NSW loses its moral impetus

It was only a few months ago that the public was shocked by words and sights coming from the United States. New York City lit up the night sky in the colour pink to celebrate the passing of abortion laws.

Virginia Governor, Ralph Northam, made the suggestion that the life of a newborn child can be legitimately ended if that is the wish of the mother and attending physician.

“If a mother is in labor…the infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians & mother”

Similar words and images are now home in New South Wales.

In an attempt to curb the cruellest edges of legislation that will decriminalise abortion in that State, several amendments were presented and voted down. One of these amendments asked that babies who are born alive following a botched abortion (as can happen) must be given due medical attention. The majority of MPs voted against the amendment, arguing that a living boy or girl can be killed or left to die outside the womb. This is legalised infanticide.

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Tweet by David Ould

As the extreme abortion laws were passed in the New South Wales Parliament House last night, the Sydney Morning Herald ran with the headline, “Cheers and Applause as lower house votes to decriminalise abortion in NSW”.

Assuming the Bill will also pass the Legislative Council, will the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge be lit in the colour pink? Will Macquarie street be filled celebrations? Last night’s laudable triumphs in the halls of Parliament suggests that this may indeed occur. It is one thing to vote to take innocent human life,  but it is unnecessary and gross to celebrate it.

As a Victorian, living in a State that already has such ignominious laws, I weep for my NSW friends today.

Australia in 2019 has become a strange and disturbing land in some respects. For example, logic rarely wins debates in our culture. Scientific facts are unlikely to move a person’ position. What is obvious can no longer be stated as such. The most basic observable units of reality are contested. If the acknowledged humanity of a person does not suffice for offering protection and rights, we have indeed walked off the precipice without a rope. What is true no longer matters and what is good is an unwelcome obstacle to personal choice: I have become god and there is no other. This rampant individualism comes at a cost, and the cost today will be the lives of 10,000s of young children, many who will be aborted because they are girls or because they may suffer some kind of physical or mental disability.

In many of life’s unimportant measures (food, sport, and everything else) Victoria runs ahead of NSW. But when it came to those all-important ethical subjects, NSW often stood tall when Victoria turned south. Sadly, NSW has now followed Victoria and the other Australian States in losing its moral authority. Indeed, many Churches have already overturned their moral voice because of deep-seated sins. How can a society speak of defending life and humanity when we are bent on destroying the youngest and most vulnerable of lives? Our voice has become shard, an empty and hypocritical shrill.

I am not suggesting that there are women who aren’t in heart-wrenching circumstances. Not for a second am I whitewashing real and difficult situations that face some women when falling pregnant. A loving society would gather around them and support them. In Victoria there are many churches who would open their arms to help these women; I have seen this with my own eyes. There are organisations, such as the amazing The Babes Project who assist pregnant women who are struggling to decide whether to keep their child or not. Governments could invest in such positive community agencies rather than turning to the awful alternatives.

The passing of the abortion Bill in the Lower House will create some big winners in NSW and many losers:

The big losers:

– 10,000s of young children every year

– Children with disability

– Young girls

– Mothers

– Fathers

– Society who will never see the contributions of these little ones whose lives are cut short.

The big winners:

– Men who don’t want the responsibility of caring for their children

– Abortion Providers

 

Before anyone retorts, but you’re a man, you shouldn’t have a voice on this women’s issue, let’s remember that the Bill’s chief architect is also a man, Alex Greenwich. Why hasn’t he been told to keep his nose out of women’s affairs? The reason is obvious, he supports the decriminalisation of abortion, that’s why? Men have a role to play in the making of babies, and most women believe that men have a responsibility in raising children; I agree. Of the children who are aborted, thousands are little boys. It is surely incumbent upon men to speak for women’s health and dignity as well as the health and dignity of the unborn.

In the days of Ancient Rome Christians found and took in unwanted babies who were left on hillsides to die of exposure. In 18th Century England, Christian groups opened orphanages to care for children whose parents couldn’t support them. Churches can once again open our eyes to needs in our communities and find ways to support and love women who are facing an unwanted or difficult pregnancy. How can we put away the platitudes and open up our hearts to them? Society has lost its way, but the imperative remains for us to live like the Lord Jesus. How can we sacrifice and present a better way forward, for the good of women, the life of children, and the health of our society?

