The Glass Ceiling Women are not allowed to break

Recent conversations about abortion in Australia and in the United States have made it clear that it is not enough for a woman to be a woman, nor is being a feminist suffice; one must also publicly support abortion. A woman may reach the zenith of public office but it is apparently redundant if they are not promoting a particular type of womanhood. It is not enough for a woman to be woman (which I assume is insulting to many women), but you have to be a woman who talks to and represents a particular agenda.

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Last week the world witnessed over 3 million Americans marching through their cities, protesting the Presidency of Donald Trump. These protests are understandable given the unacceptable views on women that the new President has expressed. I want to emphasize how appalled I am by his comments about women. However, not everyone who wanted to march in support of women was welcomed, those who describe themselves as ‘pro-life’ were excluded.

The new Minister for Women in NSW is Tanya Davies, and within moments of giving her first press conference as minister,  numerous journalists and social commentators began calling for her removal. The reason? What atrocious deed is lurking in her wardrobe? The problem is, Tanya Davies is pro-life.

She said,

“Personally I am pro-life … but in my role I am there to support all women and I will support all women, and I will listen to all women and I will take on board all the stakeholders’ comments and feedback … and ensure the best outcome for all women is secured,”

In today’s The Age, Jenny Noyes made it clear as translucent silica that one cannot be Minister of Women if one does not support a woman’s right to abort her children,

“the appointment of Tanya Davies as the new Minister for Women was immediately soured when she admitted during the press conference to being “personally pro-life.”

“This simply is not good enough…NSW needs a Minister for Women who will actually fight for women’s rights, who is willing to put reproductive rights on the table – not to wind them back…”

The comment that I found most troubling was this one,

“The so-called “pro-life” movement says a life that hasn’t even begun is more important than the self-determination of a living, breathing woman.”

First of all, let’s not fudge the facts: life has already begun. Treating unborn children as pre-life and pre-human counters what we know to be true scientifically and ethically. To grade human beings according to levels of humanness is gross and immoral, and reminds us past generational ideologies which rightly cause us to shudder. Life does not begin at birth; our children are living sentient beings inside the womb. They are feeling and thinking and feeding and growing, responding to music and to touch.

Noyes’ also misrepresents the “pro-life” paradigm, painting  an either/or fallacy. It is possible to be both for unborn children and for women. But in the highly charged individualism which so much feminism has now adopted, room isn’t permitted for women (or men) to both support a woman’s health and life, and the health and life of the child in her womb. 

In Ancient Rome, baby girls were often abandoned and left to die in the open. Today, it is not sexism and misogyny that is responsible for most abortions in Western countries (although evidence suggests that the majority of world-wide aborted babies are girls), and neither is it the endangered-life of the mother, but the endangered life-style of women who are encultured to smash more glass ceilings. 

The irony is, Tanya Davies is cracking another panel, but it is not one that some women want broken.

As a Christian I can’t help talking about Jesus, for I reckon he is more relevant to these discussions than we often think. We know Jesus’ views of women countered the norms of his day, which angered many men who sought to subjugate women. Jesus also taught us to welcome and care for little children. A healthy and mature society will do both.

I wonder, instead of women and men jumping to break more ceilings, what if we learned from Jesus, and stopped climbing on our step-ladders and shattering glass all over those underneath us? How often in advancing our own dreams we sacrifice others whom we leave below? Jesus accomplished the greatest act in the history of human rights, not by asserting his position but in laying down his life out of love for others. He flipped on its head the alleged axiom of ‘power verses abuse’, when he chose to serve those with whom he held strong disagreement. And instead of discarding those whom we perceive as holding us back, Jesus gave them dignity and called them to walk with him through life. At least to me, this sounds like a better way forward.

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There was evil in Melbourne today

‘My heart is in anguish within me;

    the terrors of death have fallen on me.

Fear and trembling have beset me;

    horror has overwhelmed me.

 I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!

    I would fly away and be at rest.

I would flee far away

    and stay in the desert;

 I would hurry to my place of shelter,

    far from the tempest and storm.” (Psalm 55:4-8)

Melbourne was frightened today, and tonight Melbourne mourns. This afternoon Melbourne witnessed the worse act of mass violence since the Queen St massacre of 1987, where 9 people were killed and several injured. Even as I write the toll from today’s crime has increased from 3 people dead to 4, and with a further 20 people injured. Police have told the public that the number of deaths may yet increase, and among the dead and injured are young children.

My city, our city, has been subjected to a pointless and evil act of terror. Like so many Melbournians I am trying to make sense of the incomprehensible, that a man would aim his car at innocent pedestrians in the centre of our city, along Elizabeth and Bourke Streets. 

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As with many others, I first realised some terrible event was unfolding as my twitter feed went into a frenzy with reports of a red car mounting the path of Bourke St, striking down several people. Within minutes a growing picture emerged of a police chase, an out of control driver doing donuts outside Flinders St Station, and hundreds of people shortly afterward running for their lives through city streets. One friend of mine reported that he heard gunshots and ran inside a nearby building, realising soon after that the assailant was being arrested, only 100m away.

