Why Body Image is an Australian issue

Australian of the year 2023, Taryn Brumfitt, is a worthy winner who is fighting an issue that is literally aimed at saving the lives of children. Brumfitt came to prominence through her relentless work to fight for children who grow up hating their bodies. 

Brumfitt believes that issues surrounding children’s negative views of their bodies is “a paediatric health emergency.

“”We really need to help our kids across Australia and the world because the rates of suicide, eating disorders, anxiety, depression, steroid use, all on the increase related to body dissatisfaction.”

She argues that this relationship with our bodies results from ‘learned behaviour’. Key to her message is that “we weren’t born into the world hating our body”. In other words, our society is teaching and influencing our children to have negative thoughts about their bodies, which of course can lead to serious consequences. 

Brumfitt’s mission is to influence and encourage children to embrace their physicality, and not be defined by social influencers and so called culturally perfect images. 

Any parent with a daughter (and sons for that matter) is committed to the well-being of our children. Sadly, this isn’t always the case but it is true 98% of the time.  I imagine millions of parents, and Aussies more generally, resonate with and applaud the message from our new Australian of the year. We may or may not have first hand experience with body image disorders, but it is clear to most of us that Brumfitt is alerting us to a real problem that is capturing our young people. As Brumfitt testifies, it’s not only teenage girls who experience harmful views of their physical selves, but boys as well, and it is also present among young children, 

“It’s getting younger and younger I have to say, I only spoke to a six-year-old recently who was dieting”.

Photo by Nothing Ahead on Pexels.com

There is something right and beautiful about Taryn Brumfitt affirming the goodness of the human body.

Australia has an uncomfortable relationship with the human body. As I heard the news of our new Australian of the year,  it’s hard not to notice a massive disconnect, not in what Brumfitt said in her Australia Day speech but in the broader narrative in our society. You see, there exists a sizeable disjunction between the message Brumfitt is advocating and what is now mainstream thinking about the human body. 

I don’t know Brumfitt’s views about transgenderism and how she makes sense of this new and sudden wave of bodily denial, but one thing is for certain, her calls to embrace our physical body is at odds with the ideology that is now sweeping our society and being forcibly taught and embraced from GP rooms to school classrooms and TikTok ‘programs’.

Our culture has adopted a modern day Gnosticism, where the ‘truest’ self is divorced from the physical. We are taught that the real you isn’t the physical body you inhabit but the immaterial desire and feelings that one experiences in the mind.  Gender has been divorced from sex and personal identity cut away from physicality. We can’t of course reduce our humanness to physicality for we are spiritual and social beings and thinking and feeling beings. We are more than flesh and blood and DNA but we are not less than those things. 

We are witnessing a generation of young people who no longer feel comfortable in their own skin, but are now taught from school to TikTok that their physical bodies betray them, and they may well be living in denial of their true selves.

The end result is that now 34% of 18-24 no longer believe they are heterosexual, embodied beings attracted to the opposite sex, but rather they are spread across an imprecise and growing spectrum of self-defining and often bodily denying sexuality and gender. 

Many girls and boys now undertake psychological and medical pathways to transition away from their physical sex. The number of young people beginning hormonal medications, psychological treatments, and eventual surgical mutilation of the body, is skyrocketing. We are talking about an increase in gender dysphoria by 1000% in just the space of a few years. Call me, Wiliam of Ockham but this drastic and sudden increase cannot be explained by natural selection. There is something else in the water. Indeed, the iceberg that looms beneath the surface is rightly scary and we’re ill equipped to do little more than chip away at it. 

While gender related rejection of the body is deeply personal and impacts the individual, the worldview attached is fast becoming compulsory across all spheres of life.  For instance, in the United Kingdom, women are having to fight the government to prevent male rapists from being sent to women’s prisons because the man wishes to identify as female. The World Athletics body has agreed to let transgender women compete against women. The next women’s soccer world cup will be open to men competing (those who say they are women).  And when women speak up, they are ridiculed, ostracised and at times threatened. Take note of how the disgusting treatment toward JK Rowling. 

Do we see the confusion? Here I say confusion because one wants to think the best of people‘s intentions. Parents who see their children in torment will do anything to find relief. And so if a doctor or counsellor says transition, then I understand them trusting the advice of the professionals. But surely there is also an ear of hypocrisy as well. How can we preach on the one hand, be comfortable in your body, and then insist on the other,  reject your body and have it mutilated and permanently damaged in the name of this Gnosticism?

In her book Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters, journalist Abigail Shreier explores the transgender phenomenon. She blames an ideology that has captured the heart of western cultures. It’s what Carl Truman refers to as ‘expressive individualism. Gender expression has become the trend, and because it’s now described in terms of human rights,  no one is allowed to question, doubt or help adjust a child’s sense of identity. 

In today’s Australia even questioning a child’s ‘felt’ gender is paramount to the worse kind of blasphemy. In Victoria, parents, teachers, pastors,  and pretty much anyone can find themselves charged by the police and imprisoned should they not fully affirm and support a person’s preferred gender identity. We are now forcibly required to ignore the physical body and appearance. 

Leaving aside the elephant in the room, it is a good thing when our Australians of the year highlight important social issues that impact the lives of real people. It’s one of the gains in recent years that has been awarded to us through this prestigious accolade.

Those living with discomfort and disconnect with their bodies need our care, not hatred, our kindness not our complicity with a dehumanising project. As much as awareness of these issues helps and as much as positive thinking and imaging may benefit youth as they learn to live in their body, I think Christianity has something to add.  The Bible gives us what I believe is an even better message, one that is more secure. The ultimate resolution doesn’t lay in the self, for the self is existentially unstable. If the best of me can fail and disappoint, what about the rest of me? If this was not the case, we wouldn’t have a generation of Australians journeying down this dangerous and harmful pathway to physical destruction and mental anx. The Bible gives us a better story and greater hope. 

Psalm 139 exclaims, 

“For you created my inmost being;

    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

    your works are wonderful,

    I know that full well.

My frame was not hidden from you

    when I was made in the secret place,

    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes saw my unformed body;

    all the days ordained for me were written in your book

    before one of them came to be.”

Grounding our personhood in the knowledge that we are wonderfully made by God, is liberating and securing. The Bible’s story doesn’t end there. The Scriptures also acknowledge ways we often hide from ourselves (and from God). The Bible points out the realities of the darkness in the world and in our own hearts. The story however doesn’t end with darkness and despair, for the Scriptures move us to the culmination of the story, 

“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—  and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Hebrews 2:14-18)

There is a constancy in our world of body image flaws and troubles. There is an anchor for all the spiritual and material wants and sins. This Jesus, the eternal Son of God, didn’t abandon the body; he became human for us. He entered the physical and spiritual turmoil that fills the world, taking its sins and shame in order to bring redemption and life. He understands. He makes atonement. He helps. That is a good news message for Australians today. 

Don’t let the Christ message slip off the radar 

Carols by Candle Light at the Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne is an annual pilgrimage for thousands of Melbournians. For many more, the 3-hour Christmas extravaganza provides background Christmas mood music on tv and radio for families madly wrapping Christmas and preparing food for the big day.

Perhaps it’s my grinch-like tendencies, but my enthusiasm for watching what is essentially a pentecostal styled pop concert (or Wiggles for grown-ups!) doesn’t appeal to my musical sensibilities. It’s hard not to notice the jarring vibrato of Australian artists singing the most sublime truths known to the world while disbelieving them in their hearts and lives. 

