Don’t Come and Join Us!

A number of people have expressed concern about the latest poster from Outreach Media displayed on the end of the church hall at St Peter’s (pictured). One person asked me, “If you want us to be a Growing Christian Community, why would you put a poster like that up? It is only going to drive people away!”

My response was “I love it!” – and here is why… 
First, it expresses biblical truth.

Jesus said to all who would follow him, “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.” (Matthew 24:9). Paul went on to say, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3:12).

Christians are a maligned and hated bunch of people.

Lisa Pearce from Open Doors says that, “If a Christian is discovered in Somalia, they’re unlikely to live to see another day”. The unreported truth is that worldwide religious persecution is utterly one sided – the vast majority is from Muslims towards Christians. So, if the secular media has given you an impression that all religious people just fight and kill each other then please reconsider. 

Second, it challenges those who will think.

Remember that the vast majority of unbelievers who read the sign were not looking for a reason to come to church. They could not care less about Jesus. But some, in response to a sign like this, will turn their brain to thinking, ‘Why do Christians keep believing in Jesus when, in North Africa, the Middle East and many parts of Asia, Christians are vanishing. It seems a lost and futile cause.’ Thinking people may be encouraged to take their investigation further. 

Third, it reminds us of what being a Christian is.

When we speak to someone about Jesus we are not inviting them into a club where peace, health, wealth and wisdom are guaranteed outcomes and everything is polite, rosy, middle-class and easy. The Kingdom of God is confronting, messy and dangerous. The Christian life is often challenging and for those who will speak of Jesus the opposition is often relentless. If this is not your experience, then perhaps you need to be rebuked by these words of Jesus, “Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:15-16)

So my friends, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28).

I urge you to invite people to join our Growing Christian Community, but let’s not expect any favours from the world, the flesh or the devil. We’re not in Kansas any more! 
With thanks to Outreach Media for their poster and regular newsletter. 

Click here to read their information about the poster. 

This Calls for Patience!

The story of the current French election is the story of our times. What people expected would happen, didn’t happen. Imagine a situation where an election is held in Australia and both Liberal and Labor are defeated and neither party is eligible to run the country. This is the situation in France. Both the ruling political parties are out of the race and one moderate candidate and one right-wing candidate are competing for the Presidency. It makes for fascinating viewing – as did Brexit and Trump! 

It also makes for fear and worry. Many French commentators are seriously concerned; the very same sort of commentators who were seriously concerned about Trump and Brexit. In the face of this, what should Christians do? 

Christians ought neither fear nor worry, but cultivate patience.

I have been working through the book of Revelation with our Wednesday morning congregation and it has been a delight to unveil the mysteries and see Jesus. We have gazed time and again behind the curtain of the world to the spiritual powers that besiege our society and are opposed to the growth of God’s Kingdom.

In Chapter 17 we meet a prostitute dressed in purple and scarlet, riding a 7 headed beast with horns, drunk on the blood of God’s people that she is drinking from a golden cup. She rules over kings and nations and people and guides them away from God with her own authority and tempting words. What on earth is she meant to represent? 

Well, a careful reading of the chapter reveals that she is all that calls people to organise themselves independently of God. She is everything that works against God’s Kingdom and for the destruction of the Gospel and those who hold true to it. She is a vast power that has turned and is turning everything against Jesus. 

An example of her power was summarised by Professor Haidt of NY University when he said, “The rising intolerance of secular fundamentalists is akin to a new religion rising to consume or eradicate all religion.” In such a movement the woman with the golden cup is rising up to destroy clear Gospel preaching and replace it with vacuous philosophies that promise much and deliver destruction.

We could list a myriad of people and activities that all have the scarlet clad woman as their driving force but the message of revelation is not “expose evil” but “be patient because Jesus wins!” Christian people don’t put their trust in society to fix society’s problems. They patiently wait for the return of Jesus who will replace this world with a perfect new world and thus fix all its problems.

To this end, in response to the promise of Jesus that he is coming soon, we pray the words of Revelation 22:20, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” 

Tattoos – Searching for Permanence

Seeing Angry Anderson on TV was my first introduction to the whole world of Body Art. I remember thinking he was both a rebel and fearless.  

