The Queen’s message at her funeral

The funeral for Her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth was filled with ceremony and pageantry on the grandest scale. The sights and sounds were more than impressive. Thousands of soldiers marched and guarded the route of the funeral procession.  Military bands played a funeral dirge to the impeccable timing of the bass drum.  Inside Westminster Abbey the choral singing was sublime. Even from viewing the funeral at home in my living room one could not help but be swept up.

Every detail communicated dignity, grandeur and majesty. 

We have never before witnessed a funeral on such a scale and may never again. Hundreds of Princes,  Prime Ministers, and Presidents representing nearly every nation on earth joined together at Westminster Abbey. Alongside religious leaders, dignitaries, and ordinary members of the public, all sat together as we said farewell to Queen Elizabeth. Millions of people lined the street of London and Windsor to catch one final glimpse of a much-loved monarch. It is estimated that as many as 4 billion people across the globe watched the funeral. 

For a few days culminating in yesterday’s funeral,  the world slowed down a little. News outlets gave attention to a single story. For a period of 10 days news readers and reporters dressed in black as a sign of respect and mourning. Television stations paused normal programming, and even limiting comedy and satire out of respect for the Queen’s death. Sporting events were postponed or observed a minute’s silence. 

As I watched the funeral last night,  intently and moved by what I was hearing and seeing, I was struck by the contrast between Queen Elizabeth’s funeral and that of Her Saviour and Lord.

Instead of honour and respect from world leaders and from local populations, Jesus’ journey to the grave was marked with disdain and abandonment.  Kings and Governors didn’t honour him with kind words; they condemned him to death. Crowds didn’t line the streets to pay their respects; they jeered as he dragged a cross through the streets. Religious leaders didn’t pray for him, they mocked him. Soldiers didn’t protect him, they drove nails through his hands and feet, spat on him and gambled away his clothes.  His friends, filled with terror, either ran away or stood at a distance in shock and silence. As a final attempt to mock Jesus, a sign was placed over his head that read, “Here is the king of the Jews”. 

How and why would the Prince of glory subject himself to such ignominy? And how is it that a Queen should look to Him for mercy and grace? And how is it that this Jesus, despite the very best attempts was not erased from history but instead has become the focal point and end of history?

One of the most famous accounts of Jesus’ death was in fact written prior to that day, and yet, the prophet Isaiah foretold with precision the undertaking God’s Servant would follow. As Her Majesty had years earlier determined the details of her own funeral, so in advance, God announced the path his only Son would take,

“He was despised and rejected by mankind,
    a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
    he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain
    and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
    stricken by him, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
    each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted,
    yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
    and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
    so he did not open his mouth.

By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
    Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
    for the transgression of my people he was punished.

He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
    and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
    nor was any deceit in his mouth.”

Every detail in the Queen’s funeral suggests importance and splendour deserving of a monarch. And yet the true wonder and glory of what we saw and heard was not about Her Majesty, but about the One to whom she placed her trust. Her faith and her hope rests in the King who laid aside eternal glory and entered this broken and sinful world to die a sinner’s death as our substitute. The grandeur and awesome sights of the Queen’s funeral are but a tiny and pale reflection of the hope of resurrection she has in the One who gave his life as a ransom for many. 

It was no coincidence that these words of Jesus were read out loud during the service,

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

In the part of the world where I live, we often reduce life to a bucket of cotton candy. We distract ourselves with sugary treats that promise bursts of happiness and pleasure and personal advantage. We’ve bought the marketers presentation. Life is driven by gaining sensory experiences which give us regular dumps of dopamine. The secularist’s dream and immanent frame has tried to block out transcendence with guarantees of sexual freedom and fulfilment, and offerings of entertainment, leisure, comfort and success. Eventually, the sugar rush wears off, and the realities of age, uncertainty, failure, pain and even death knock on our door. Her Majesty’s final gift was not to elevate herself and encourage the world to look at her, but rather to consider the One whom even monarchs must bow the knee. 

The hope in which Queen Elizabeth looked and trusted is for great and small alike, for royal and commoner together. Her hope rested in a King who has walked the path of suffering and death for us and who in love shares his glory with all who lay their lives at his feet. 