During the first hour very few of us did not at least wonder whether we were seeing an act of terrorism; some foolishly sparked rumours on twitter, assuming without knowing. Police soon assured everyone that this was not terrorism and that the situation had been contained. Late afternoon police informed journalists that the alleged man was wanted for a stabbing from earlier today, and that he has a history of domestic violence and mental illness.

As with many others, I thank the police, ambulance, and hospitals who serve us so well. We should not forget them in our prayers as they work to protect, save, care, and heal.

The statement from our Premier, Daniel Andrews, echoes our own thoughts and prayers tonight,

“Our hearts are breaking this afternoon.

People have died in the heart of our city.

Others are seriously injured. Young and old. And all of them were innocent.

All of them were just going about their day, like you or I.

Some families are just starting to find out the news about their loved ones, and right now, our thoughts are with each and every one of them.

I’m so proud of all the Victorians who reached out and provided care and support to strangers today.

I’m so thankful for all our police, paramedics and emergency services workers who launched into action, and will now be working around the clock.

And I hope that everyone can be patient and cooperative, so we can let these professionals do their job.

This was a terrible crime – a senseless, evil act – and justice will be done.”

Mr Andrews is absolutely right, This was a terrible crime – a senseless, evil act”. Such appalling actions remind us how we need the moral category called, ‘evil’, and indeed that there is such a thing as evil. We are not stuck in an enclosed cosmos without Divine and ultimate reason and righteousness. Our recognition of evil forces us to discard esoteric notions of a godless universe, for we know and feel the odious presence of the nefarious, and we desperately need it gone, and perpetrators punished.

Tonight, some of our fellow Melbournians are entering the shadow of the valley of death, and many others stand nearby stunned and saddened. Psalm 23 reminds us that we do not have to walk through that valley of death alone,

‘Even though I walk

    through the darkest valley,

I will fear no evil,

    for you are with me;

your rod and your staff,

    they comfort me.’

More than that, the one called Jesus has walked this path ahead of us, and for us. He is no out-of-touch Deity, but a God acquainted with grief.

Tonight, perhaps others would also like to pray for all those tonight wrestling with what they witnessed, especially for the injured and for those facing the most inexplicable grief; praying that friends will surround them and weep with them, and asking that the God of comfort might give comfort and peace through the darkness.


phone number: 13 11 14

Lifeline Australia

 


Update Sunday morning (Jan 22nd): a 5th person has now died, a 3 month old baby boy. 

Why I value expository preaching

Yesterday while enjoying a final day of annual leave, as a family we visited another church in Melbourne, which we enjoyed. The preacher took us to Colossians 1:15-29, exhorting us from Scripture to avoid domesticating Jesus and instead capturing a vision of this Lord of creation and Lord of the Church. It was a hot day and the building didn’t have any air conditioning. Did I mention, it was hot?! The poor kids did well, although they let out the occasional groan, as a reminder to Dad and Mum that they were feeling the heat. That aside, it was a joy to hear the Bible being opened, and the truth of Jesus Christ being affirmed and expounded.

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One of the highest and most humbling opportunities I have as a Christian minister is to preach God’s word. Preaching is an exciting yet fearful task. It brings immense pleasure and yet requires great earnestness.

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians,

“We have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.”

According to Paul, the aim of preaching is not to mystify people or to promote a personality or to gain profit, rather it is to ‘set forth the truth plainly’.

In one of the most famous charges ever given to a pastor, Paul says to his apprentice, Timothy,

“Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.  For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Timothy 4:2-3)

This is such a helpful passage for understanding the work of the preacher:

  • We’re told what to do: preach.
  • We are told what to preach: the word.
  • We are given a context for preaching: all the time is the season for preaching. 
  • We are given a set of aims in preaching: to correct, rebuke and encourage those listening.
  • We are given instruction as to the manner in which we preach: with great patience and careful instruction.
  • We are not however given a method. Having said this, I believe the Bible comes closer to methodology than we at first realise, for the content and aim of the sermon must surely drive the method. Not for a moment am I suggesting that there is only one way to preach. There are several valid styles of preaching including topical, doctrinal and narrative. Even among expository preachers we discover slightly different approaches: Dick Lucas, Don Carson, Tim Keller and Phillip Jensen are all well known for their expository preaching and yet no two are alike in their preaching. 

Broadly speaking, all preaching ought to be expository preaching, in the sense that the content of our sermons must come from the Bible. The authoritative, true and sufficient word that God has given to us is the Bible, and as 2 Timothy 4:2 reminds us, it is a God given mandate that our message be this word.

Evangelistic, topical and doctrinal sermons all can and ought to be exposition of Scripture. By this I don’t mean the verse by verse exegesis and application of consecutive passages, but that the point of the sermon must be grounded in and shaped by the word of God. In fact, a sermon may pool together several different Bible passages and yet teach them in such a way that they are being explained and applied correctly.