Tattooing was such a niche activity in those days, often performed in dark back street allies behind mechanics or “out the back” of your local salon. And it hurt. Lots.
These days tattooing is much more mainstream – in fact you will find tattoo parlours in the centre of most suburbs with as many chairs and artists as the local hair salon. The rise and rise of tattoos has indeed been prolific and some months ago I set myself to pondering why.

I began asking people why they had tattoos. There were of course some very predictable answers – “cos I wanted to”; “I like them”; even “to cheese off my mum”.

But among the predictable there was the intriguing. A common theme emerged – people were trying to make the elusive permanent. Even trying to make the dead live through more than just a memory. Names, pictures, dates and numbers are all used to etch a permanent reminder of a person who has passed away too early, regretfully, tragically. One person said, “Now they are with me every day.”

This grasping after the past is a search for stability and permanence in a world where nothing is stable or permanent. It all passes away. It is made worse by the fact that we as a society have abandoned belief in God and therefore lost the sense of the eternal. Now we seize after today for when death rolls in there will be no more.

My suspicion is that often, the drawing of a tattoo on your body is a seeking after what we lost when we abandoned God – hope of a permanent, solid, stable future. But when you come and trust in Jesus Christ, your heart’s longings are satisfied. For he promises you a future that is solid, permanent, everlasting and without any negatives. His resurrection from the dead sealed the deal and showed his words and offer true.

Jesus still offers permanence today. Jesus still offers a future that can never perish, spoil or fade. Jesus offers this to you now!

I have no dramas with people getting tattoos! But if you’re looking for something that provides permanence and a real hope for the future, try Jesus. He is less painful and never goes that ugly green colour tattoos do.

All Fired Up!

I have been watching the news this week with an eye on the things people are all fired up about; the things that got people talking and thinking and arguing. 

The Adam Goodes booing scandal has probably been the most talked about issue. Is it racist or not? Is it all just part of sport? Has he become the Wally Lewis of the AFL? Has he brought it on himself? Has it exposed the racist underbelly of middle Australia? It seems everyone has a view and there is great disagreement about what should happen next.

The “Cecil the Lion” Hunting Scandal has come in a close second. The American dentist who paid more than $50,000 to hunt and kill the iconic lion claims it was legal but his business is being picketed and the world community in in outrage over his actions. Others appear outraged that people are outraged at the killing of a lion while poverty and abortion kills 1000s of children each week. 

The Bronwyn Bishop travel rorts come in a distant third this week as she remains under fire for spending tax payer dollars on her only personal travel. Some of the money has been repaid but all her travel is now being scruitinised with a fine tooth comb and the political cartoonists are having a field day. Should she resign? Is it enough to apologise and move on? Should she have to pay a fine? 

It is easy to get swept up in the passion and intrigue of these various stories and spend hours listening, thinking, pondering, arguing and raising your blood pressure in conversation with people about them. But are the items in the news the main game that we should get fired up about?
You may have missed it, but there is something more important than Adam, Cecil and Bronwyn that we should be fired up about: people are living life and facing death without Jesus. 

Sadly, in a month’s time, no one will be talking about these three. The issues may remain unresolved but news editors who must sell papers to keep their jobs will have to place other stories before us so we remain engaged with the advertisements. We will become consumed by new stories and distracted from the old, old story that really matters.

People will still be living life and facing death without Jesus. 

What will it take for you to get fired up about what really matters?

Stay calm even though we’re not in Kansas any more!

I was not yet a twinkle in my mother’s eye when R v Davidson and R v Wald reshaped the landscape of birth ethics in Australia. I do remember seeing people protesting an abortion clinic in Newtown in the late 1990s but I reckon you would be hard pressed to find that sort of protest anywhere anymore. 

In the Guardian, speaking of the UK situation that I think parallels Australia, Suzanne Moore wrote in 2011:

The truth is that, in theory, the argument about abortion is won. Most people, however uncomfortably, support a woman’s right to choose. We feel that pushing a woman to give birth to a child she does not want is heartless. […]
There is little point trying to persuade those who are religiously opposed to abortion […] but we can simply remind ourselves we are living in a largely secular democracy.

And friends, she is right. We Christians are not in Kansas anymore! 
In the late 1960s and early 1970s I understand the protests against abortion were prolific, the tut-tutting loud and the Christian lament constant. Now, as up to 100,000 births are terminated in Australia each year, there is barely a whimper. Most recently, all the protests around abortion have been to protect the right of women to terminate children following the introduction of Zoe’s Law into the NSW parliament. The media coverage and comments made were intriguing. From the SMH:

“We’re really relieved,” said Melanie Fernandez, the chairwoman of the Women’s Electoral Lobby. “Once foetal personhood is introduced, it’s a thin edge of the wedge.”