Take a moment to dwell on these words, which were the final words sung at Westminster Abbey and which formed part of the Scripture readings. Consider, where else can such amazing and certain hope be found?

“Finish, then, thy new creation;

true and spotless let us be.

Let us see thy great salvation

perfectly restored in thee.

Changed from glory into glory,

till in heav’n we take our place,

till we cast our crowns before thee,

lost in wonder, love and praise.”

“Where, O death, is your victory?

    Where, O death, is your sting?”

 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:55-57)

What does the Bible say about Church & State?

One of the important topics today is understanding church and state. I gave this sermon recently at my home church, Mentone Baptist Church.

The sermon explains why hardline secularism is problematic and so is Christian nationalism. The Bible doesn’t lead us in either direction but provides a better and dynamic relationship between church and state whether the two don’t fuse together and neither do they ignore each other.

The hope to which Her Majesty spoke

Our shaky world has lost a rare jewel. In an age pivoting against grace and sacrifice and instead pushing toward retaliation and self-actualisation, Queen Elizabeth gave the world much needed stability. Her faith in Jesus Christ,  she confessed, was the ‘bedrock’ for her life of service.  Maybe, just perhaps, we might reconsider the source of her hope and rediscover that better way to lead and live together.

The Queen is dead; Elizabeth lives

“Precious in the sight of the Lord

    is the death of his faithful servants.” (Psalm 116:15)

The Queen is dead. God save the King

I went to sleep last night having heard the breaking news that the Queen’s family were rushing to Balmoral and with Doctors concerned for her. I woke at 3:35am and checked my Twitter feed, and I watched the world hear the announcement that the Queen has died. This is one of those rare moments in life that one doesn’t forget. I spoke with my children this morning and told them, this is a history defining day.

With her death, there is a tangible sense of loss and grief. I am sad today. I never had the privilege of knowing her or meeting her. I once saw her for a few seconds in Australia as she drove by, and yet like many millions around the world, we sense that the world is a poorer place today with her passing. 

Like most people, I have known only one monarch during my life and so it is hard to fathom a world without Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. She was our head of State. Her image is printed on all Australian currency. Her name was never far from the news. The Queen of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth became a grandmother figure to leaders across the globe, giving stability and assurance to a rapidly changing and uncertain world. 

Queen Elizabeth II ascended the throne during the post-war years, and she reigned through the revolutionary 60s, the rise of pop culture, man on the moon, the fall of the Soviet Union, the creation of the internet,  9/11, the smartphone, Brexit, and countless crises and peaks. Her Majesty served her country and the Commonwealth with unparalleled grace, repose, sincerity and love. The Queen had the remarkable fortitude to stand above the heat of political maneuverings and culture wars. Even through family tragedies and sadness, our Queen did not flinch from her promise to love and serve her people. 

In part due to her long reign, and much because of her dignity and servant nature, Queen Elizabeth stands as perhaps the most important world figure of the last 70 years. Her first Prime Minister was Winston Churchill, arguably the most important man of the first half of the 20th Century. It does not require much argument to see Her Majesty as the most emblematic and esteemed leader of the second half of the 20th Century and over these first decades of the 21st Century.

It is right to pause today and give thanks to God for her life. It is appropriate to take time to consider her passing and to mourn. The reason is not that her life has more value than any other. Thousands of people have died across the world today and Queen Elizabeth is but one of those lives. However, her position as our monarch, and the integrity and honour in which she has conducted her role, leaves not only an impression on the pages of history but perhaps brings a close to one of the final chapters of history.

Her reign oversaw the greatest momentum in human technological and economic advancement that history has ever witnessed, and the world through globalisation became much smaller. In recent times, especially over the last 5 years, we have begun to watch a disintegration of global homogeny and there is an infection eating our culture and splintering communities and families alike. While we have never been closer in proximity, waves of ideology is attacking the very notion of human identity and defying the imago dei, and nationalist ideals are rekindling and creating a world that is less safe for our children. The pieces are moving quickly and any notion of Francis Fukuyama’s vision is proven to be little more than hubris and misplaced self-belief. 