Half of my readers are probably letting out a quiet nod of agreement (and the other half now have confirmation that Murray is the grinch). With that confession (or rather a criticism) out of the way, I want to share something that did strike me even as the show played on in the background of my home.

One of our nephews was performing and so we had instructions from the family to keep an eye (and ear) open for him. The band played on through our television when two quite wonderful performances came on stage, one after the other, both causing me to pause eating  Christmas lunch ahead of schedule. 

Silvie Paladino sang the not so Christmas carol, ‘How great thou art’, and then the Central Australian Aboriginal Women’s Choir sang an old German carol in their own native tongue, Western Arrernte and Pitjantjatjara language. This 19th century carol arrived in central Australia when Lutheran missionaries came to share the good news of Jesus. Generations later, these songs about Jesus have formed part of the local culture and are now been sung beautifully in aboriginal languages. The choral performance was indeed a special moment.

Anyone who watches Candles by Candlelight will know that the music is mishmash of secular and sacred songs. Rudolph with his red nose and Santa Claus coming are intermingled with ‘The First Noel’, and without any sense of distinguishing between fiction and fact. The entire evening is a jumble of feel good old time tradition. 

Silvie Paladino’s song choice, at least for me, interrupted the show in the same way a lit candle intrudes on a darkened room.

She sang, 

“And when I think that God, His Son not sparing

Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in

That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing

He bled and died to take away my sin

Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee

How great Thou art, how great Thou art”.

These words reflect the heart of the Christian message. Christmas is about preparing for and pointing to that cross.

I don’t know about you, but when I heard those words, something good stirred inside. We’ve done a fine job sanitising the birth of Jesus, washing over many of the particulars that make the incarnation so extraordinary and thwart with danger and awe. However, it’s not so easy to give a PG rating to that bloodstained cross. 2,000 years on and that cross remains the most ignominious moment in history. We like the Christmas part of the story, but the death part? No one has lived as pure and innocent a life as Jesus, and yet he willingly walked the road to crucifixion and experienced the worst of evil. The cross is both the world’s greatest horror and the world’s greatest hope. The cross stupefies human power trips and intellectual exercises. The cross exposes human hubris, the reality of evil, the holiness of God, and the nature of true Divine love. 

It’s hard enough convincing Aussies today of the reality of Jesus’ birth, let alone the death absorbing and life giving hope through Jesus’ death and resurrection. And yet, as Silvie Paladino sang, ‘That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing, he bled and died to take away my sin’. 

As I read my Bible, I read something about the death of Jesus every week. Each Sunday as I have the privilege and responsibility to preach at church, I have the opportunity to explain this ancient story that continues and will forever define every generation and part of the world. At Christmas, I want to hear about the cross. The Bible tells us, that Jesus’ birth is designed to prepare for that cross and to miss it is to keep wonders from peoples’ minds and hearts.

Stan Grant wrote a moving piece on ABC about the Nick Cave concert he recently attended. 

“But I sensed a space between the religion that Nick Cave speaks of and the desire of many in the audience for some connection.

They wanted the personal touch of Nick Cave the rock star. But did they want the touch of God?

Some, perhaps many, just like me, no doubt would have. But I could not help but think that many – if not most – in the audience would have been more comfortable with a spiritual experience.

This was a secular audience. How many of those with their hands outreaching would likely be found in the pews of church?”

Stan Grant points out, as does Nick Cave, the expressive individualism that dominates our current cultural sensibilities isn’t producing the freedom and life that we are looking for. Rather, it agitates and further debilitates the human longing. Stan Grant reflects on his indigenous heritage and points us to the same saviour whom the Central Australian Aboriginal Women’s Choir sang about and whom Silvie Paladino sought to highlight on Christmas Eve

“In times of grief, catastrophe or tragedy, do the secular shibboleths of reason or science or law or rights fill the God-shaped hole?

Cave says the modern faiths of politics or identity don’t answer those questions for him.

Religion matters, church matters to Nick Cave. It is where he draws closer to the crucified Christ.”

If this is the real thing, then the hymn writer is right to exclaim, 

“Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee

How great Thou art, how great Thou art”

How much better is the story that God is there and he is greater and better than we ever imagined. It is more satisfying and exciting to consider this Jesus story than to carry around the baggage of self-hope and self fulfilment and self defining reality. 

The Apostle Paul explains it this way, 

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)

Here’s my final word for 2022, don’t dismiss the songs we sang on Christmas day. Don’t disregard the message we heard as we visited Church over Christmas. Instead, consider, that maybe, just perhaps we ought to take another look at this message of the Christ. 

Essendon apologizes to Andrew Thorburn

Religious freedom received an early Christmas present this year with Essendon Football Club today issuing an apology to Andrew Thorburn. 

The forced resignation of Andrew Thorburn in October, following less than 24 hours in the job as Essendon’s new CEO, was one of the biggest stories in Victoria for 2022. After journalists dug into his church’s website, they found sermons where both homosexual practices and abortion were referred to as sinful. 

It was a classic case of cut and paste; find something controversial and ignore the rest. There was one insensitive analogy contained in one of the quoted sermons, but otherwise, the views expressed by Thorburn’s church are what you will find in any Christian Church across Australia. City on a Hill, is a mainstream Anglican Church that preaches the sermon Gospel that is common around Australia and which is deeply embedded in historic Christianity. In today’s age of tolerance and diversity, classical Christian views are considered today’s heresy and worthy of public humiliation and even loss of employment. Thorburn’s sin was that he attends COAH and until recently served as Chair of the Council. 

The Essendon board clearly thought that were acting with the backing of the new moral majority. Certainly, there was plenty of outrage found in printed media and Premier Daniel Andrews was quick to grab the footy and run with it. Perhaps the more accurate metaphor was that Andrews tackled the man without the ball! He said,  

“those views are absolutely appalling.”

“I don’t support those views, that kind of intolerance, that kind of hatred, bigotry, is just wrong.

“Those sort of attitudes are simply wrong and to dress that up as anything other than bigotry is just obviously false.”

Business columnist for The AgeElizabeth Knight, argued that the Thorburn case is proof that religion and business don’t mix and Christians holding to, you know, Christian things, should be excluded from the business world.

“Business doesn’t mix with religion in the same way it doesn’t mix with pleasure. Some would argue that AFL is a religion among its legion of fans, but first and foremost it’s a business. Andrew Thorburn and Essendon’s management that stupidly appointed him as the chief executive should have understood this.”

“A decade or two ago, corporations and their stakeholders may have tolerated Thorburn’s association with a church with strong views on the homosexuality and abortion. But not today.

Whether Thorburn personally holds those extreme opinions is irrelevant, Essendon is a valuable and highly recognised brand, and it cannot afford to be tarnished by any proximity to views that are deemed offensive by a big chunk of its fan base and the broader community.”

At the time, Andrew Thorburn released a statement in which he fairly summed up the situation,  

“ today it became clear to me that my personal Christian faith is not tolerated or permitted in the public square.”

While Essendon FC initially responded in tune with the public cheer squad, they almost certainly acted outside the law. Legal experts have for months suggested that Thorburn has a case against the football club for unlawful religious discrimination. 

Andrew Thorburn engaged with lawyers and has now engaged with Essendon. Today, the football club has formally apologised to him and donated an undisclosed sum to an ethics institute. Thorburn has agreed to drop all legal action against the club. 

Will others follow suit and apologise for their role in this unnecessary saga?