And in the Age:

Last year, women in New South Wales dodged a bullet when “Zoe’s law”, the foetal personhood bill that would have regarded a foetus as a person for the purposes of grievous bodily harm, lapsed in the upper house.

Many said “phew”. Many a Christian sighed, unable or unwilling to do much more because they’ve been worn down by the constant drift of our secular democracy.
The gay marriage debate provides another opportunity for Christians to protest, tut-tut and lament. And that is fine if that is what you want to do, but no one is listening. Simply stating, shouting or posting a Christian point of view or claiming that “this is a Christian country” does not and will not change anyone’s mind. The debate has moved on. It is about equality, fairness, love and discrimination. God and biblical ethics have been methodologically excluded and those who rely upon them are often labelled as bigots and narrow-minded fools. Before long, those without rainbow shaded Facebook profile pics will be harassed for even that will be a matter of righteousness. 

What should be done? I want to speak to those for an against gay marriage. 

Christians – don’t get hysterical and don’t do nothing. Keep arguing calmly and carefully for normal marriage. Keep speaking but don’t protest irrationally. Keep listening but don’t tut-tut and roll your eyes. Keep watch and lament privately about the way our society keeps drifting. But think about your words. Think carefully about how to share your point of view from outside a Christian framework. How will you argue your view when those you are arguing against couldn’t care less what your God said or did? We are not in Kansas anymore! Will you respond with grace and love when it’s all a done deal? We are not in Kansas anymore!

Unbelievers and those pro-gay-marriage – leave room for dissent. Leave room for a difference of opinion. Provide room for those who disagree and let’s all try to get along civilly. The societies we fear eradicate difference of opinion. Let us not become like them. Allow for freedom of thought and practice to continue exist. Allow the freedom to say no. We pride ourselves in this country on the right to have some people say “yes” and others “no” to all sorts of things. Please don’t stop those of us who want to say “no” on grounds of conscience and faith. 

I hope we can do this whole gay marriage thing a lot better than they appear to be doing it in America. Will you hope that hope with me?

The Jensens, the State and Same-Sex Marriage 

In my circles, Nick and Sarah Jensen’s decision to get a divorce if same-sex marriage becomes a reality has created a lot of conversation.  People have asked lots of good questions…

  • Isn’t divorce a sin?
  • Will they still be married?
  • When is someone married?
  • Under whose authority does marriage really count?
  • Will this be a precedent for Christians just moving in together?

When it comes to the crunch, I have a real affection for the Jensen’s decision. Through their “divorce protest” they want to make it clear that in reality the state has no real authority over them in the arena of marriage. Rather, God does. He created marriage and he bonds people together in marriage and calls them to take it seriously (Matt 19:6, Mark 10:9, Hebrews 13:4). The Jensen’s chose to be married in the eyes of God and according to the regulations of the state but if the state moves the boundaries, they will reject the authority of the state over their marriage.

There is fundamentally nothing wrong with their “protest divorce” (not that they will be able to do it under Australian Law) but it is incredibly foolish. It won’t be a divorce in the eyes of God but it will be bizarrely confusing for their children, family, friends, church and Gospel onlookers. 

Instead of abandoning the institution of marriage, Christian people need to recognize the important role of the state in marriage in protecting the vulnerable from the sinful and particularly in protecting children.

Mistakenly, on The Project, Mr Jensen claimed that in getting marriage he entered into a contract with the State. Rather, he entered into a contract with Mrs Jensen that is regulated by the State. When entered into, they had to give 30 days notice, both had to be over 18, not related, not married, and not the same gender. When they met those regulations, they were free to enter into the State-regulated marriage contract together. 

On top of this, they had made the decision to be married in the sight of God – to leave their parents homes and be united together as a couple publicly as a sign of their mutual lifelong commitment to one another. I am sure that the Jensen’s have every intention of keeping the promises they have made. But I am equally sure that their hearts are as broken and wretched as mine and anything could happen.