I will pray for the Queen’s family today, and pray for King Charles III. The Scriptures command Christians, “petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness”, and so that is what I will do.  

The greatest contribution offered to the world by Queen Elizabeth was her faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, in whom she believed and placed her ultimate hope. At Easter 2020, Her Majesty spoke of the resurrection of Jesus,

“The discovery of the risen Christ on the first Easter Day gave his followers new hope and fresh purpose… As dark as death can be – particularly for those suffering with grief – light and life are greater.”

Last year in her annual Christmas speech, the Queen shared her trust in the Lord Jesus. She said,

“Jesus teachings have been the bedrock of my faith”.

And she concluded by pointing us to her hope,

“His birth marked a new beginning. As the carol says: The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight”

A monarch who bows the knee to Jesus as Lord encapsulates the posture and foresight to rule and be an example for people to follow. 

The Queen is dead. Elizabeth lives.

“For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” (1 Thess 4:14)

Queen Elizabeth ascended to the throne during a time of dawning hope and mounting optimism following half a century of global bloodshed. She leaves the earth with the light of hope in human determination growing dim over the world, but the light she saw in God’s gospel of grace remains bright and clear and now our Queen is meeting the King of Kings and enjoying his presence forevemore.

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,

    you may now dismiss your servant in peace.

For my eyes have seen your salvation,

     which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:

a light for revelation to the Gentiles,

    and the glory of your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32)

Should Church-run hospitals be forced to perform abortions?

Preface: please read the entire piece & not just one or two snippets. The whole argument matters, not just a quote or two. thank you

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I’m beginning to think that when some people read ‘1984’ and ‘A Brave New World’, their impression is, what a great idea. Let’s model our society on ‘Oceania’ or ‘World State’!

There is a certain predictability about our political and social overlords: Christianity is bad, science is a subject in the Arts faculty, and conscience is only free for those who follow the right agenda. 

In its latest iteration, Victorian Legislative Council member, Fiona Patten, from the Sex Party (sorry, it’s now called ‘Reason’ Party) is tabling legislation that will force Church-based hospitals and health institutions to perform abortions. Patten’s Bill threatens these hospitals with losing their public funding if they refuse patient requests for abortion. 

Before I respond to Patten’s reasoning, I want to admit that abortion isn’t a topic I like to write about. I appreciate how this is a very real and sensitive and emotionally charged issue for many people. Despite angry messages that I receive from certain quarters, the reality is, women carry tremendous guilt and pain from having an abortion, even many years later. ‘Celebrate your abortion’ may be a thing right now, but behind the slogans, many women struggle. The way to find forgiveness and freedom from the past isn’t to redefine a wrongful act as good, as our political representatives feel necessary today, but to take the harder and better road that Jesus outlines: admit our terrible decisions and turn to God who is big enough and willing to wipe away every spot of guilt. Churches and religious organisations remain communities who gladly help where there is a difficult pregnancy, and who also gladly welcome people who carry heavy burdens. Churches are not communities of the moral oppressors, but of those who found a loving and forgiving God. I encourage readers to ignore the caricatures of Christianity that we read about in the media and instead check out the real thing for ourselves.

Having said that, Fiona Patten explains her legislation, 

“Publicly funded hospitals and other health institutions have no right to refuse these legally enshrined rights that a woman has control over her body and reproductive health.”

“Religion is a blessing to many amid the mysteries and vagaries of existence, but imposed religious faith has no place in the public health system.”

According to The Guardian

“Patten said institutions should not be able to claim “conscientious objection” and that the bill would ensure public hospitals were not able to prevent a doctor from performing legal abortion procedures.”

First of all, let the reader understand, Fiona Patten does not believe in the separation of Church and State. She thinks that the State ought to control religion. The State of Victoria has witnessed the slow erosion of this healthy distinction (and partnership) in recent years, including the State removing freedom from religious institutions to employ people on the basis of their religious convictions, and banning certain prayers and conversations with fellow Victorians. Patten believes that the State should force religious health providers to perform acts of killing unborn children, an action that deliberately cuts against sound religious convictions. 

