to Beira

Wednesday, 31st May. Another early start. A taxi at 6.15am from Casa Koinonia to Maputo Airport. Then a domestic flight to Beira, Mozambique’s third largest city, 500 km to the north-east. Arriving just after 10.00 am, to be met by Damien Miller, one of the BMS workers located here.

It seems incredible that we have only been in Mozambique for eight days. There has been so much to see, so many people to meet. We have been given numerous opportunities to speak and share a passion for issues of justice and developing young leaders. We have also visited so many places – offices, three universities, five churches, a street boys’ project…

A particular highlight was a surprise birthday party for Lindsay, hosted by Marie Josee. A very warm welcome, glorious food and a ‘gathering of the nations’ – of the 15 or so people present one was an Australian missionary, another from Peru, two Rwandans, one from Zambia, a number of local Mozambicans and the two of us from the UK.

Central Maputo has its’ attractions, even though almost every single building could do with a deep steam clean followed by two coats of good quality paint. The main boulevards are wide with tree-lined sidewalks – albeit many suffer from having long-disintegrated surfaces. Avenida Eduardo Mondlane and Avenida Mao Tse Tung both have a number of modern cafes/bakers shops, where a decent espresso with hot milk and a pastel nata (custard tart) will together cost around 160 meticals (about £2.30).

The outskirts of the city are markedly poorer, with much of the housing ranging from simple breeze-block homes to quickly constructed shanty-type structures. A stark reminder of the underlying extreme poverty that exists almost everywhere in this country.

Mozambique is one of the poorest and most underdeveloped countries in the world. Its population of 25 million have a GDP per capita of  US$ 1,200 and a life expectancy of 52 years. Literacy rates are also low – just 48% (2013 figures).

It does not do well on Transparency International’s ‘Corruptions Perceptions Index’ either. Their 2016 figures place Mozambique at 142 out of the 176 countries that it monitors. That does not help Mozambique either internally (do funds reach the right hands?) or externally (would those outside wish to do business here?). Incidentally, Denmark is placed at 1, North Korea at 176, the UK at 10 and the USA at 18.

So, this very welcoming country has many struggles, all of which have been expounded to us on a frequent basis. These are certainly challenging times for Mozambique.

Lindsay and Andrew

Maputo, 27th May 2017 – AMAC Pastors’ Conference (Andrew)

PASTORS’ SEMINAR on JUSTICE – MAPUTO 

Thank you very much for the invitation to speak to you today. This is my second visit to Mozambique. I was made extremely welcome 12 months ago and have been looking forward to returning.

To introduce myself. My name is Andrew Caplen. I am an English qualified lawyer. From 2014 until 2015 I was the President of the Law Society of England and Wales. The Law Society is the Bar Association for all Solicitors qualified within the English jurisdiction – over 160,000 of them.

I am married to Lindsay, who will be sharing with you later. Lindsay is a Pastor at Central Baptist Church, Chelmsford, in England.

You may be aware that Lindsay and I have written this book called “Justice Matters”. It was originally published in England by BMS World Mission. The book has now been translated into Portugese and published by AMAC, the Mozambican Association of Christian Lawyers. It will be formally launched at the Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo next week .

The book seeks to explain why justice issues are so important to God and what we can do, as either Pastors, Church Leaders or Lawyers, to show God’s heart for justice in this world.

I have four points this morning.

FIRSTLY, OUR GOD CARES:

We serve a God who cares for each of us as individuals. In Matthew, chapter 6, verse 25, Jesus says:-

“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”

In verse 28 of the same chapter:-

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?

And in Isaiah 40, verses 27 and 28:-

“Why do you say that my way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God”? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.”

God cares for us his children, for all that He has made. Yes, this does have reference to our eternal destiny – John 3, verse 16, makes it clear that God is anxious that none should perish. But He is also concerned for our physical needs upon this earth. It hurts God when any are downtrodden, oppressed or denied the justice that He desires for the whole world.

What is our role in all of this?

We know that God calls His people to do His will upon this earth. He blesses us with gifts, opportunities and talents to be used in His service, for the furtherance of His kingdom. We are “blessed to be a blessing”. That means that we  – whether we are Pastors, Church Leaders, Lawyers or whatever – have a part to play in bringing the justice that He desires for all.

The call in Isaiah, chapter 1, verse 17, is to all of us:-

“To do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.”