More specifically, expository preaching is an approach where the preacher takes a self-contained portion of the Bible (usually a book, which is subsequently divided into its constituent sections and then systematically preached over a number of weeks or months). He then explains and applies that passage according to the natural parameters set by the text, which includes genre of writing, the original audience, place in salvation history, its theme and tone. This may take the form of a careful verse by verse exposition, or it may cover several chapters in a single sermon with the preacher teaching and applying the main points that are contained within it.

While this method for preaching is not dictated in Scripture, it is the approach to preaching that I have found most helpful as I seek to be faithful to 2 Corinthians 4:2 and 2 Timothy 4:2.  Here are 8 reasons:

  1. Expository preaching shows that the authority lies in the word not in the preacher
  2. It helps ensure that it is God through his word who is setting the agenda, and not the preacher or the congregation or issues around us.
  3. Expository preaching helps me to be clear in my preaching. There is a structure and message in the text. My role isn’t to create a message, but rather the passage gives me the parameters.
  4. I want to be faithful to the whole counsel of God. All Scripture is God-breathed and is for our benefit, so we should aim to eventually preach through the entire Bible (one very long term project!).
  5. I want the church to value the whole Bible. Scripture is an incredibly rich book and I want people to explore all of it.
  6. Far from creating dull or irrelevant preaching, expository preaching keeps me interested and challenged in my preaching, and it pushes my congregation There are 66 different books in the Bible written at different times in history by different authors, in more than 12 different genres, exploring hundreds of themes. The literary diversity of the Bible also helps the congregation to sustain interest in the preaching.
  7. It helps the church to follow the preaching from week to week as they can read ahead.
  8. It is harder for the preacher to ignore difficult and unpopular topics.

In a season where confidence in God’s word is diminishing as people read the Bible less, and the Bible is less frequently read and preached in Church, expository preaching offers a significant antidote.

There is more to preaching than method, and admittedly, there are potential dangers in preaching expositorily, but they have more to do with the preacher than the method: i.e. a lack of training, limited experience, or a preacher who takes short-cuts in their preparation. If I am aiming for my preaching to be faithful, clear, interesting, and compelling to the hearer, then expository preaching will serve me well.

The preacher’s task is immense: heaven and hell are the outcomes, life or death are on offer. Surely it is wise to pursue an approach that will help our preaching to be as faithful and clear as can be.

Facing our mortality

When beggars die, there are no comets seen; The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.  (Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act 2, Scene 2)

In any given population there will be a few individuals whose death will be reported by media and mourned by grieving masses. Some people make the news, not because of their life but because of the tragic circumstances in which they died. Many more will people die without even a footnote in the local obituary, and yet their death is as a real and the grief from loved ones as profound.

More celebrities will depart this world in 2017, and countless thousands of anonymous people will join them in the grave. This isn’t being facetious or morbid, but stating what is inevitable

As we have been assailed with stories of people dying we respond to death with revulsion, and rightly so, for it is a destroyer of life and friendship; death is our enemy. When we have witnessed someone suffer for an extended season, there can be relief in their passing, but it is not their life that wish to see ending but their suffering.

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Their mortality reminds us of our own, and it is wise for us to give due consideration to our beliefs and hopes over the grave.

It is not uncommon for people to sentimentalise and even trivialise death. Perhaps we do so in the hope of defying this great adversary.

Death is nothing at all.

It does not count.

I have only slipped away into the next room.

Nothing has happened.

(Henry Scott-Holland)

Another approach, and one that is probably more common, is that of rage and anger, as Dylan Thomas famously cried,

Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,

Because their words had forked no lightning they

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright

Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,

And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight

Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,

Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

There is however an alternative to uncertain optimism and despair, and it is spelled out in the good news of Jesus Christ,

“Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.

“Where, O death, is your victory?

    Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

(1 Corinthians 15:51-57)

Throughout the life and ministry of Jesus Christ we see God who empathises with those who grieve. John ch.11 records the story of one of Jesus’ close friend, Lazarus, falling ill and dying. When Jesus reached the town where Lazarus lived and died, he mourned with the family and outside the tomb “he wept”.

Jesus not only sat alongside those in the midst of grief, but he has walked the path of death. He endured its full horrors, not because of sickness or tragic circumstances, but he chose to enter into death out of love for humanity and to face hell for us. Indeed, in the hours before his crucifixion he told his disciples, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” (Matt 26:38)

We are all approaching death, faster than we imagine; it is the great wall that cannot be avoided. But it does not have to be journeyed alone, and it does not have to endured without certain hope of resurrection. Imprinted into the fabric of the deathly world is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead; real, historic, physical, and forever resurrection.

We can choose to pin our hopes on imagined sleep-like permanence, or fight off all thoughts of death until the moment arrives and we explode with fearful rage, or we can place our confidence in the one who has defeated death and who promises eternal resurrection to all who accept him, to the celebrity and the unknown, the beggar and the prince.