Patten regularly campaigns to have any vestige of Christianity removed from the public square (ie think the Lord’s Prayer in Parliament*) and she regularly promotes legislation that will bring down State sanctioned secular ideology onto religious organisations. This is but the latest manifestation of a growing trend.

This is dangerous political overreach. 

Second, does Fiona Patten appreciate that her threat will only further harm our health system, a healthy system that is already overburdened and not coping? Is throwing rocks at vital and overworked hospitals going to help the sick and injured? Removing public funding from these hospitals won’t save lives and relieve the mounting pressures and massive backlog of important surgeries. 

Instead of threatening religion-based hospitals, perhaps our political representatives should ask, how can we be helping?

Third, in the grand tradition of doublespeak, Fiona Patten obscures the reality of abortion by ignoring the life of the child and speaking of a woman’s right. Few activists admit today that the child in the womb is anything less than a human being. Science and technology simply won’t allow the ‘clump of cells’ myth to continue. We can see the little human inside the mother’s womb growing. Even at 16 weeks, we now know that babies are thinking and feeling. They respond to sound and to music. Their cognitive faculties, creative faculties, and listening and communication skills are far more advanced than was once believed. 

“I am reminded of the words spoken by one excited mum, ‘As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy” (Luke 1:44).

A society that claims a right to destroy such life is a society that has lost sight of its humanity and its obligations to the most vulnerable. But not content with abortion taking place in public and some private medical centres, move is afoot to force religious medical providers to perform this unconscionable act.

The prophet Isaiah said, 

“Woe to those who call evil good

    and good evil,

who put darkness for light

    and light for darkness,

who put bitter for sweet

    and sweet for bitter.”

I suspect Fiona Patten’s Bill will fail to win sufficient support in Parliament. I could be wrong, but I don’t think the majority of Victorians would think her reasoning is reasonable. Nonetheless, let the reader understand that she doesn’t represent a marginal cultural perspective but rather she belongs to the vanguard of cultural change. We shouldn’t be surprised to see, as we have on other issues, that ‘try, try, again’ will eventually see hardline authoritarian secularism succeed.

I wonder, does Fiona Patten believe that the State should have the power to coerce her to act against her conscience? As we’ve seen with the Manly 7 and a growing list of examples, the argument for conscience moves in only one direction, and that’s not a song and dance routine that I want to follow. 

What do other Victorians think? Should doctors and nurses be compelled to take human life?

What a crazy, sinful, grief giving world we live in. 

The insatiable blackhole of today’s groupthink requires a response that our political and culture wars can’t handle. Facts, figures and commonsense rarely belong to the debates of today, and even more rare is the nuance and grace that we desperately need. In our thinking, we need to dig deeper.

Of course, Christians aren’t going to cave into Patten’s threats and start killing babies. What an absurdity! Without giving an inch to this grim ideological pressure, I caution against responding with anger or with spite. Rather, follow the example of Jesus. At the beginning of what we now called the Passion week, Jesus stood over Jerusalem, and he wept. Jesus said,

“If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.”  He then entered the city, resolved to lay down his life for those who wanted to take his. 

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  • Christians recognise there are valid reasons for keeping the Lord’s Prayer in Parliament and for removing the Lord’s Prayer from Parliament.

No Sean Winter, you are wrong about the Bible and abortion

Do you believe the Bible supports abortion? I’m not asking whether you support abortion or not, and to what extent. My interest here is more narrow. As you read the Bible, is your impression that the Scriptures advocate abortion or speak against abortion?

Photo by Melike Benli on Pexels.com

Sean Winter, from the University of Divinity, argues in The Conversation, that Christian support for legislation prohibiting abortion is a cultural and political stance. It has nothing to do with the Bible.

I’ll admit, I was taken back when I read Winter’s argument. Even now as I write, I am stunned by his colander approach to the Bible. Winter makes some effort to quote many of the Bible verses that Christians refer to, but for the most part, he simply throws them away as irrelevant to any discussion on abortion. For someone who repeatedly states with imperial determination, ‘the Bible says nothing’, he offers virtually no interaction with the body of teaching in Scripture that speaks to the issue. Quoting and then dismissing Bible verses isn’t an argument. 