Proposed Victorian Bill is likely to harm not help women

The State of Victoria wishes to be at the vanguard of the sexual devolution. Sadly, Victoria is already becoming an unsafe place for vulnerable children who struggle with gender dysphoria. Just as with the recent passing of euthanasia laws, concerns expressed by the medical fraternity were overlooked in favour of radical political and gender theorists from institutions such as Latrobe University.

 

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It is not only children who will suffer from these radical and non-scientific agendas but also women. I know of one situation where a young woman was forced to play football (AFL) against a male who identified as a female. She feared for her safety which is understandable given the physical difference between the average male and female. As a growing number of women are now indicating if the transgender agenda continues it is likely that women’s sport may cease to exist in a few years time. 

A story emerged from the United Kingdom this week concerning a group of less than impressed boys. In an age when we are recognising how big the issue of pornography is among boys, a not so smart teacher decided to take a group of school boys on an art exhibition to see ‘feminist art’. The boys weren’t so much exposed to art as they were to bare-breasted middle-aged women! In normal circumstances, authorities would be called and the adults charged with sex offences, but apparently, this is ok.

We live in astonishing times.

In their latest effort, the Victorian Government has decided that transgender women are being discriminated against under current laws. At the moment if anyone wishes to change the gender on their birth certificate, sex reassignment surgery is required. According to the Attorney General, Jill Hennessy,

“Everyone deserves to live their life as they choose, and that includes having a birth certificate that reflects their true identity.”

 The proposed legislation will eliminate the need for women to have vaginas and so forth, and men (sorry, women) with penises can be legally recognised as women. You can imagine the social problems that will arise from such a decision.

In a piece in the Weekend Australian, Ms Rayner, a former state and federal human rights commissioner and University of Melbourne philosopher Holly Lawford-Smith, express grave concerns over the Bill and are asking for it to be rejected.

“Sex should not be a matter of belief…If progressives want to disincentivise sex-reassignment surgery, they should protect gender expression, or gender identity, or trans status, separately — rather than trying to shoehorn it into sex.” Dr Lawford-Smith said.

They have likened the Bill to last week’s story coming out of Canada where a transgender woman is taking a woman to court for refusing to wax his testicles.  That’s right. Once again, in a normal world when a man demands a woman to touch his privates she is entitled to say no and to be protected by law, but in today’s Canada, he is the victim and she the perpetrator. Indeed, should the Victorian Bill be adopted, we can expect to see all manner of confusion and also litigation against religious groups who insist upon recognising biological gender rather than one’s self-assuming gender. Indeed, it is not only religious organisations that may find themselves in trouble with the law but also sporting clubs and schools and secular organsations. It is telling that Dr. Lawford-Smith, a self-identifying lesbian, is calling for the Bill to be rejected.

This isn’t about justice, this is about redefining the fundamental nature of women and men. It is the insane devolution of humanity at its most basic form. Biology no longer determines what is a man and what is a woman. Chromosomes, hormones, reproductive parts and sexual appendages now have no bearing on what constitutes male and female. The only factor that matters is how the self defines themselves. As Ben Sharipo astutely remarked last week, is female a set of stereotypes or is it biological? We are being told that it cannot be biological because a woman can have a penis just as men can give birth to children. Therefore,  femaleness must be definable by social stereotypes, a criteria of observable non-physical differences from males. But of course, the dilemma is that we are not permitted to suggest that men and women have any differences beyond the biological. So which is it, is a woman defined by biology or by stereotypes?

I write this as a leader in the Victorian community. I also understand that because I’m a Christian, my concerns will be automatically binned by some; I appreciate why.  Churches have lost almost all their moral impetus after facing scandal after scandal. The sexual sins uncovered inside some churches and religious organisations is beyond evil, if that is at all possible. And yet, how can one stand by and be silent in the face of such unhealthy legislation.

This is profoundly sad and harmful, both for Victorians wanting to change their gender and for people around them. I have had the opportunity to speak to the issue of gender dysphoria before, not as a medical expert, but as a community leader who values all people and who is deeply concerned about the radical and unscientific approach being adopted by our political leaders. Victorians struggling with gender dysphoria deserve our care and loving support, but as most clinical psychologists will explain, the majority of people wrestling with dysphoria will return to and be content with their biological sex. Those who continue to identify with the opposite gender need our affirmation of their dignity, but not a confirmation of their self-misconceptions. We don’t tell people with other disorders that their feelings are right and true. Do we agree with teenage girls suffering from eating disorders that they are overweight? It would be cruel to do so.