This is a welcome outcome. One, it communicates to the business world that you can’t push out Christians (and people of other faiths) from the workforce on account of their religious associations or beliefs. More importantly, as someone who has been watching at some distance, I am thankful for the way Andrew Thorburn has responded throughout. I didn’t read or hear any vindictive words or slanderous retorts, as did fill much of the discourse surrounding the story. Rather, he approached the club and offered to help on a volunteer basis. He didn’t demand financial recompense as he might have done, instead, the agreed sum is going to a charity. 

The Bible verse that comes to mind as I learn of how Andrew Thorburn has behaved is 1 Peter 3:9.

“Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.”

While the law may have come to Thorburn’s defence in this instance, Victorians are very much aware of how religious freedoms have diminished somewhat in recent years. And given the Government and current cultural preferences, these freedoms are likely to further narrow in times ahead. So while we were shocked by the appalling treatment Thorburn received by Essendon, our Premier and others, I’m grateful for the gracious way Thorburn has responded, and it’s one that we may do well to consider for ourselves when that day arrives. 

You see, Christians can hold to Jesus’ teaching about marriage and about life, and treat others with kindness and grace. Accepting the Bible’s vision for human life and human sexuality doesn’t breed bigotry, but a profound desires for the best for others. Holding these things together may be anathema to our zealous culture, but they can and do belong. Christians don’t choose between truth and love, or between grace and goodness. Indeed, this is one of the wonders of the Christmas message.

When it comes to Christmas, once we’ve unwrapped all the pageantry, presents, and tinsel, we find the message of God come to earth. The infant born in Bethlehem was the universe’s maker, true God from true God. God didn’t leave heaven to experience the most ordinary of beginnings because his view of the human condition is one of a premiership winning footy team. God saw helpless, hopeless, sinful people breaking all the rules of the game and thumbing their noses at the umpire. Knowing this, God determined, in love I want to redeem them.

The Bible text for my Christmas Day sermon puts it this way, 

“ we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” (Hebrews 2:9)

Today is a good day for Victoria. Christmas Day points us to an even better day that can be known every day regardless of how the wind is blowing in old Melbourne town. 

Who am I? Psalm 139 gives a sublime answer

Who am I? Who are we? How can we even begin to navigate these questions?

I don’t know who needs to read these words, but I pray that they will reach many who are finding life distressing, overwhelming, and as though they are fighting a hopeless battle against despair.

This week I’ve been meditating on a prayer, Psalm 139. It is both poetry and prayer, communicating extraordinary truths about both God and us. It will be my privilege to teach Psalm 139  at Mentone Baptist Church on the first Sunday of 2023.  But I thought I would preempt this upcoming sermon and share some reflections on this Psalm of David here on the blog.

I am hearing so many stories of people struggling with mental health issues, men and women trying to understand questions about personal identity and worth, and families trying to keep everything together in the midst of financial hardship. 

Today, The Age headlined this story, ‘Mental health disorders increase among children as young as 18 months’. Yesterday, the media reported the dire situation facing families trying to access mental health care for their children.

There is also much anger and distrust being vented in society; much of it is justified, while some is misplaced. Far from communities becoming closer together, we are becoming more fractious.

Just as lurking behind the excitement and successes of the Football World Cup are terrible injustices and abuses, underneath the veneer of Australia’s prosperity are millions of Aussies feeling lost and searching for meaning and hope.

This is where Psalm 139 offers us insights into God and ourselves that are wonderful and necessary, poignant and so refreshing. My aim here isn’t to offer a detailed explanation of every word or sentence, but hopefully to say something of use that will encourage you the reader to ponder the words of Psalm 139 yourself, and even to share it with others.

The author of this prayer is David, the famous King of Israel. Despite his position ruling over a nation, he addresses God in a personal way. For David, God isn’t a remote or abstract Divine Being who is somewhere responsible for everything. He calls God, ‘Lord’, which is God’s special name given to his covenant people for them to address Him. To know God as Lord is to enjoy a personal connection and relationship with Him.

The Psalm consists of 4 stanzas. I’ll quote each stanza in turn, and offer a brief comment about each one. 

1. God knows us intimately

You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.

You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.

You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.

Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.

You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.

This is a message that’s worth us getting our heads around: We are not unknown to God. In fact, David recognises how the Lord knows him better than David knows himself. We all have someone idea about our deepest convictions, desires, fears, and joys. We have some ability to hide aspects of our personality and ambitions from others. We might even successfully block out aspects of hearts from our own consciousness. 

God however sees everything. He wouldn’t be much of a God if he doesn’t. David talks about how God peers into our minds and knows our thoughts. He knows what I’m going say before the words leave my tongue. This isn’t some spooky kind of trolling, but a picture of God who both understands us and who cares for us. For example, the metaphor in verse 5 of, ‘you lay your hand upon me, speaks of a gentleness and love that is active in God toward us. 

I love David’s reaction in verse 6.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.

He isn’t just saying that this is an intellectual absurdity and therefore cannot be true. David’s point is,  ‘God, you blow my mind’.  God is above him in wisdom and comprehension. Einstein and Mozart are like simpletons, compared to the mind of God. This knowledge is formidable but not scary because this personal knowing is from the God who cares for us. This knowledge brings David comfort and assurance; God understands me.

2. We can’t hide from God.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?

If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,

10 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.

11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”

12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

Jonah famously tried to do a runner and escape God, as though we can outstride or out-think God. As David exclaims, where can we hide from the God who made the universe? In our bedroom? In the desert? Under the ocean? What if I close my mind to God and eat the key? 

Running away from God is futile and David knows it. As he considers the God of the Bible, he doesn’t want to remove God but instead rest in Him. Because God is truly God, we are safe in Him.

3. You made me

13 For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.

15 My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.

These verses are replete with exquisite images that fill life with meaning and awe. Take for example, the stunning metaphor in verse 13, ‘God knitted us together in the womb.’

No wonder, David’s mind is again blown away, 

17 How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
    How vast is the sum of them!

18 Were I to count them,
    they would outnumber the grains of sand—
    when I awake, I am still with you.

These words are true not only for David but also for every human being. This testimony has profound meaning and implications for how we view other people and also ourselves. 

As the artist is devoted to his/her work and as a composer imprints their own glory in the music, so each and every human being has intrinsic value, glory and worth. Monet’s Water Lilies were no mistake and Schumann’s Piano Concerto was no misstep or blunder. You are not a gaffe or error. You are not a waste. You are not insignificant. We are profoundly known and loved by our creator God. 

4. God, change me

19 If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
    Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!

20 They speak of you with evil intent;
    your adversaries misuse your name.

21 Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
    and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?

22 I have nothing but hatred for them;
    I count them my enemies.

I appreciate how these verses may make some of us cringe or feel a little uncomfortable. Aren’t we meant to forgive everyone? Should we not look for the best in people?  

There are a number of threads appearing in this final stanza, which are each true and somehow need to be held together despite apparent tensions or even contradictions with other parts of the Bible. 