Winter’s (mis)use of the Bible deserves a response, not because I think there is any weight in his argument but because the issue of abortion matters, women matter, children matter, and what the Bible teaches matters.

His central thesis is, “Christian support for legislation prohibiting abortion is a cultural and political stance. It has nothing to do with the Bible.”

The article reads like a classic example of, I know what my conclusion is, therefore I’m going to do my utmost to squeeze Christian theology into my preconceived preferences.

Does the Bible use the word abortion? No.  Does this mean that the Bible is silent on the issue? Absolutely not. There are many words not found in the Bible and yet the Bible speaks clearly and wonderfully into these situations.  For example, the word ‘Trinity’ doesn’t appear and yet the Triune God is the most foundational of all Christian beliefs. Christian theology is rarely built on a single word or sentence from the Bible but properly takes into account the entire counsel of God and rightly attributes words and teachings according to their context in God’s schema that is salvation history. 

Let’s take a few examples, 

Of Psalm 139 Winter suggests, 

“What the Bible does contain are some verses which seem to refer to the status of the unborn fetus. The most famous and commonly cited is Psalm 139:13–16, a poem in which the Psalmist expresses the view that God created them in the womb.”

Winter offers virtually no argument, he simply discounts this famous Psalm as offering no contribution to the subject of abortion.  Let’s examine the verses in question,

The Psalmist is adoring God and recognising God’s exquisite craftmanship, and he shouts what is true of all children, 

“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.” (Psalm 139:13-16)

The child inside the womb is a child. This child is God’s creation and known to God, they are not a mere clump of cells and nonperson. There is no point at which the embryo is not human life and worthy of living. There is no artificial date set, as though they became a person at 12 weeks or at birth. The beauty and wonder of personhood is observed and considered from conception, ‘when I was made in the secret place’.

When it comes Jeremiah 1:5, Winter again wants us to think ‘there is nothing to see here’.

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,

    before you were born I set you apart;

    I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

At the very least, this verse attributes Divine value and purpose to Jeremiah, which exists even before the point of his conception. Far from adding nothing to the conversation on abortion, Jeremiah 1:5 heightens the importance and dignity of the child carried in his mother’s womb.  

Winter then resurrects the worn-out trope, ‘Jesus said nothing’. This line of thought is sometimes brought out of the cupboard when someone wants to argue that Christianity supports homosexual relations: Jesus never said anything, therefore the act is morally good and Christians should support it. It doesn’t take much scrutiny to realise how tenuous is this argument. For example, when it comes to marriage, Jesus affirmed the Genesis paradigm, that marriage is for a man and a woman and all other sexual relations is porneia.

Winter asserts, 

“Jesus isn’t remembered as saying anything about the unborn. Paul is silent on the issue.

Attempts to claim otherwise are ideologically informed cases of special pleading.”

On the question of Jesus and abortion, Winter’s logic can as easily be reversed. Jesus never spoke in support of killing unborn children, and so “attempts to claim otherwise are ideologically informed cases of special pleading.”

As we read the Gospels in the New Testament what we find with Jesus is that he repeatedly and consistently affirmed the value of human life, from the youngest to the oldest. Jesus was known for his welcoming of and love of little children. Jesus loved the vulnerable in society and taught his disciples to do likewise. Who is more vulnerable than a little baby not yet born?

Perhaps the Bible’s clearest word on the topic of abortion is the 6th Commandment, 

“You shall not murder”.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus reaffirmed God’s law, including this prohibition, do not murder. If Jesus upholds the commandment on murder and murder is killing innocent human life, then it’s not ‘special pleading’ in believing Jesus disproves of abortion. That is the natural and right way to read the Bible. The only way for Winter to get around this teaching is if he believes the child in the womb isn’t a person. On this point, Winter seems unwilling to tell his readers. He is quite absolute about some things, but for some reason, he’s not able to tell us whether the embryo is a person or not. 