The sexual revolution knows no boundaries. It is one steep descent with nothing but jagged rocks at the bottom. From time to time, the next redefinition and social regression slows down because of hairpin corners (i.e. commonsense, scientific fact, or moral integrity), and then it’s off at speed again until the next hairpin. But what is left? There are few turns left on this destructive road. 

“There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.” (Proverbs 14:12)

I trust that common sense will prevail, but in Victoria, we have little hope of that. In the midst of growing mistakes, the good news of God offers hurting and confused Victorians are better hope than the misleading efforts of our moral deconstructionists. The years ahead are going to create such confusion about what it means to be human. We need an example to show people, we need a Saviour who is good enough and loves us enough to redeem and restore. Thank God there is one better than ourselves to whom we can point our fellow Victorians: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5)

 

(I made a small edit on July 29th)


New Victorian sex law a gender headache

by Bernad Lane

A law put up by Victoria’s Andrews government could expose women offering intimate services such as pubic waxing or underwear fitting to discrimination complaints if they reject trans women customers who still have penises, veteran human rights lawyer Moira Rayner has warned.

 

The new law would allow self-declared trans women, who possess a penis and have not undergone any sex-reassignment treatment, to change the sex that appears on their birth certificate, giving them access as women to equal opportunity protection.

Ms Rayner, a former state and federal human rights commissioner, said that, if enacted, the legislation could allow a Down Under version of Canada’s Jessica Yaniv case, in which a trans woman has lodged anti-discrimination complaints against 16 beauticians who did not want to handle her penis and testicles in order to grant her wish for a brazilian wax…

Seven Statements about the Israel Folau Church revelations

An exclusive report has been published in today’s Sydney Morning Herald, providing ‘new’ information about Israel Folau and his church, suggesting their theology is extreme and out of touch with mainstream Christianity. The article seems to be aimed further pushing wedges between Israel Folau and those who have been supporting him (which is partly odd given there are many non-Christians supporting him)

 

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1. We mustn’t ignore credible information, even if it may be uncomfortable. Should it be accurate, Christians will be concerned.

2. Some of the reported information is yet to be confirmed. Given much of the SMH reporting on Israel Folau, it is unsurprising that readers receive this new article with some suspicion. An example would be John Tait’s attempt to deconstruct Folau’s use of the Bible in the offending post, Did Israel Folau actually misquote the Bible? Hell, yes (read my response to this inaccurate piece here  ).

3. Some of the information isn’t new and hasn’t been hidden by Christians. For example, Folau’s view on the Trinity. On April 11th, 2019 I wrote,

“More important, someone has brought to my attention that Folau seems, at the very least, to be confused by the Christian teaching of the Trinity. His comments on the Trinity that have been shared with me are troubling, to say the least. This doesn’t negate the 5 points made in this post, but it may cause us to reevaluate Folau’s understanding of Christianity.  I suspect that many Christians, in explaining God, fall into one Trinitarian heresy or another, simply because they haven’t been taught the Scriptures well. Perhaps he needs a Christian brother to get alongside him and disciple him with a Bible in hand (don’t we all?). The doctrine of the Trinity, however, is too important, too central to the Christian faith, for us to ignore.”

4. Most Protestant Christians have serious concerns over some key Roman Catholic doctrines and many Christians also share concerns over the teaching and practices at Hillsong. There is nothing exceptional in this

5. Orthodox Christian doctrine matters more to Christians than politics and law.

6. Current Christian advocacy for religious freedom has not only been about Christians but about sustaining a positive social pluralism in Australia for all Australians.

7. Even if Israel Folau’s theology is heterodox, that does not diminish the issue of his wrongful sacking by Rugby Australia. Should only mainstream Christianity be protected by commonsense and law?

 


I will add an eighth: two things can be true at the same time: Folau’s post was close to the mark (in terms of reflecting classical Christian teaching) and his views on the Trinity and some other matters is wide of the mark (not reflecting classical Christian teaching). The latter doesn’t preclude the former from being accurate.

The Unity and Diversity Paradox

Is it a rabbit or is it a duck?