  1. David is expressing to God how he is feeling as he reacts to enemies who are seeing his demise. 
  2. It’s okay to long for justice and for God to punish evil. We don’t want evil to win out in the end, but for wrongdoing to be punished, whether the perpetrators are individuals or corporations or institutions. Asking God to bring justice and to judge wickedness is an entirely right and good prayer. Christians may not stop at that point, for we also long for mercy and forgiveness, but we also believe in and trust in God who is righteous and who will hold the world account.
  3. David’s enemies were often political, whether rebels attempting to usurp his throne or competing nations who waged war against Israel.  David’s prayer reflects the system of government that existed and set the boundaries of God’s people at that particular time. This isn’t our situation today.  The Church isn’t a nation-state or system of government. As we discover in the New Testament, our King is the true David, Jesus Christ. When churches are oppressed, our answer isn’t to go to war or to hunt down assassins, but “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse” (Romans 12:14) and “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” Luke 6:27).   
  4. It is important to continue reading as the Psalm doesn’t end at verse 22, but with verses 23-24. David doesn’t end on a note of vengeance but with a plea for God to examine his (my) own heart.

23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.

24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

It seems as though David’s aware that strong emotions can be misleading, and mixed up, and that he himself might have sin lurking about in his own life. David is praying, Lord is, sift through my prayer because you know what’s true and what’s not true, and where I’m right and where I’m wrong. You are able to do this because you know me well.  Where and if there’s anything offensive in me, lead away from it and to the way everlasting. 

David isn’t self-righteous or strident or judgmental. His prayer is, Lord, change me. This is of course a far cry from our cultural sermons which defines change as heterodox. Our prayers today are less, ‘Lord, change me, they are more often, ‘God affirm everything about me’. Our 21st Century prayers often finish at verse 22, judge my oppressors and justify me. 

No wonder our streets and suburbs are filling with growing vexation, anxiety, and melancholy. The burden we are placing on ourselves is too great. 

This Psalm can speak both of wonderment and of wrong. Wonderment in God who made us and wrong in what others do and even what I have done. Our culture can’t sustain this tension. The Bible is able to both speak of immense value and worth of every human being and also remind us of profound sinfulness. Any time when we hold onto one of these truths and not the other, we are only a short journey away from an identity crisis and social catastrophe. David was conscious of both and he found resolution and peace in the fact that hope isn’t found in himself, but in a God who can be trusted. 

The ultimate and final fulfilment of this Psalm is found in that little child born in Bethlehem whom millions around Australia will soon be singing about as Christmas approaches. 

The book of Hebrews reminds us,

“we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

10 In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. 11 Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters” (Hebrews 2:9-11)

A Christian responds to Victoria’s State Election

On Saturday morning before going to vote at the Victorian State election, I sent out this tweet, quoting Psalm 146,

“Do not put your trust in princes,

    in human beings, who cannot save.

When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;

    on that very day their plans come to nothing.

Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,

    whose hope is in the Lord their God.”

This morning, the day after the election, I retweeted these Bible verses. The reason being, the words of the Psalm remain true, before and after the votes had been cast and counted.

 I understand that in quoting Psalm 146, some people might be a little annoyed and perhaps a tad angry,  especially among voters disappointed by the election result. I certainly don’t mean to sound unfeeling or facile, as though the election was unimportant. I happen to believe elections do matter because government plays a significant role in the life of society; controlling much power and influence. After all, Government is a legitimate institution that falls under the banner of God’s common grace. It may not be the main game, but government nonetheless plays an important supporting role. 

It is also the case that Government has less influence in setting the direction for society as it is about providing the legal, economic, and social mechanisms by which society moves in the direction that it is already preferencing. The old adage about politics being downstream of culture is complicated but still true. 

The reason behind sharing the Psalm 146 quotation is that I’m wondering if we are attaching too much responsibility on Government for fixing social ills and rectifying economic currents. This is true for both the left and the right of politics. Have we become too dependent upon Parliaments and MPs for addressing what was once the prevue of churches, synagogues, media, and an array of social organisations? If we have lost trust in those civil and religious institutions (which seems to be the case), faith in our governments is also in sharp decline. There lies perhaps some of our misplaced faith and therefore frustration and despair at the political scene. We are not meant to burden Government with all our hopes and demands and needs. A healthy society needs to spread that load. Indeed, a truly healthy society would not require government to create what we have in Australia: a society wrapped in red tape and wads of laws and rules stickier than gaffer tape.

There are better governments and worse; it’s rarely a zero-sum game.  More Victorians than not prefer the given election outcome over the alternatives. After all, that is what the votes indicate. Many Victorians are pleased with the outcome, with many others perplexed or angered, and more than a few are underwhelmed by the choice of candidates that were on offer. I suspect there is also a deep suspicion of and discontent toward political parties across the spectrum. Sometimes it’s a case of choosing the least bad option available, or at least that’s how many voters are feeling: I don’t like this candidate, but at least they’re not the other candidates! 

How did we respond to the election at church today? This morning my church prayed for the new state government, as we do regularly for whoever is in charge at Spring Street and in Canberra. And we also prayed for our local representatives in Parliament. That’s what Christians do. It’s one of the few constancies in the unpredictable world of politics; churches pray for those in authority. To the reluctant among us, let’s consider it this way, if the Apostle Paul could pray for the Roman Emperor, then we ought to pray for our governments. 

We should pray for our political representatives because they carry significant responsibility. Given the platform that we build for our leaders (or scaffold as it may be), praying is the right thing to do. Of course, government isn’t the big game in town, but its role impacts life at every level and therefore great wisdom, patience, integrity and compassion are necessary.  

Without some kind of cultural reorientation, I suspect Governments will become bigger and bolder. It is interesting to see how Australians, or at least Victorians, have become more comfortable with authoritarian personality and political styled governing. The myth of the convict, bushranger, and nonchalant Aussie digger may still exist in local sporting clubs, but as a people group, we are quite accepting of big government and monocratic-styled leadership. I’m not arguing a case either way here but simply noting the public trend.

Of course, my eyesight is myopic and so looking at the next 4 years is an imprecise art. There are, after all, no more prophets! My guess is that in the name of freedom, more laws and regulations will be introduced, and in the name of economic prosperity, more debt inducing spending will occur. If we follow the now predominant current, I anticipate that we’ll see tighter controls on social behaviour, fewer parental rights and a more pronounced religion-socio education drive.

I would not be surprised if we see religious freedoms further eroded during this next term of government. That’s no scare campaign, I’m simply noting the growing list of legislative changes that have been enacted in Victoria in recent years: from removing freedoms from religious organisations and schools to employ people of faith, to banning some religious conversations and prayers with threats of criminal charges and prison time, and now to Premiers interfering with workplace appointments because a football club appointed a Christian man who also serves on the council at his local church. I’d be surprised if the cultural vultures do not require more blood to be taken.

Of course, what Victoria is experiencing is simply a few steps ahead of the rest of the country and it’s indicative of an entire part of the world that has not only lost its moorings but is consciously tearing them apart and doing so without realising that without these foundations, we are left to be smashed about by the wind and waves.

So I go back to the verse in which I began, Christians should not look to government to be the saviour of society. Don’t put your trust in princes and premiers. Honour them and pray for them, but let’s not expect government to rescue society from the deepest and darkest of places.

This is one of the flaws present in left-leaning politics; it believes Government is the answer.  Hence it’s no surprise to see legislative agendas enveloping society around a new moral religion. God is optional in the new religion, but the worship of the sexualised individual is compulsory. Anyone thinking otherwise just isn’t listening to Daniel Andrews and Victoria’s Human Rights Commissioner and a hundred other bureaucrats working with the Government. 