Although, at one point he makes this rather odd statement, 

“The Christian rejection of abortion seems to have been predicated on assumptions the fetus is a person”

Ummm…yeah, and it’s not an assumption, it is a biological fact. Is Sean Winter seriously suggesting that the foetus is not a person? Before ultrasounds, some abortion proponents could trot out that view, but we can now see with our own eyes how false that myth is. It just happens that the Bible was already right in what it describes about the unborn. 

The Bible is clear on these two factors: the unborn is a person and murder is wrong. Combining these two teachings of the Bible which is the logical thing to do, it’s apparent that Sean Winter is not even close to finding support for his thesis. Again, he may find a little traction amongst those who are searching for religious support for abortion, but even a half-measured reading of the Bible demonstrates that he falls shorter than teeing off a 5 par hole with a breadstick.

Once Winter has finished dismantling nothing from the Bible, he then proceeds to whitewash the known views of early Christians who consistently saw abortion and infanticide as sin. 

Early Christians were renowned for saving newborns who were unwanted and left to die from exposure and starvation. Abortion was an acceptable practice in many ancient civilisations but not among Jewish and Christian communities. In the ancient world, abortion was not always successful and doctors couldn’t discern the sex of the baby until birth. Hence, at birth, many little girls were left to die. Christians took them in and loved and raised them. Why? Because it was a political maneuver? Or perhaps they were convinced from the Christian faith that saving the lives of the littlest children was right.

The first century Jewish text, Sentences of Pseudo-Phocylides 184–186 (c. 50 B.C.–A.D. 50) says that “a woman should not destroy the unborn in her belly, nor after its birth throw it before the dogs and vultures as a prey.” Christians adopted the Jewish view of the unborn, as they did with many ethical principles from the Old Testament. 

The Didache 2.2 (c. A.D. 85–110) commands, “thou shalt not murder a child by abortion nor kill them when born.”

The Letter of Barnabas 19.5 (c. A.D. 130), said: “You shall not abort a child nor, again, commit infanticide.”

500 years before the invention of the ultrasound, John Calvin said this of Exodus 21:22

“The fetus, though enclosed in the womb of its mother, is already a human being, and it is almost a monstrous crime to rob it of the life which it has not yet begun to enjoy…if it seems more horrible to kill a man in his own house than in a field, because a man’s house is his place of most secure refuge, it ought surely to be deemed more atrocious to destroy a fetus in the womb before it has come to light,”

The position Calvin spells out from Scripture is today demonstrably proven through scientific technology. The living mass growing in the mother’s womb is indeed a human being.

One doesn’t need to be a gynaecologist or obstetrician or theologian to realise that the Bible is big on life and takes a very dim view of killing innocence. Winter is so far off the mark. “Christian support for legislation prohibiting abortion is a cultural and political stance. It has nothing to do with the Bible”? Not even close. The Christian view of life has everything to do with the Bible and everything to do with Jesus. Yes, this has political implications, as does every worldview. Winter’s claims are big and will no doubt be taken up as truth for some readers, but they are as false as the yeti and bunyip. 

Winter’s most significant transgression is how he snuffs out hope. By stripping the Bible of its meaning about life and killing, Winter rips the hope of Christ who offers forgiveness and new life. In recasting abortion as no longer an issue for God, Winter’s position leaves women without the hope that someone is able and willing to remove the guilt and pain they carry. I understand that it is currently popular to boast about abortion, but I also know the profound scars that are left behind. The Gospel is good news because Jesus sees our sins and he loves to forgive and restore. For Sean Winter to take away the need for forgiveness and restoration, is simply cruel and unbiblical. 

What should we think of overturning Roe v Wade?

On June 24th 2022 the Supreme Court of the United States overruled Roe V Wade, and thus returning the question of abortion to the States. The below piece was written almost two months prior to the decision in light of the leaking of the draft majority opinion. The observations made and the points argued remain unchanged in light of the decision.