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The nature of unity and diversity within Christianity has captivated and confused churches, denominations and Christian organisations for centuries. Unity and diversity can sometimes seem like polar opposites, and yet they can co-exist and in the Gospel we find that they do. However, what does the unity/diversity paradox look like in a Christian Church? What does it mean to be united? How diverse should we be and diverse in what?
Navigating the waters of unity and diversity can be trickier than piloting a supertanker up Port Phillip Bay, but it’s made even harder if we ignore the navigation system that is provided for ships to follow. For that reason, we must turn to the Bible and ask what does the Bible teach us about unity and diversity in the Christian Church?

The Bible affirms unity

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is God’s instrument that brings humanity to God. The Gospel isn’t an indefinable feeling or idea; the Gospel is a message that has concrete meaning and significance. The Gospel is God’s good news about Jesus Christ, his atoning death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead. At the heart of this message is God’s gracious gift of justification that we receive through faith in Christ.
We discover that through this Gospel of Jesus Christ, God has made two relationships possible: we are united to God (Eph 2:13, 16-18) and we are united to each other (2:14-15, 20). Christian unity begins and continues through faith in this Gospel.
In Ephesians chapter 4 the Apostle Paul stresses the importance of and joy of Christian unity. He is focusing on the local church, but nonetheless, Paul’s theology extends beyond the parameters of the local gathering of believers. We do not establish Christian unity, that work belongs alone to Christ through his shed blood on the cross and by the Spirit of God who unites us firstly to God in Christ, and through him to one another (Eph 2:11-22). Yet Paul insists that we need to work hard at maintaining this unity and growing this unity. Growing unity will be expressed through works of service, love, speaking the truth in love, and Christian maturity (which necessarily includes theological maturity, not diversity). It is interesting to note that this increasing sense of unity grows out of the ministry of the word (4:11).
There is sometimes a false dichotomy introduced between relationship and doctrine as though unity is found by being in relationship with one another, as opposed to doctrine which has the propensity to divide. However, unity is a commitment grounded in common assent to the Gospel; it is both relational and doctrinal (i.e. 1 Tim 4:16). Two ingredients are necessary for authentic unity to grow and mature: love and truth (both are found in and come from Christ). In Ephesians 4 Paul describes this dynamic growth as stemming from the ministry of the word of God. As the word of God rules the Church, her people are equipped for works of service and the outcome is maturity, strengthening, speaking the truth in love, and growth. Interestingly, when truth is absent or hidden, the effect on the church is devastating,
“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming” (4:14).

The Bible affirms diversity

Ephesians ch.2 wonderfully describes the power of the Gospel to break down the barrier between Jew and Gentile; by the shed blood of Christ, the two people become one.
Gospel unity is not uniformity. There is a type of diversity that is to be welcomed and even desired. In the Gospel, God draws together men & women, young and old, people from every race and language, and from different cultures. Such demographic diversity reflects God’s purposes in the world.
Within the local church, there is also a diversity of gifts given by God, and there are many different opportunities to serve the body and to love the local community.
A further reality is that no single church can reach every person from every culture and place. Thus a diversity of churches in different places and with various cultural expressions is natural and laudable.
What about theological diversity? To my knowledge nowhere does the New Testament encourage or endorse a diversity of theological persuasions. There a couple of places that suggest that this may occur (ie the weaker brother in Romans 13) but it is a recognition of a situation rather than being something desired. There are, however, many examples where the Bible condemns theological diversity and proponents of those teachings are spoken of in the most severe manner.
Theological diversity is a reality, but it is not a desirable one and at times it requires churches to respond. I want to make note of the following examples of theological diversity:
i. This is one significant reason for the existence of denominations.
ii. A different standard exists for leaders than for congregation members (cf 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus 1:5-16; James 3:1). While new Christians have a newly found love for God, it is normal for them to have many questions and lack discernment over many theological matters (cf.1 Timothy 3:6). Leaders, however, are rightly expected to hold deeply to the faith and to be disciplined when they err.
iii. While there are no unimportant doctrines, Christians have historically believed that some doctrines are more central than others. Even in the New Testament, we have a suggestion that certain beliefs are primary. Paul, for example, outlines in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 matters of ‘primary importance’. Christians have historically disagreed over matters like church governance, baptism, Charismatic gifts and eschatology, but over many other matters, any disagreement has been rightly deemed heterodox.
iv. Important to contemporary debates is 1 Timothy 1:8-11:
           “We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that  the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers— and for whatever else is contrary  to the sound doctrine that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.”
This passage is relevant to our discussion on unity and diversity for several reasons: sound doctrine is integrally connected to the Gospel, and we learn that sinful acts also contradict sound doctrine. There is no room for redefining sins as good and accepting them as Christians practices. If the Bible teaches that a particular act is sinful and keeps people from God’s Kingdom and is a reason for God to reveal his wrath, then there can be no doubt that to accept diversity of opinion here is to deny unity in the Gospel