SECONDLY, THE EXAMPLE OF MOSES – when he got it wrong:

Moses was a Hebrew child, hidden in the reeds by the river Nile and brought up in Pharaoh’s palace. Although he had all the benefits of fame and fortune, he never forgot that he was an Israelite. And he clearly did not like to see injustices take place affecting one of his own people.

In Exodus chapter 2, from verses 11 until 15 we read this:-

“One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labour. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. Looking this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. The next day he went out and saw two Hebrews fighting. He asked the one in the wrong, “Why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew?” The man said, “Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid and thought, “What I did must have become known.” When Pharaoh heard of this, he tried to kill Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in Midian.”

Moses had acted rashly, was found out and had to flee for his life.

We can learn from this story. Yes, God is a God of justice. But there are right and wrong ways that we should act. If we take matters into our own hands, without reference to God and the legal system, it can result in us acting unjustly too.

THIRDLY, THE EXAMPLE OF MOSES – when he got it right:

I do not know whether you have ever heard of something called “the rule of law”? This is an important concept that is of fundamental importance for any country to be truly fair, truly just, truly democratic

The rule of law does not mean that there should be “rule by lawyers”. Rather, it means that all of us – whether we are great or mighty, whether we are well-educated or not, whether we are wealthy or poor, are all subject to the laws passed by our Parliaments. Thus, our leaders are subject to the same laws as the poorest citizen. Pastors, Church Leaders and Lawyers are subject to the same laws. No one is above the law, all are subject to it.

There are a few points to note here:-

1. The rule of law would say that Moses acted wrongly when he killed the Egyptian, no matter what the Egyptian had done. He had taken the law into his own hands.

2. However, Moses had many years tending his father-in-law’s sheep to think about his actions. And he learnt from his experience.

In Exodus 17 we read these words – this is selection of some of the verses from verse 14 onwards:-

“When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, “Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us,” be sure to appoint over you a king the Lord your God chooses….. The king must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself…..He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.

When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law….. It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not consider himself better than his fellow Israelites and turn from the law to the right or to the left.”

Moses had realised that he himself had to observe the law. He was not above it, he was subject to it. And his instructions for the future king of Israel were these:-

– the king should not become rich at the expense of others;

– the king should read and understand the law;

– the king should apply the law for the benefit of all; and

– the king himself was to be subject to the law.

These principles apply to all of us who are in positions of leadership, whether political or spiritual.

3. So, all of us are subject to the law, none of us are above it. This leads to another important truth. That all of us have broken God’s law and fallen short of His standards.

Romans chapter 3, verse 23 says:-

“ For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”

It is only because of the salvation that we have through Jesus Christ, through His death and resurrection, that we can be forgiven, made new and be born again of the Kingdom of God.

FOURTHLY – the need for us to be agents of change, to speak up for others:

Moses needed to be transformed though the power of God’s Spirit. He did change. The angry young man who did things his way, who used violence to right, as he thought, a wrong, realised that there was a better course. That was and is God’s way

In his older years, Moses became the leader of the Israelite nation. He also became their judge. You may recall that at first he tried to deal with all disputes that were brought to him. But then, after advice from his father-in-law, he appointed others to help.

Moses encouraged all the Israelites to act justly, to provide for others and speak up for others if they were being wrongly treated. Here is what he is recorded as saying in Deuteronomy, chapter 10, starting at verse 12:-

“And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?…..”

And then at verse 17:-

“For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you.

There are a number of other verses where this is emphasised. For example, Zechariah chapter 7, verse 9:-

“This is what the Lord Almighty said: Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor.”

And particularly this verse from Proverbs 31, verses 8 and 9:-

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

TO CONCLUDE:

1. God cares for each person in this world. Yes, he cares for His children, those who call upon His name. But He also cares for those outside of His kingdom and longs that they would become His children too.

2. God is a just God, who wants each of us to be as concerned regarding issues of justice as He is. He desires that we act with integrity, being fair and just towards others and loving them, just as Christ loves us. And we have a particularly important role as Pastors and Church Leaders – that is to show and model the love of God to others.

4. We should speak up for those who are being mistreated. Remember the story Jesus told of the Good Samaritan, who looked after the man attacked by robbers? He was the good “neighbour” that Jesus said that we must be. We are called to provide for the needs of others and to speak up when they are mistreated.