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There are quite literally millions of strong opinions and emotions being expressed right now about the future of Roe v Wade. By no means am I attempting to say everything or even to offer the final word, but as an outsider, there is a message that I wish to convey to my American friends and even to Aussies, for the issue of abortion is also present here in Australia. But before I comment on the leak coming from the Supreme Court, I want to draw attention to an ancient, yet famous and important story.

Last Sunday our church started a new sermon series on the book of Exodus. I gave the series the title ‘Journeying Home’, as I think it captures the meaning of Exodus and the language used in Hebrews ch.11 that summarises the story’s theme and trajectory. 

Exodus begins with a violent and discordant juxtaposition: on the one hand, the LORD blesses his people and they multiply. From the 70 men and women who entered Egypt at the time of Joseph, generations later they now number more than a million, even more. At the same time, Pharaoh is threatened by the Israelites. He deems them a threat to social cohesion and cultural prosperity, and so he enslaves them. This strategy, while brutal, proves inadequate for God continues to bless the Israelites and their numbers increase. Pharaoh then sanctions the deaths of all newborn male infants. 

Two Hebrew women, Shiphrah and Puah, become heroes as they ignore Pharaoh’s decree and refuse to end the lives of these children. Frustrated that his ‘health plan’ was failing, he pushes further.  The river Nile may be the source of life for Egypt but Pharaoh turned it into a graveyard as thousands of babies were disposed of in the waters. 

I begin with the Exodus story, partly because it’s fresh in my mind and because we are rightly appalled by what we read. To hear of the mass destruction of the young should create outrage and tremendous grief. How can a civil authority feel so threatened by a people group that he gives licence for infant boys to be disposed of?  At the same time, Pharaoh was trying to protect a way of life; his autonomy, position and future. 

Of course, there are significant differences between Exodus and the United States and how the removal of the unborn or newborn is considered. However there is also an uncomfortable parallel, and that is, that the life of the young is conditional and the State can justify taking life when these little ones are deemed unwanted or a threat to personal progress and way of life. The evil perpetrated by Pharaoh does not stop at the fact that he sought to control an ethnic group, but that as an ethnic group these baby boys are human beings and therefore should never be treated as a commodity or considered as having less value or with fewer rights to live. 

United States Supreme Court Building. Original image from Carol M. Highsmith’s America, Library of Congress collection. Digitally enhanced by rawpixel. by Carol M Highsmith is licensed under CC-CC0 1.0

Today, the news story dominating the United States is the future of abortion. Yesterday a draft majority opinion was leaked to Politico. Written by Justice Samuel Alito, the paper outlines the argument to overturn Roe v Wade. This is the first time in American history that a document of this nature has been leaked. Many people are interpreting this leak as a last-ditch attempt to pressure the Supreme Court Justices to change their minds and uphold Roe v Wade.

Overturning Roe v Wade does not mean abortion will become illegal throughout all of the USA. It does, however (and in my mind correctly) determine that the United States Constitution nowhere presents or protects abortion as a right. If it turns out that the draft opinion accurately reflects the final decision of the court, it means that the issue of abortion will return to the states and therefore will become the responsibility of the people to decide what laws will govern the unborn. In practice this will probably mean some states will restrict abortion (limiting it to pregnancies under 24 weeks or 15 weeks), others may prohibit abortion altogether,  while other states will continue to commit abortions even up to the point of birth.

Any decision made by the Supreme Court of the United States has no legal bearing on my part of the world, but the cultural influence of America eventually washes across the Pacific Ocean. My own home here in the State of Victoria is more akin to New York State where abortion is lauded, even for infants who reach 40 weeks. While I am thankful for any public and legal decision that weakens the abortion position, I am reminded of how far my own context has regressed from upholding the sanctity of human life.

In the 50 years since Roe v Wade, 60 million children in the United States have been taken from the womb. In Australia, 10,000s children are aborted every year, many because they are diagnosed as carrying a disability or disease, and many because the child is felt to be an impediment to the dreams and life preferences of the mother (and sometimes the father).  Over the weekend, a famous (now retired) Australian swimmer revealed how her coach once pressured her into having an abortion. These stories are far more common than we dare acknowledge. 