Solving the unity/diversity tension

When it comes to applying this tension to actual relationships we should be aware of our own natural preferences, which may be to emphasise unity over diversity or diversity over unity. We all have blind spots, which is why we need to humbly return again and again to God’s word for correction and direction.
True Gospel unity and diversity is stunning; the alternatives shouldn’t be entertained. When God says something “is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God,” we must listen and obey. It is not enough for us to say that we agree with Paul, for if we then proceed to claim unity with someone who denies Paul we become complicit with them against Scripture; we have decided against Scripture that it is right to partner with persons (or groups) that hold views contrary to the Gospel. If the Gospel of Jesus is the thing that unites us and it is rejected, then what is it that unites?
I began with this article with a maritime metaphor and I want to conclude with a building metaphor from Ezekiel. In Ezekiel 13:9-11 God speaks of a “flimsy wall” being built and of the builders whitewashing the wall in order to hide its poor construction. When Christians attempt to build an organisation without strong foundations and firm doctrinal convictions we end up with a flimsy wall. We can dress it up with colourful paint and make it look attractive, and we can draw smiley faces around it, but the rain will eventually wash off the paint and the wind will tear it down.
We have established that the Gospel brings both unity and diversity, but both are given parameters by Scripture. The proper beginning point is a clearly articulated and defended exposition of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Diversity of age, culture, race, etc flows out of the singular Gospel. In other words, the unity/diversity paradox that Churches and many Christian organisations face will only be resolved when we believe and practice the unity and diversity that is found in Christ, as explained by the Scriptures.
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This is an updated version of an article posted at mentonebaptist.com.au from 2013

Help Australians to understand the Bible

It has been reported today that Raelene Castle, the Chief Executive Officer of Rugby Australia, would still have sacked Israel Folau had he only posted Bible verses stated in the hearing against Israel Folau that she would have sacked him, even if the only thing he did was to post

Miranda Devine writes,

“Raelene ­Castle effectively damned the Bible as hate speech in astonishing unreported testimony at Israel Folau’s code of conduct hearing in May.

She declared it is the Bible itself which is offensive when she testified before a panel of three judges who went on to find Folau guilty of a “high level breach” for posting a biblical quote calling on “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters” to repent or face hell.

Castle told panel chairman John West, QC, that some biblical passages are unacceptable, and that even if Folau had posted a photocopy of a Bible page, he still would have been sacked.

West asked Castle: “What if Mr Folau had photocopied passages from the Bible and simply posted that on his ­social media pages, would that have caused a problem for you?”

Castle replied: “I think it depends on which ones — which pages he photocopied.”

West asked: “If he’d photocopied the passages that are referred to in the posts would that have caused a problem for you?”

Castle, “Yes it would have.” 

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Bible in the Victorian Parliamentary Library

The Bible itself is apparently offensive and to be defined as hate speech.  Today’s revelations are not the first instance of throwing the Bible onto the bonfire of popular opinion. Gregory Callaghan suggested in The Age yesterday that,

“If we continued to take every biblical injunction seriously, slavery, the subjugation of women, stoning, cutting off hands, and being barred from wearing clothes woven of two kinds of fabric would be still in force.”

We have an issue in Australia with widespread biblical illiteracy and ignorance. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy that shouldn’t surprise anyone, given the deliberate fashion in which we have turned our backs on Christianity over a period of decades.  Some people fear what they do not understand and others dislike what they do understand and cannot accept.

Is the Bible really to be considered hate speech? Are we really at the place in Australian society where quoting the Bible can be used as material evidence against an individual?