5. Sometimes that means being prepared to do so when everyone else remains silent. But God calls us to challenge injustice and proclaim what is right, remembering to do so in God’s strength and not our own, not making the mistake that Moses did when he was a young man.

I would like to finish with two more verses from the Bible. The first is from Amos, chapter 5, verse 24:-

“But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”

This verse was quoted in his “I have a dream speech”, by the US Baptist preacher and advocate  for racial equality, Dr. Martin Luther King.

And finally these verses from Micah, chapter 6, verse 8:-

“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.”

Oranges, mangos and James Bond

Monday was another busy day. A visit to the womens’ prison in central Maputo (see previous post), a number of individual conversations and then preparation for future talks. Mozambique’s capital is, according to the guide books, a growing destination for foreign tourists. That will have to wait for another visit though.

Pastor Inochi had invited us to share with younger adults (20’s and 30’s) at his church that evening. So, once again, we criss-crossed the city to meet another group of Mozambicans.

This church was not one that had the benefit – or strictures – of a formal, permanent building. Their hall was rented by the hour. Everything needed for the service had to be transported and set up beforehand, then packed up and removed afterwards. That included two over-size speakers – they do not seem to worry about noise abatement notices here!

After a few heart-felt songs, the Pastor introduced us to the twenty-five or so present. He had asked us to share our ‘stories’, with a particular aim of encouraging these young adults in their work lives. In particular, that their current and future careers were opportunities for Kingdom work.

As is often the case in the UK – and no doubt other countries – there was a perception in the Mozambican Church that there was some form of sacred/secular divide between ‘Christian’ and ‘secular’ work. Pastor Inochi wanted to challenge this.

Lindsay explained that if such a sacred/secular divide existed, then it was not one that was grounded in Scripture. Rather, ‘whole life discipleship’ meant just that – a life where every single part was dedicated to the service of God. Yes, she was a Pastor, but she was no more a “Full-time Christian worker” than anyone employed in any other occupation, or in none at all.

The orange and the mango? We had bought one of each a couple of hours previously. Lindsay used a knife, borrowed from Casa Koinonia, to cut both into half.

The orange divided, of course, into separate segments. Lindsay then explained that the call on us as Christians was NOT to have separate compartments within our lives – e.g. one for Church, one for family, one for recreation and another for work. Rather, everything was part of God’s purpose and should be surrendered to Him. We are to be much more like mangos, which have no individual sections but have at their heart a stone core (Jesus). A simple, yet deep message.

Lindsay used a second illlustration, that of James Bond – the Mozambicans all seemed to be familiar with 007! She reminded them that Bond was an agent. ‘M’ would send him out on a mission, equipped with techno gadgets by ‘Q’. As a Pastor, she saw an important part of her role to be like that of Bond’s quartermaster, equipping others to be ‘sent out’ by the Church to take part in God’s mission, wherever they had been called to be,

There were a number of deep conversations afterwards. This group of younger adults clearly wanted to do something to influence change within their country, to be agents of change. And maybe there is something else important here, for another blog – that to ‘be’ is at least as important as to ‘do”….

‘Give beer to those who are perishing’ – Proverbs 31, verse 6a (NIV)

Ok, so we now have your attention. No doubt your first reaction was along the lines of ‘Does the Bible really say that?” or a Manuel/Fawlty Towers ‘Que?’ Then you probably reached for an NIV and………..

This afternoon AMAC are launching the Portuguese version of BMS World Mission’s ‘Justice Matters’ booklet at Eduardo Mondlane University in central Maputo. So, casual clothes will have to be changed for business suits. All attendees will be given a free copy – thanks to CBC (Central Baptist Church, Chelmsford).

The title of the book in Portuguese is this:-

‘Quando A Justica se Torna Real’, loosely translated as ‘When Justice Turns Real’.

Copies of the English version (‘Justice Matters – The Importance of Access to Justice’) can be obtained at the price of £4 each – a bargain! – direct from BMS World Mission:-

http://www.bmsworldmission.org/node/56322

The relevance of providing beer to the poor????

The book was printed in Beira in Central Mozambique. On proof-reading – and just before going to print – a rather important mistake was noticed. The Bible verse on the front cover, the verse that is referred to frequently in the text, had been specified incorrectly – it should have been Proverbs 31, verses 8 and 9, NOT verse 6 (or 7) !!!