There is a counterpoint emerging on the right side of politics that is also deeply concerning, and perhaps more so. Daniel Andrews may talk about how his catholicism influences his life, but people can see through the disconnection. Christian nationalism, on the other hand, has started to captivate some pew sitters and pastors and therefore it is more likely to create issues for Gospel ministry in Victoria. This theorem is thankfully marginal and I pray it doesn’t take hold as it is doing in parts of the United States, but nonetheless, I don’t wait for 100 mosquitoes to enter my house before dealing with the first one.

Christians, be careful of voices that speak more about politics than they do the Great Commission and use more words of anger than they do words of compassion and mercy. By all means, as commitment to common grace and out of love for your neighbour, keep government accountable. Christians might join a political party and stand for Parliament, but even the most Christian of political leaders and most Christian of political agendas isn’t going to redeem society. That kind of thinking ignores the testimony of Scripture, namely that the gospel is God’s power of salvation and the church is God’s big game in town. Our churches are more likely today to sit on the sideline of culture and be ignored by many,  but nonetheless, the church is the centrepiece of God’s work. Therefore, whatever you do in the name of political inspiration, aspiration or disappointment, don’t confuse it with the Gospel, don’t conflate common grace with saving grace, and don’t fuse the church with the state. 

The best way we can love our fellow Victorians is by serving your church and being clear on the gospel.

I’ll finish up here with one final word about misplacing hope and faith in political elections. During the Premier Daniel Andrews victory speech last night, he said, “Friends. Hope always defeats hate.”

The statement is true, although one might like to fill the word hope with some content and also define hate as something more than an imprecise aspersion on your opponents. 

Also, the irony of this comment was not lost. The election campaign was about as spiteful and negative a campaign as I’ve seen, and it was true across the major parties. And yes, our Premier’s chosen rhetoric can at times be described as hateful. In fact, I can think of few political leaders excising as much hateful language as Mr Andrews, especially as he describes people of faith in Victoria. His verbal attacks are often little more than vicious mischaracterisations of people (think Andrew Thorburn), but verbal attacks of this kind garner wide support in Victoria because it fits the religious narrative that now dominates the horizon. 

Daniel Andrews is not only an advocate but a victim of a worldview that sees all other views as anathema and a danger to society. The new dogma that he seems to preach demands that we either agree and follow the new moral absolutes or we belong to the devil. Love means full acceptance and tolerance means public affirmation, and any diverging from the narrow path is justification for public humiliation by our Premier and others. It’s a tricky path though because the definition of acceptance and tolerance are continually changing, like the staircases at Hogwarts. Orthodoxy one week is heresy the next, as public figures are finding out once they’re cancelled. 

 I am forever grateful to Jesus who didn’t affirm everything about me, and who didn’t accept some of the desires of my heart. God did something far greater and more loving. God disagreed and even called out my living as sin. The Bible even says it’s worthy of death, and yet God loved disagreeable people and his only Son gave his life on the cross. So yes, hope has defeated hate. 

Biblical Critical Theory is launched

Last night in Melbourne, Christopher Watkin’s new book, Biblical Critical Theory: How the Bible’s Unfolding Story Makes Sense, was launched. There will be further launch events in Sydney, UK and the USA over the coming days.

The room at RTC (Reformed Theological College) was filled with many uni students, academics, pastors in attendance, and many others from various works of life. The food, wine, and conversations kept flowing late into the night (in the end I had to ask people to go home!). Each one of the 4 speeches last night was impressive and interesting, reflecting on the content of Chris’ writing (of course!) and the value this book may bring to the world of thought, university, church, and society.

The only downside of the evening was that we couldn’t get our hands on enough copies of the book. The first print was sold out even prior to its formal release date. People took a number and we swirled those little pieces of paper in a large bowl and then picked out numbers. 12 very excited persons (think of the atmosphere for a winning auction bid), then purchased a signed copy of Biblical Critical Theory.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. As a reviewer recently said of Biblical Critical Theory, all the hype really isn’t exaggerated, and each of the addresses last night, given by Dr Sarah Irving-Stonebroker, Mr Barney Zwartz, and Dr Andrew Moody, testified to this. I am hoping that these talks may become available on The Gospel Coalition Australia website in days to come.

Allow me to share what I said at the beginning of the evening and the prayer in which I closed the event.

“Good evening and welcome. On behalf of The Gospel Coalition Australia, it is wonderful to see you all this evening for this special event.

My name is Murray Campbell. I serve on the National Council and State committee for The Gospel Coalition and I serve as the Senior Pastor at Mentone Baptist church. It is a joy to call Chris a friend and brother. I’ve had the privilege to know Chris and Ali for the past 9 years and have followed his work and writing with great eagerness and interest and benefit.

We are here to launch Christopher Watkin’s new book, Biblical Critical Theory: How the Bible’s Unfolding Story Makes Sense

The author of the monumental work the City of God, Augustine, lived during the turbulent times of the Roman Empire crumbling.

Augustine wasn’t from the City of Rome, although he would visit during the course of his life. He was born in the small provincial North African town of Thagaste. He would later live in Carthage. Yet, Augustine’s influence reached Rome and throughout the Empire, and indeed even throughout the world today. 

Perhaps Yorkshire is a bit like Thagaste, and Melbourne is a modern-day Carthage.

Biblical Critical Theory: How the Bible’s Unfolding Story Makes Sense offers readers a comprehensive view of the world through the lens of the Bible. 

Chris’ writing is clear, irenic, and profound. Chris understands the complexity of both the Bible and our culture. The work is deeply biblical and culturally masterful.

Time will tell how important this work will become, but I suggest that this is a significant body of thought that we will do well to read slowly and carefully and consider with seriousness.

Tonight we have 3 guest speakers with us who are each going to give a short address speaking to the book. 

Dr Sarah Irving Stonebraker is a Senior Lecturer in Modern European History at the University of Western Sydney. 

Barney Zwartz is Senior Fellow at the Centre for Public Christianity and was the Religions Editor at the The Age for many years

Dr Andrew Moody is a Melbourne-based theologian and Editorial Director for The Gospel Coalition Australia. 

I’d like to invite Dr Christopher Watkin forward and hand over to him.”

“Our Father in heaven, we thank you for the mind and understanding you have given Chris. We thank you for this book written to help us understand your world and life in it. We pray that you will use Chris’ writing to give people confidence in the Bible, to see that it is a fountain of knowledge and wisdom and goodness, and a lens through which we can understand the world. 

May it be read widely and deeply and be part of that chain of Christian thought that echoes through the generations, to point people to your Son.

We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen

Churches across Victoria had a great Sunday

Praise God for the good news of Jesus Christ that was preached across Victorian churches yesterday. In a weird kind of way, our newspaper friends seem to be obsessed with the casual clothes being worn by those speaking from the front, but whether in a t-shirt and jeans or in dressed in a robe of some sort, Christ was preached and for that, I say, Amen. Instead of throwing eggs at all of the folk who’ve been deriding Christians and churches this week, we prayed for them and longed for them to grasp how good is God’s grace.

While Christian churches enjoyed time together and welcomed visitors,  I noticed there were a few religious voices preaching on the street corner from a different book. They are unhappy with Guy Mason and Andrew Thorburn, and Christians like them. Some have even come out in support of Essendon Football Club.

Writing in the Guardian, Uniting Church minister, Elenie Poulos, suggested that Andrew Thorburn’s exit from Essendon Football Club wasn’t a religious freedom failure.

“It is about leadership and organisational values. As many commentators and engaged observers have already pointed out, Thorburn’s appointment appears to have been a failure of the recruitment process. He found himself leading two organisations with values that clashed, one just happened to be a religious organisation.”