This isn’t the first in history where the broad society has misunderstood and misrepresented what Christians believe. This is an ancient problem.  Remember the good old days in the Roman Empire? Pliny the Younger, the Roman Governor of Bithynia et Pontus, assumed that the Christian practice of the Lord’s Supper consisted of Christians eating the flesh and drinking the blood of fellow human beings. He also believed that all that Christian talk about brothers and sisters involved some sexual appetite for incest. What happened to the Christians in Bithynia? Filled with a fountain of misinformation and insisting that they also adhere to the cult of the Emperor, he began to have them systematically imprisoned and executed.

Thank God that we don’t live in one of the many countries that still practice this kind of punishment on Christians (and other minorities). What is new today is that the West (including Australia) has had centuries of Christian teaching, access to the Bible, and freedom to read, study and explore the meaning of the Scriptures. We are not living in first century Rome. At yet basic Bible knowledge and grasping that the  Bible is to be understood in light of the person and work of Jesus Christ escapes the attention of many.

We have a Bible comprehension problem. Churches are not always helpful on this front, as many sell their soul for an esteemed role in the marketplace and for public congratulations. How can outsiders understand the Bible if Christian preachers carry a pair of scissors in their pocket, and cutting out any teaching that contravenes society’s dogma?  If Churches are not reading and teaching the Bible faithfully how can we expect anyone else to be getting it right?

Jesus documented a similar issue in his day,

“Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet:

“Lord, who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

 For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere:

“He has blinded their eyes
and hardened their hearts,
so they can neither see with their eyes,
nor understand with their hearts,
nor turn—and I would heal them.”

 Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him.

 Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not openly acknowledge their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved human praise more than praise from God.” (John 12)

 

My advice to Christians is this:

  1. Make sure that the public reading and preaching of the Bible is front and centre at all your Church services. Why wouldn’t it be?
  2. Make the reading and teaching of the Bible foundational to all your Church ministries. If it’s not, why not?
  3. Find ways to help your broader community engage with the Bible. Ask your friends, have they ever read the Bible and would they be interested to do so with you? Could you start up a group for interested people in a local school or community hall? Show people how to read and interpret the Bible. Share with people why the Bible informs and it transforms for good.

Raelene Castle has launched into a world familiar to many people of faith who have escaped oppressive nations, but this is unusual for Australia. To call out in a formal disciplinary tribunal that the Bible amounts to hate speech is extraordinary. This is an extraordinary step in the latest of a series of ridiculous cultural malpractice. Don’t be fooled,  she will find substantial support among our cultural elites. But is she on to something? Does the Bible never disagree with our moral inclinations? Do the Scriptures never cause discomfort? While the Bible is never hate speech, it is a dangerous book. Entire nations have changed on account of the Bible. Cultures have shifted toward enlightenment and progress on account of the Bible. Fairer societies have been built, slavery outlawed, fair working conditions for the poor, homes for orphans and the elderly, and in fact, much of the fruit we enjoy today finds its roots in ideas stemming from Biblical revelation.

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

Let’s not waste the season God gives

On Saturday, Greg Clarke (former CEO of the Bible Society, Australia) sent out the following tweet,

“I remember as a young Christian at University in the 80s when we felt we would have to work really hard in Australia to ‘keep the rumour of God alive’. At the moment, it’s wall to wall God stuff.”

Greg Clarke is right. I’m not aged well enough to remember university in the 1980s but we don’t have to peer so far. Even looking back a few short years, I remember Christians being frustrated and saddened by the fact that God was absent from most conversations and seemed to be rarely on people’s agendas. It was as though the culture was erasing God for the public conscience, and it was only a small number of persistent believers who could jump-start God into the conversation.

Australia is experiencing are the most unusual season at the moment. For three months social media has been filled with conversations about religion and God and Christianity, and every day there is more reporting and more opinion pieces published about Christianity. Who would have guessed that the topic of hell would become an election issue? For a nation that is supposedly post-Christian and secular, we are engaging in a significant national conversation where God features.

To be sure, some of the conversations are less than edifying. Not all, but some reporting is little more than crude and unoriginal Christian bashing. Some of the commentary that is passing for Christianity is nothing of the sort. There are also atheists defending Christians. Even Professor Peter Singer, who preaches some of the most repugnant ideas that can be heard anywhere in the world today, last week wrote a constructive and reasoned article in support of Israel Folau. Other remarks come from well-meaning Christians, who are nonetheless being unhelpful and take conversations down misguided paths. There is also much anger being vented from various quarters and doubling down on caricatures of different people and ideas.