Proverbs 31, verses 8 and 9, does, of course, say this:-

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.’

!!!!!!!!

‘The Church’s Responsibility for Justice’ – Lindsay’s keynote speech at the Pastors Seminar, Maputo, 27th May 2017

 

All who follow Jesus have been chosen and called by God. Is any one here called by God? Does God have a mission to bless all the nations? The Bible says he does.

So, we accept that we are called by God (elected) and we accept that God has a mission. Do we accept that we are called to live in a certain way? I am sure that we do…it’s often called ethics – and that’s what I am going to focus on today.

In Genesis 18:19, God said these words about Abraham.

For I have chosen him, in order that he may teach his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice, that the Lord may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him.”

So, a mission that would see all nations blessed through Abraham!

Election, ethics and mission always go together.

God’s people are called (election) to live in a certain way (ethics) so that God’s mission of blessing all nations will be fulfilled.

The Israelites wandered around the wilderness for 40 years before they reached the place that God had provided for them. Jonah ran 180 degrees in the opposite direction before finally going to Nineveh. Those are just 2 examples in the Bible. God’s plans have often been frustrated by His people.

Maybe you too have wandered away from God’s purposes – deliberately or accidentally, before responding to God’s call. Isn’t it wonderful that God is a God of second chances? Maybe He wants to give you a second chance this morning! In God’s amazing grace, He chooses to work in and through imperfect people who make mistakes…people like you and me…He chooses to partner with us.…to see His Kingdom come. I find that incredible.

And we want to see his Kingdom come, don’t we? We want to see the values of love, hope, healing, joy, peace, freedom lived out amongst all peoples. We want to see this nation and the nations blessed don’t we? If we do, we have a responsibility.

We need to pray and pray…. a lot. Sometimes when we pray, we pray for all the sinners “out there” and ask God to change them. That is important, but I want to suggest that it is even more important to ask God to change us. You see, God’s people are called to live distinctively….

We are called to be salt and light. The late pastor and theologian John Stott said “We cannot blame the meat when it goes rotten, we have to ask where is the salt. We cannot blame the house when it gets dark, we have to ask where is the light? Likewise, if the world is going rotten or the world seems dark, we must not blame the world. We must ask instead “where is the church?” Has she lost her saltiness? Is she failing to be light?”

So…how can we stay salty? How can we shine light into the darkness? How can we live as a contrast people?

If we are to live God’s way, we need to be always turning and re-turning to God. We need to keep adjusting our lives in every part until they more fully reflect Jesus. That means turning away from doing things our way. It means turning away from doing things the world’s way. It means remembering that God is God and that you and I are not. Thank God!

As followers of Jesus, we are not to remove ourselves from our culture. We must instead engage with it. We therefore need to learn to live God’s way within our culture.

We need to ask Jesus to help us to see others as He would see them….as precious women, men, boys and girls made in God’s image. Whatever their status, whatever their background, whether they are clever or not, whether they have wealth or not, whatever they have done, whatever has been done to them.

I used to work with street prostitutes, people with drug and alcohol problems and homeless people. I remember one day spending some time with a woman who was a prostitute. Her name was Crystal. Crystal was 24. It is likely that she had been pregnant a number of times. Like many of the other girls on the street, she had probably had an abortion or had a baby taken away from her. She hated herself. She needed to work on the streets to get the money to pay for drugs. She needed drugs to block out the pain of her past and her present. As Crystal told me her story, I realized that she was a survivor. There was something very beautiful and unexpectedly innocent about Crystal’s spirit. It made no sense to me. She was doing things that I had always seen as bad and yet she had this inner purity. It was something of the image of God shining through the mess. Crystal and others like her have taught me so much.

And once we see people as Jesus sees them, love compels us to make a difference…to do righteousness and justice. To help the alien, the refugee, the widow, the poor, to provide clothing for the homeless and freedom for the oppressed.

These were exactly the things that God accused Sodom, Gomorrah and Judah (God’s own people) of failing to do in Isaiah 1….from where we get our text for the day.

Most of us have heard of Sodom and Gomorrah. Sodom and Gomorrah were places where all sorts of horrible oppressive and abusive acts were going on….some of them were sexual. It was not a place that was safe after dark…it possibly wasn’t even safe in the day.