It seems as though a few people have bought into this theory.

One Melbourne Baptist repeated the rumour, 

“It isn’t controversial or problematic to suggest that someone can’t lead two organisations with opposing values simultaneously. City on a Hill is a church organisation that espouses a very specific set of views on women and sexuality, among other things. They do not allow women to be ministers or to preach. They do not allow LGBT people full participation in the church. They have particular views on divorce and remarriage. The AFL have a different set of views. They clearly promote LGBT inclusion and equal rights for women. It’s clear that you couldn’t possibly lead with integrity toward these two opposing visions. 

The former Essendon CEO was not sacked for being a Christian and was not punished for going to a particular church. He was asked to choose which organisation he would lead. He made his choice. That’s how religious freedom works.

Essendon’s grievous error was in failing to have the conversation before he was appointed. That’s on them.”

These attempts to reconstruct events that transpired only a few days ago is like returning to the scene of the crime and trying to hide the murder weapon while everyone is looking on. 

As we know, revisionists are often the ones who write the history books, so it’s important to challenge this disinformation. Anyone who has read the Essendon Football Club’s statement and read Andrew Thorburn’s statements, listened to Premier Daniel Andrews, and a host of journalists and commentators, will know that this issue is precisely about the man’s religious beliefs and his association with a mainstream Christian Church. 

Let us be clear, the only reason this became an issue is that the church Andrew Thorburn belongs to holds views about homosexuality and abortion that contravene the dogma of 21st Century authoritarian secularism. If only he had chosen the right kind of church, one that our Premier approves. If only Thorburn was Chairing one of those dying progressive churches in inner city Melbourne. We know the ones, we drive by and we see the, ‘for sale’ signs on the front gate. 

Trying to split hairs over being Chair of the Board s vs being a church member, or belonging to church vs holding religious beliefs, is ridiculous and ignores the very words spoken by the various parties involved.

Andrew Thorburn knows why he was forced to resign,

“today it became clear to me that my personal Christian faith is not tolerated or permitted in the public square”.

Essendon has even admitted that had they known about the beliefs taught at Thorburn’s church they would not have hired him in the first place. The Victorian Premier made it clear to the entire State that Christians holding to what are essentially normal Christian beliefs, is unacceptable. It is not without reason that many Victorian Christians are now wondering when they will be asked to leave their places of employment. 

Ro Allen, the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner, is under no illusion. Allen told the ABC,

“It’s definitely a values conflict to employ someone who’s not just a passive member of a church [but on the board]…They’ve [City on a Hill] actively worked against LGBTI people.”

By the way, both of those comments are untrue.

If that’s not enough to convince the revisionists, read  what The Age’s Business Columnist, Elizabeth Knight, said,

“A decade or two ago, corporations and their stakeholders may have tolerated Thorburn’s association with a church with strong views on the homosexuality and abortion. But not today.

Whether Thorburn personally holds those extreme opinions is irrelevant, Essendon is a valuable and highly recognised brand, and it cannot afford to be tarnished by any proximity to views that are deemed offensive by a big chunk of its fan base and the broader community.”

It is sad although not surprising to find that among the revisionists are some voices who belong to certain churches. They are our modern-day Demas’ and Alexanders, and so it’s important to call them out. But let’s not allow their efforts to cast a shadow over what took place in Bible-believing, Jesus honouring, people-loving churches across Victoria yesterday.

Let’s thank God and rejoice in what was a great day for churches. I’ve heard exciting things from City on a Hill yesterday and my own church had a super day. 

One of the things that struck me most during church was how the words of the songs came even more to life than usual. The reality of Jesus and his cross, the beauty of God, and the hope found in Him, really does matter more than everything. No wonder the congregation sang with such gusto and praise.

As we opened the Bible together and heard about Jesus, I was reminded how Victoria needs more of Jesus, not less. He may not be welcome at the footy or in the workplace or school, but there are communities of ordinary Victorians meeting every Sunday and getting to know him more. People from all kinds of backgrounds, ethnicity, sex, gender, and jobs, yet find in Christ the greatest joy and hope.

When we read the Bible, we discover how Jesus frequently disagreed with people’s morals, lifestyles, and beliefs. We also find how Jesus could show extraordinary love, grace, and kindness toward those very same people. Biggest of all, in love, Jesus sacrificed his life for people who disapproved of him in the strongest terms. The social and political leaders were so incensed by Jesus’ views that they nailed to a cross, and on the cross, he cried out, “father forgive them”. There really is something astonishing about this Jesus.

CS Lewis once said,

“I remember Christian teachers telling me long ago that I must hate a bad man’s actions but not hate the bad man: or, as they would say, hate the sin but not the sinner. …I used to think this a silly, straw-splitting distinction: how could you hate what a man did and not hate the man? But years later it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this all my life — namely myself. However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself. There had never been the slightest difficulty about it. In fact the very reason why I hated the things was that I loved the man. Just because I loved myself, I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things.”

Even to our Premier and the Essendon, come along one Sunday and visit a Christian church. You may be surprised by what you see and hear, and perhaps even persuaded.

Hezekiah, the early church, and learning how to live in the State of Victoria

Life is often like a game of footy (it’s not really, but Hollywood type tropes are always popular!). Bare with this analogy because it has a happy ending.

Life is like a game of AFL: it’s tough, it’s exhausting and there are two sides battling it out against each other. One of my favourite football moments was the 1999 preliminary final win Essendon played Carlton. The bombers came into the match as raging hot favourites. The Navy blues won by a single point (happy ending)!

The story surrounding the new and now former Essendon football club CEO, Andrew Thorburn, has entered the fourth day. The saga continues to dominate the news with a collation of new articles and opinion pieces in the newspapers and with interviews on radio and TV. 

Andrew Thorburn was forced to resign from Essendon after less than 24 hours, for no reason other than he holds a position of leadership in his local church. The Premier of Victoria and the mob went after him until the football club pressured him into resigning.

Essendon is adamant, the issue isn’t people’s religious beliefs while in the same breath they explain that it is precisely about people’s religious beliefs. The spin is oxymoronic and as clear as day but that doesn’t subdue the voices who cannot tolerate biblical Christianity. Indeed, Daniel Andrews doubled down yesterday, once again calling Christians ‘bigots’ and painting churches as the most awful of people, while suggesting society needs more “kindness”. 

As all of this is going on, I’m reading through the Old Testament book of 2 Chronicles. I was struck by some key moments in this Bible reading, including how ‘right now’ the story feels. Let me share with you 2 encouragements and a warning.

First, faithfulness to God sometimes leads to strong opposition

The reading was chapter 32. In the previous chapters, Judah’s new King, Hezekiah, restored God’s Temple and reinstated the right practice of sacrifices and worship. 

In the opening sentence of ch.32, we read this, 

“After all that Hezekiah had so faithfully done, Sennacherib king of Assyria came and invaded Judah. He laid siege to the fortified cities, thinking to conquer them for himself.”

Hezekiah had the difficult job of shaking up a nation that was behaving like a footy team on muck up day and it all going horribly wrong. He worked tirelessly to turn the nation around and restore life and community to how God intended it to be. Then we read, ‘after all Hezekiah had so faithfully done, their very life and worship is threatened.

The idea of faithfulness leading to opposition is a regular motif in the Bible. For example, in Acts ch. 8, the world’s first church (which was of course in Jerusalem), grew in number and maturity when all of a sudden persecution broke out.  The opposition was so severe that Christians were forced to leave the city, abandoning their homes and jobs, and even the church.