To argue that there is no issue of religious freedom in Australia is to close your eyes and ears to the growing number of cases that are being disclosed in many areas of Australian life, from sport to business and to education. Sure, as human beings we are sometimes guilty of exaggerating the socio-political climate; we are not living in the Soviet Union and this isn’t 1984. But neither is the culture static and neutral. I find it ironic that the voices most ardently insisting that there is no agenda to limit religious freedoms, are those lauding Rugby Australia for sacking Israel Folau and those urging for Christians Schools to lose their funding if they don’t subscribe to the sexual revolution, and on and on the list continues. Religious freedom is one of the pivotal tests of this generation. Without it we lose the capacity to be a truly pluralistic society. This topic should matter to all Australians, whether we are Christian or Jewish or Hindu or atheist. Do we really want to live in a State where corporate business dictates religious doctrine and where Government defines theological values? I have detailed this case on other occasions, my aim here is to underline another matter that is even more close to my heart.

As I read and agreed with Greg’s tweet, I thought a little more and my attention turned to 2 Corinthians chapters 5 and 6 (which I am currently preaching through at Mentone). For example, in 6:2 God defines the age in which we are living. He does not say that this is a post-Christian or post-modern or post or pre anything age. Rather, the announcement is,

“I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.”

Not was, not might be, and not maybe one future day, but today. The epoch of history in which we live is the day of salvation. That’s exciting!

Is the current Australian discourse on religion a final gasp before we venture into a new and intolerant and irrational era of religious restrictions, or will common sense prevail? We don’t know yet. What interests me is the fact that talk about God and Christ and the Bible is filling newspapers paragraphs and trending on social media every day at the moment. Have not Christians been praying for opportunities to give the reason for the hope we have? Do we not ask God for conversations where introducing Jesus is a natural progression?

That day is today.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we can let this season slip past our attention, or we can engage in loving and useful ways.

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Here are 3 suggestions.

First, we can pray. Let us pray often, repeatedly, fervently for God to make known his Gospel love, just as he has shown us great mercy and kindness. Pray for our fellow Australians, regardless of their worldview and moral inclinations. If we are praying for them, we will have no time or desire to be spiteful or demeaning toward them.

We have the opportunity to break the cultural narrative and show Christ-like love to those who are vulnerable.  At Church this morning we prayed,

“Father in Heaven, help us to uphold your holiness and goodness. In an age of sexual confusion teach us clarity and to trust that your ways are good. May we present your Gospel with love and gentleness, patience and care. May Mentone Baptist Church be a safe place for people to investigate Christianity, to be welcomed and encouraged.”

Second, let us love

Be the best of friend, the most loyal work colleague, the gentle and helpful student, and be a kind voice on social media. Offer hospitality and ask permission to share the message that has changed our own lives.

Third, let us speak

In 2 Corinthian 5:11-18, the Apostle Paul employs 3 verbs to describe his intent in evangelising: persuasion, compulsion, and regard.

 “Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. 12 We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart. 13 If we are “out of our mind,” as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”

First, Christian evangelism is not compulsion, it is clear and passionate persuasion, presenting the facts of Jesus Christ and leaving it for people to make their decision. Second, it is not bigotry or ignorance motivating Christian evangelism but love; we don’t want anyone missing out on the astonishing benefits that come from knowing Jesus Christ. As one reads through the above portion of the Bible we don’t see any picture of oppression or forced faith, but freedom that surpasses any temporary offerings. Third, we ought to regard people not through the grid of any current cultural paradigm but through the sense of God’s good news about Jesus. This means we may not affirm every belief, idea, and action but we fight for the dignity of every person.

When it comes to the art of persuasion most often this is best done away from sharing thoughts and articles of social media, but instead taking an interest in the lives of people around us, listening to the dreams and fears of work colleagues and friends, and sharing how we believe Jesus is the ultimate answer.

In my opinion, the most unhelpful and loudest critics that I’ve heard during the Folau controversy are not from gay and lesbian Australians, but from comfortable and secure North Shore Sydneysiders who take virtue signaling to a new level. I have also heard about other social media interactions that hurt and insult people, and where gay and lesbians feel denigrated. Christians need to stand alongside gay and lesbian Aussies against such vitriol. A case in point is Israel Folau today speaking against those who have abused Magda Szubanski online for her sharing an opinion about the Rugby player.