The Isaiah 1 passage appears to be addressed to Sodom and Gomorrah. Isaiah is however referring to Judah (God’s people) as if she were Sodom and Gomorrah – he is trying to shock her into action!

Isaiah cries out in Isaiah Chapter 1

Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom; listen to the instruction of our God, you people of Gomorrah!”

He goes on to say that their worship means nothing…

Stop bringing meaningless offerings! I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.

He then says…

When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening. Your hands are full of blood! Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong and learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.”

It doesn’t matter how good their singing is; how wonderful the preaching is; how beautiful their building is; how pure they try and keep themselves – their prayers won’t be heard and the worship of God’s people will be meaningless unless they are doing righteousness, seeking justice, defending the oppressed, taking up the cause of the fatherless and pleading the case of the widow.

The prophet Ezekiel is even more challenging when he compares Judah with Sodom. Listen to what Ezekiel says to Judah in Ezekiel 16, verse 47:-

As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, your sister Sodom and her daughters never did what you and your daughters have done.”

Is Judah worse than Sodom?

Ezekiel goes on to say

Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.”

That’s how seriously God thought being arrogant, overfed and unconcerned was! The chief sin of Sodom was not what we often think. I’ll read the verse again in case you missed it….

Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom; She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.”

I am sure the sexual sin of Sodom made God very angry too – but Scripture is clear…..the chief sin of Sodom was her lack of concern for the poor and needy! That’s what she and Judah needed to focus on….and failed to do.

That is a sin that I know that I could be in danger of committing. It is a sin that many of us could be in danger of committing. And it is a sin that God finds utterly detestable. I don’t want to risk committing such a sin – do you?

Let’s urgently “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; Plead the case of the widow!”

That is our ethical responsibility. That is what connects our call as God’s people with God’s mission of blessing the nations.

Righteousness and justice are not simply things to think about or even to pray about. They are actions that we need to get up off our chair and do.

Jesus did …. In Luke 4, Jesus stood up in the Temple and read the words of Isaiah from the scroll…..

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour. Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down… ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’ he said.”

Throughout his life, Jesus applied the words of that Bible passage both practically and spiritually. He set free those who were in bondage, brought wholeness to the sick; challenged the oppressor and liberated the oppressed. These things got Jesus into a lot of trouble.

He was accused of spending time with the wrong types of people. He was accused of saving all the wrong sorts of people. Jesus’ criticisms were never aimed at those who were not religious. It was reserved instead for the religious leaders…a people so concerned with their own purity that they failed to be good news for the poor; failed to proclaim freedom for the prisoners; failed to set the oppressed free; failed to take up the cause of the widow; failed to plead the case of the fatherless. Yet they were the very people who should have understood the Scriptures! Could we ever be like that? I know that the church in the UK can be.

Yet it is clear that the responsibility has now passed to us. God’s people in this generation. In Matthew 28:18, Jesus’ last recorded words, Jesus tells his disciples to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

Can you hear an echo of the call on Abraham’s life to… “teach them the ways of the Lord…to teach them the ethical responsibility of doing righteousness and justice?” If you can, that’s because God intends you to. This whole book from Genesis to Revelation is about the mission of God through His people.

But, there is no mission without ethics…there is no holiness without ethics. To live in God’s way means getting our hands dirty, engaging in the mess of the world! True holiness is not withdrawal from the world. It is active engagement with the world.

If we have been called by God and we have, then we have been chosen to be agents of God’s blessing in our villages, towns and cities. What an incredible honour!!! Let’s not frustrate God’s plans….Let’s live differently……

In closing, I wonder how all this might affect the way we pray? I wonder how it might affect our understanding of what holiness looks like? I wonder what we might need to do differently? I wonder how it might affect our understanding of what we (God’s people) are here for? I wonder whether it will give us a greater purpose? I wonder whether it will encourage us to get off our chairs and do something?

Election, ethics and mission always go together. God has called us to live in the way of the Lord; to ‘do righteousness and justice’ so that his mission to the nations will be fulfilled. Will we be the agents of God’s blessing in the world? So that his promises to Abraham will be complete! Will we be the generation that decide to fulfil or frustrate God’s mission?

Isaiah 58, verse 6:-

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness[a] will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.”

We are blessed (not so that we can get fat on God’s blessing) but so that we can BE a blessing! Blessed to be a blessing! Amen? Amen!