We read….

“On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.  Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him.  But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.”

Christians can live and work with integrity and generosity and kindness, and go beyond for the good of the workplace, and still be called all manner of insults and untrue swipes made against them, and even be forced to resign. Niceness, and not even godliness, will protect churches and careers in our culture that is bent on everyone worshipping from the same high altar of sexular secularism. 

Remember, trusting Jesus sometimes brings significant opposition into your life.

Second, when facing opposition for faithfulness take courage and confidence in God.

Hezekiah’s response to Sennacherib was to exhort people to look to God

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him, for there is a greater power with us than with him. With him is only the arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles.”

In this example, Sennacherib is humiliated and defeated much like that famous Preliminary final in 1999. It doesn’t always work out that way.  So, in the Acts 8 story, the persecution in Jerusalem forced people to leave their homes and places of work. It pushed families and church communities apart. Nonetheless, this did not weaken Christian confidence in God and their conviction in the Gospel,

“Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” 

God used the terrible situation of unjust and brutal discrimination for mission and spreading the gospel and starting new churches. 

Third, be aware of the dangers of pride

Sennacherib spoke and acted with a determined arrogance and with such confidence that he was on the right side of history. He didn’t need to coat his rhetoric in the language of tolerance. Without equivocation, preached against those God worshippers. 

“On what are you basing your confidence, that you remain in Jerusalem under siege? 11 When Hezekiah says, ‘The Lord our God will save us from the hand of the king of Assyria,’ he is misleading you, to let you die of hunger and thirst…13 “Do you not know what I and my predecessors have done to all the peoples of the other lands? Were the gods of those nations ever able to deliver their land from my hand? 14 Who of all the gods of these nations that my predecessors destroyed has been able to save his people from me? How then can your god deliver you from my hand? 15 Now do not let Hezekiah deceive you and mislead you like this. Do not believe him, for no god of any nation or kingdom has been able to deliver his people from my hand or the hand of my predecessors. How much less will your god deliver you from my hand!”

I’ll admit, as I read about Sennacherib, I couldn’t help but think of a certain Victorian Premier. That’s not necessarily good hermeneutics; I’m just noting a striking parallel.

It ends in disaster for Sennacherib, as it always does for those who think outdoing God is a great strategy.

Here though lays the warning. Instead of turning to humble thankfulness, Hezekiah took a leaf out of Sennacherib’s playbook. He became proud.

“Hezekiah’s heart was proud and he did not respond to the kindness shown him; therefore the Lord’s wrath was on him and on Judah and Jerusalem”.

There is no space in the Christian life for self-righteousness or moral superiority or an us versus them mentality. Hezekiah learnt that lesson the hard way. Sometimes churches do slip into that behaviour and even when Christians face unfair criticism we can exude a certain hubris. We need to guard our hearts against this.

I’m grateful for how Andrew Thorburn expressed himself in his public statement, as I am thankful for the ways City on a Hill staff have responded. 

Of course, the story of Hezekiah does not ultimately end with us or point to us. Rather, it is another historical reminder of how desperately our world needs the perfect King, who sees all things and understands all things and who acts justly and mercifully. 

2,000 years after this promised King came into the world, He remains the litmus test for truth and goodness. This week’s events have again demonstrated that we can’t stop talking about Jesus. No matter how hard the sexual revolution pushes and no matter how loud authorities secularists are, and even when a State Premier denounces Christian employees in the workplace, we can’t escape Jesus of Nazareth. 

No matter how events unfold in the State of Victoria, don’t enter that unbefitting space of hubris. We can speak confidently but never brashly. We can live with thankfulness but not with pride. After all, every Christian knows what it’s like to stand with the Sennacherib’s of this world. in his great mercy of God want us over. That is why when we experience fellow Victorians and even our Premier standing against,  we respond with kindness and resolve, with grace and with confidence in Christ.

As Christians in Victoria wait to see job security crumble and the window for career advancement shrink, keep taking our example from Jesus, and more so, rest your hopes in him

Philippians chapter 2 says

“have the same mindset Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,

that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.”

Christian Football CEO Forced to Resign from Essendon

It took less than 24 hours. Essendon Football Club’s newly appointed CEO, Andrew Thorburn has been forced to resign. Late yesterday The Age and Herald Sun newspapers reported and attacked Andrew Thorburn for nothing more than being a Christian and for belonging to a Christian Church.

Premier Daniel Andrews joined the chorus today, but more about his contribution later on.

Just before 6pm, Essendon released a statement, saying Andrew Thorburn has resigned. Or rather, his position was made impossible by the club. 

“The Board made clear that, despite these not being views that Andrew Thorburn has expressed personally and that were also made prior to him taking up his role as Chairman, he couldn’t continue to serve in his dual roles at the Essendon Football Club and as Chairman of City on the Hill.”

The letter also states what can only be read as a contradictory if not disingenuous statement,

“I also want to stress that this is not about vilifying anyone for their personal religious beliefs, but about a clear conflict of interest with an organisation whose views do not align at all with our values as a safe, inclusive, diverse and welcoming club for our staff, our players, our members, our fans, our partners and the wider community.”  

Actually, this is exactly about vilifying personal religious beliefs, as their previous paragraph indicates. Thorburn cannot continue as CEO for the very reason that he holds a leadership role at his home church. 

Andrew Thorburn is not the first who has been forced to choose between a job and God, and he will not be the last. This is the culture in which we are living. 

The sharp end of our society’s movers and shakers do not believe in freedom or fairness, it is about power and control and conforming everyone into their own image. The fact that Daniel Andrews sees fit to interfere with the sporting club appointing the CEO is just another indicator of where things are heading. 

So what exactly did our State’s Premier say? At a press conference Dan Andrews (an Essendon supporter) wistfully said, 

“those views are absolutely appalling.”

“I don’t support those views, that kind of intolerance, that kind of hatred, bigotry, is just wrong.

“Those sort of attitudes are simply wrong and to dress that up as anything other than bigotry is just obviously false.”

To my knowledge, Daniel Andrews has never visited COAH nor listened to any of their sermons nor spoken with any of the 100O+ people who call COAH home. I say that because his comments are false and slanderous, as are many of the words being thrown about today. But careful speech isn’t required if you belong to the ‘right side’ of the culture. Daniel Andrews preaches a popular message and he knows it won’t hurt him politically or socially. All the influencers believe him, or rather he is happily mimicking their gospelling. 

Let the reader understand, Daniel Andrews, as Premier of the State of Victoria, is comfortable telling us what kind of church is acceptable. And this isn’t the first time. For a supposed secular state intruding into religion is becoming a popular past time.

Gray Connolly tweeted, 

“Was unaware that in Victoria you could not be employed by a football club if you attend a church that is not Dan Andrews approved … does this apply to Synagogues and Mosques?”

For the sake of consistency, it’s a legitimate question.

Let’s assume the Premier is serious about his stance against those most evil and terrible and dangerous Christians. He has just told the world that he thinks that AFL clubs shouldn’t appoint Christians. It raises the question, in what areas is the Premier okay with Christians finding employment?

Does the Premier believe Christians can stand for Parliament? What about working for the Government? Is he comfortable with corporations appointing Christians to senior management positions? What about Christians working in state schools, hospitals and the police force? Does he believe local councils should employ Christians as gardeners or garbage collectors? 