This is no time to be sticking our heads in Bondi’s sand or holidaying in New Zealand. The whole nation is talking about Christianity. If God is right, and “now is the time of salvation”, let us be praying and loving and speaking.

The world’s best food is found in Menton(e)

Mentone has been awarded one of the world’s most prestigious culinary titles, “the world’s best restaurant.” This highly charged competition creates a stir every year as judges tour the world, noting the restaurants that offered them the finest dining experiences. Restaurants and Chefs rise to global attention, while others are shunned. Taste buds, noses, and eyes survey plates, tables, and venues, looking for originality, composition, and that good old subjective sense of ‘wow’.

In the recent award ceremony held in Singapore, the world’s best restaurant for 2019 has been given to Mentone! Yes, we are on the map! Global recognition has finally reached this beachside area.

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Ok, the award is for Mentone France, not Mentone in Melbourne. And in Mentone, they drop the final e, making it Menton. There does exist a close relationship between two towns for Mentone is named after Menton; just that one knows how to spell this English name and the other doesn’t!

The Menton restaurant that has been awarded this prestigious title is Mirazur.

Mirazur is described in the following way:

What makes it special: Unrivalled views of the French Riviera, three levels of cascading vegetable gardens churning out the sweetest produce and a team of outrageously talented cooks and front-of-house staff combine to make Mirazur the ultimate restaurant experience. Mauro Colagreco’s unique cuisine is inspired by the sea, the mountains and the restaurant’s own gardens, including Menton’s emblematic citrus fruits.”

I like to eat delicious food. I appreciate fine food. Susan and I once enjoyed a meal at last year’s “world’s best restaurant”, years before it was recognised as such.

It would be pretty cool if Mirazur had opened its doors in the Mentone of the south. We could do with a few locations for foodies. Mentone may not be a choice suburb for fine dining, but we do have a food experience of another kind, and I reckon it is even better. In contrast to this restaurant that sounds truly quite amazing, Mentone (Baptist Church) is serving up a very different meal. This meal costs a huge price and yet it is free. It is deeply satisfying and yet we are welcomed to eat and drink some more. It is intense in flavour and yet delicate on the palate. It is beautiful to behold and yet it is not pretentious.

At Mentone, we don’t expend all our energy on the packaging. No one is photographing what we serve. The building in which we meet looks as though it belongs to a vintage garage sale. The people are quite ordinary in appearance. The website doesn’t have the habit of making viewers drool at the sight of artistically plated courses. The meal, however, is worth everything.

The meal is in the message, and the message is about a person. It is God’s loving message about his Son, Jesus Christ. The message is one that engages the mind and moves the heart and feeds the soul.

Jesus said,

“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35)

Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” (John 6:27)

““Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)

This meal is regularly available to anyone who wants to visit Mentone, and indeed many of the other Churches around Melbourne that love Jesus. Churches are not interested in awards, community recognition, or popular adulations (or at least we ought not). We have been invited to eat at the grandest table, not because we are rich or famous or because we have the right contacts in the culinary world, but on account of a loving God who hates spiritual destitution and dereliction.

To the poor, to the hurting, to the hungry goes this invitation. A table filled not with egos but with gratitude, not with critics intent on deconstructing the slightest fault, but hearts and stomachs filled with unspeakable delight and joy.

I love good food. For one reason or another, I’ve had the opportunity to sit down at a table of some of the world’s great restaurants. These are memorable experiences, for which as a Christian I can acknowledge the creative genius of men and women and enjoy the astonishing tastes and smells of God’s creation. The best of food is like viewing a Picasso or Pollock, only that you get to eat it. But these delectable delights are momentary and passing compared to the food that God offers in Jesus Christ. In fact, heaven is described as a banquet, the supersize table where forever God’s family are welcomed to enjoy him and one another and a feast without ending. You see, Christianity doesn’t starve the intellect, the body, or the soul, the Christ of the Bible stimulates the senses and amazes us with the deepest satisfaction.

To those who can afford to eat out and enjoy the world’s best restaurants, there is better food available for your body and your soul. Why live for that which ends up in the toilet when we can eat food that gives eternal life?

To the majority who can never afford to pay for such a luxurious food experience, God offers food that will never spoil or perish, and that one day will make Kings and Chefs envious for that they passed it up in favour of a short-lived morsel.