In Moses’ day (Deuteronomy 24), if a marriage broke down there was a way of regulating the situation and ensuring both parties acknowledged the breakdown and found freedom to move on. Jesus says of this:

Jesus replied, ‘Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. (‭Matthew‬ ‭19‬:‭8‬)

He acknowledges that sinful hearts cause problems, that these problems did not exist before the fall and that a person in authority (Moses) ensured that people were dealt with fairly. The situation provided justice and protection for the vulnerable.

It’s my contention that this is the exact role the State has now and it is a role we Christians ought to acknowledge and respect. It is the State that has the power in the community to ensure there is justice and protection for the vulnerable. They have the power to ensure children are not sold as child brides. They have the power to ensure people are not quickly coerced into marriage. They have the power to ensure economic fairness in the case of marital breakdown. They have the power to determine appropriate care for children both during and after a marriage. These are critical powers that protect the vulnerable from the wretched self-centered hearts of others. 

The State does not and has not created marriage but it provides critical protecting powers for those who enter into it. Christians more than everyone ought to recognize the pervasiveness of sin and our capacity to be gripped by it. We all have the very best of intentions  (ie. I have never met someone who got married with plans to divorce some time down the track), but our hearts are hard. Things go wrong and people need to be protected from those who seek to do them wrong. This is an important role God has given the State for our good (Romans 13:1-7). We must recognise our own capacity for sinfull actions and do all we can to mitigate the damage they can cause. 

So where do I land with all this?

  1. It is highly unlikely that I will be engaging in a “protest divorce” or encouraging others to do so because I know my heart and I want to protect my wife and children from my own potential future stupidity. 
  2. It is highly unlikely that I will encourage people to enter into marriage without the protections the State offers by having their marriage recognized and nor would I support religious people going it alone and creating their own Stateless systems for marriage. 
  3. It is highly unlikely I will throw in my State issued marriage celebrants license.

Marriage is a gift of God and it is under his authority that I am married. But the State is also the gift and work of God and insofar as they work for the common good of all, for justice and the protection of the vulnerable, I want to support them, encourage them and pray for them.

Are we having a good conversation?

I love talking about controversial ideas as much as the next guy but did you know that there is an art to good conversation?

Sadly, I’ve been the cause of many bad conversations and once you are in one it’s hard to back out. Too many times, while the other person is speaking, I am thinking about what I’m going to say next. What they’re saying is largely irrelevant to me. I’m just been reloading my rifle and waiting for them to take a breath so I can fire away again. Simply, I stop listening.

The key element in the art of good conversation is listening. Listening leads to understanding and understanding leads to deep, accurate and empathetic conversation. I’ve heard the witticism, “God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason” but good listening is not just about silence.

In Stephen Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Habit #5 is Seek first to understand, then be understood. He described five forms of listening:

  1. Ignoring: not really listening at all.
  2. Pretending: humming along while not really following.
  3. Selective listening: hearing what you want to hear.
  4. Attentive listening: paying attention to the words.
  5. Empathic listening: intending to understand what the other is trying to communicate.

I know I engage in all five forms from time to time! Empathic listening is not about agreeing with the other (showing sympathy). It is about understanding what message the other is trying to convey. It is the only form of true listening.

So how do you listen like this and have a good conversation. I want to make six suggestions:

1. Turn your heart on. When the conversation starts, decide to love and value the person you are in conversation with despite their point of view. This will help you have the right attitude and be willing to listen. 

2. Cultivate a curious mind. Ask questions of the person you are speaking to so you can dig deeper into their thinking. What, why, when, who, where, and how are the best friends of curious people and will help you understand what is being said so you can respond helpfully.

3. Watch the emotions. Emotions help us understand the depth of the views held but neither validate nor establish truth. If your listening is being impacted by your emotions, it may be best to put the conversation on pause until you can be calmer.

4. Say what you think. Telling the truth is crucial for good conversation but putting all your thoughts out for critique is also important. Consider the possibility that you could be wrong and ask more questions.

5. Stay on topic. Ad hominem arguments or the introduction of other topics into a conversation to try and win the argument will usually muddy the waters rather than provide clarity. 

6. Finish well. Agree to disagree. Decide to carry on another time. Take some things away to ponder some more. But work hard not to walk away as bitter rivals in a heated debate. As far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone! (Romans 12:18)  

There are important things for us to converse about at the moment so let’s make sure we are having good conversations that help grow understanding rather than bad ones that undermine relationships. 

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. (James 1:19-20)