Does Mr Andrews believe that there should be some kind of religious test before you can get a job? It’s only been a few months since his Government shredded religious freedom by no longer allowing religious schools and organisations to employ people who share their values. And yet, he can speak imperviously of there being no place for Bible-believing Christians in high-profile positions in the AFL (yes, Bible-believing Christian is a tautology).

If there is any real issue in what was really a non-story it is this, why is senior pastor Guy Mason supporting a football team called the Demons? Let me leave that thought with all the conspiracy theorists out there!

Understand this, the sexular agenda will almost certainly make life more difficult for faithful followers of Jesus. It is already tricky. More and more people share their stories with me and I read of many more. The sexual revolution is still pounding the shore line and with every latest iteration it washes away more and more of the imago dei. It is a destructive social force. As the secular age creeps further inland and consumes everything, it will not tolerate anyone standing up and resisting the wave. It’s like the orcs from Lord of the Rings. They won’t relent until they’re taken Middle Earth.

It doesn’t require any imagination to realise more pressure will be heaped on Christians, bullying us into silence or into giving up precious God given truths for the sake of keeping our jobs. Are we ready to make that choice between God and employment? 

That’s why we need to settle in our hearts and be convinced with our minds, the question of whom we will worship. Will we choose God and worship him or will we choose Baal?

Any student of history and anyone persuaded by the power of the Gospel of Jesus will understand that political bullying and employment restrictions and stifling religious freedom, though real,  cannot hamstring God and his mission. Such confidence should never make us cocky or arrogant or apathetic. Rather, it leads to humble thanks and praise.

Our premier can shout and slander and misrepresent Melbourne Churches, and in doing so he may win political battles and social battles and popularity contests. And yes, he is an expert in doing all of these. But the one contest he isn’t winning and cannot win is the one that is out of his hands because it is firmly held by the Sovereign God whose word will not fail.

Don’t get me wrong, if anything I suspect City on a Hill will grow as a result of this controversy. Why? Because God honours the faithfulness of his people. And yes, the Lord of the church, namely Jesus, promises to build his church and not even the gates of Hades will overcome it. 

Christian worker in Victoria, if you haven’t already resigned yourself to the likelihood of facing discrimination, dislike, and bullying, get ready. If you’re still living that nice life of naivety, believing that hard work and loyalty and integrity should be enough to protect you, think again. If they crucified Jesus, how on earth do we think that we’ll be given a parachute?

Begin pondering Bible verses like the ones I’ve included below, and let’s learn to set our gaze on Christ and to really put our hope only in him. And that means we need thick Christian community. We need local churches where we actually turn up and commit to and then start supporting & strengthening one another for when these hard times come our way.

Don’t get angry with Essendon Football Club, Daniel Andrews and others. Anger is an understandable reaction, but let’s think and feel deeper than that. Let the Gospel inform our response:

“consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18)

“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.” (Philippians 3:7)

“Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” (1 Peter 3:9)

“Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:3)


Here is a statement just released by Andrew Thorburn. Worth reading

Essendon has a new CEO and the media isn’t happy

With the same air of predictability as Geelong winning the Grand Final last week, the media have identified yet another Christian in the sporting world who believes, well, what Christians believe. 

Writing for The Age, Noel Towell and Kishor Napier- Raman, have sounded the siren against Essendon Football Club’s new CEO, Andrew Thorburn. The controversy? Apparently, Thorburn is a confessing Christian who belongs to a church that believes in Christian things. 

They are at pains to tell the world that,

“Andrew Thorburn is chairman of the City on a Hill church that preaches against gay sex and abortion.”

“it was Thorburn’s other gig as chairman of conservative Christian church City on a Hill that raised eyebrows on Sunday.

City on a Hill will look the other way on same-sex attraction, as long as you don’t act on it, but abortion is always a no-no.

It’s not clear where Thorburn stands personally on those issues, but his role as chairman of the church’s board requires him to advocate for the furthering of the church and its beliefs.

We asked the club how Thorburn’s links to the church squared with those commitments to diversity and inclusion that we’re always hearing about from AFL clubs and the league itself.”

Not to be outdone, the Herald Sun’s Sam Landsberger has  thrown more intensity around the ball with comments like this,

“New Essendon CEO Andrew Thorburn is the chairman of a church organisation which preaches controversial beliefs around homosexual behaviour and abortion.”

As a Carlton supporter, I have as much affection for the Bombers as I do for an elbow to the head, but even I can see there is no reportable offence here. The reality is, there is no story. If Thorburn was Jewish or Muslim, would the media be running with this story? Of course not. The AFL is careful to protect religious players (as they should) and even laud their religiosity. This is just the latest round of what is becoming a rough conduct tactic to either knock Christians out of high profile positions or to bully them into submission. As with the Manly 7, journalists see their jobs as naming and shaming sportspeople who stand out from the crowd. We’re all for diversity and tolerance so long as it fits with the current trends! 

Christians are the new version of the Essendon drug saga; dirty and not to be trusted. We are not only seeing this in sport but in academic institutions, some businesses and even in schools. As The Age opinion suggests, Thorburn’s Christianity must raise concerns about his fitness to hold the role of high priest to the footy club’s inclusive policy. Of course one might ask, but what about tolerance toward Christians? Are Christians to be excluded from yet another sporting code because they hold to orthodox and everyday Christian beliefs? Let’s be clear, we’re not talking about some weird cult-like fanatics, this is normal and historic Christianity. 

The name of the game today isn’t tolerance, it’s capitulation. The dominant culture doesn’t allow competitors or opponents, and the AFL wants to lead the way. The new sporting code only has room for 1 team. Everyone is to wear the same colour jersey and sing the same team song, and dissenters aren’t welcome.  No wonder, journos feel the moral compulsion to turn into dibber dobbers and report Christians to society’s favourite umpire: the mob. 

I do find it ironic that despite constant calls to Christians, demanding that we keep our views to ourselves and not talk about them in public, the media yet again wish to draw out a man’s personal beliefs into the public square for interrogation, and possibly to see him lose his job.

I don’t know Andrew Thorburn and I couldn’t tell him apart from the Essendon cheer squad…or firing squad (depending on the season). But I am familiar with City on a Hill. COAH is one of those Churches that believe the Bible and think Jesus is the Son of God and is convinced Jesus really did rise from the dead. And contrary to all those ‘relevant’ churches whom the media approve of, Bible Churches like City on a Hill are growing. Progressive churches are losing people faster than GWS, whereas churches who cherish that ancient faith are the ones holding steady or seeing membership rise  It’s fascinating to see that despite pundits packaging relevance with progressive theology and ethics, the reality is quite different. People long for a hope that is more secure than a Sherrin wobbling about on the deck, and they are searching for a truth that cuts through the thin layer of cultural populism.

I wonder if the journalists have spoken to any of the hundreds of members at Thorburn’s church, and asked, what they think about the church’s teaching? Why are they convinced the Bible stands opposite to phobic behaviour?

What these journalists fail to appreciate is that the high views of God and the Bible that COAH affirms (as does my church and 100s more across Melbourne) are the vital ingredients for showing grace and mercy. Jesus didn’t come into the world because he agreed with our sexual ethics and our mistreatment of society’s most vulnerable. He disagreed in the strongest terms and yet loved. AFL is one of those rare sports where athletes crash and tackle and break their bodies for the sake of the team. Jesus did more, he laid down his life on the cross for his opponents. If that’s the kind of religion City on a Hill preaches and Andrew Thorburn believes, then I reckon he may bring some much needed grace and strength to the world of football.