As news broke about Justice Samuel Alito’s draft statement, one could hear the palpable joy and thanksgiving among many Americans. One could also hear the anger of others. From President Biden to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Elizabeth Warren, and even to politicians and commentators across the globe, including the Mayor of London, there is an anxious and loud demand to keep what they crudely describe as a ‘woman’s health care’. 

Should Roe v Wade be overturned, and I pray that it is, I also pray that pro-life Americans will not gloat or pride themselves and disdain others. Instead, give humble thanks and continue to give due love and care to women who are grappling with unwanted or difficult pregnancies. Justified anger at the destruction of life can be coupled with compassion and commitment to helping those who struggle.

When the Supreme Court decision is finally announced and comes into effect, may the final word not be one of triumphalism or anger. The story of Exodus doesn’t end in chapter 1 and with a river of death. There is much grace and mercy to be found in the story of Exodus. There is atonement for sin and freedom found for those who cry out to God.  

The blood of 60 million babies cries out for justice; God hears.  There are also countless women who to this day grieve over their dead children and the decision they once made.  The wonderful news to which Exodus points and which is found in Jesus Christ, is a word of forgiveness and hope and restoration. The final word isn’t judgement. Forever guilt isn’t the only option. The God of the Passover, the God who rescued Israel from Egypt, is the same God whose only Son gave his life to remove every stain.

As Jesus himself said, during that most famous of Passover meals, on the night he was betrayed, 

“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

Christians, encourage and support the removal of Roe v Wade, and let us not lose sight of the Gospel of grace and forgiveness, which is our ultimate and only hope.

Shane Warne and our own mortality

I think it is fair to say that the whole nation is in mourning. The cricket world is in shock. At the age of 52, Shane Warne is dead. This legitimate Aussie larrikin and cricket legend (and legend is no exaggerated term) died suddenly on Friday night, apparently from a heart attack. To his family and friends, we cannot understand your loss and grief, and yet we want to mourn with you. Australia has lost one of our greatest ever sportsmen, and yet you have lost a Dad, a mentor, a friend.

It seems as though everyone has a Warnie connection. Conversations are taking place across our streets as neighbours and mates talk about some special moment with Shane Warne or memories of a special ball they witnessed him bowl at the G one day. I never met him, even though we share the same backyard. His local cricket club is one my boys play matches against regularly. Warnie’s former school is literally a one minute drive down the road from my church. Like millions of Aussies, I spent many a day admiring his cricketing genius as we watched him on the television or at the MCG.

The shock of Shane Warne’s unexpected death is doing more than creating conversations, The Age published this piece, “Warne’s untimely death a wake-up call for men in their 40s and 50s

Josh Gordon writes, “Shane Warne’s death from a suspected heart attack at the age of 52 has come as a wake-up call for middle aged-men across the country, many of whom took to WhatsApp groups Saturday morning to question their sense of mortality.”

Yes! Aussie men aren’t generally the most congenial visitors to the local GP, let alone verbalising their fears about mortality.  Visiting your local doctor for a check-up sounds like a pretty smart move. Now, I’m several years younger than Warnie and I’ve never smoked and never drunk the volume of alcohol that our famed Aussie cricketers are renowned for doing, but then again, avoiding such things is no guarantee of making a century. I mean, isn’t this the issue? None of us knows how long the innings will last. If Shane Warne’s passing has made you gasp in horror, talk to your GP. But let’s not stop with a stethoscope, blood pressure machine and cholesterol test. The question of our mortality goes well beyond what any doctor can observe and diagnose. 

The issue of human mortality is often laid hidden behind sterile rooms and hushed tones. When it comes to death, Aussies are not an upfront people. It’s not a subject for polite conversation. However, talk about death has become more urgent and real and public over the last two years. The COVID pandemic, especially in its earliest days, rushed forward the issue of mortality, entering people’s minds and even spoken on our lips. War in Ukraine is reminding us of the violent presence of death as does Afghanistan. And punctuating the thinly veiled pride and sense of masculine endurance is the sudden death of an Australian icon.

What are we to do with our mortality? How can we resolve this ignominious question? 

Death is the inevitable door that we long to avoid. For all our momentum in running away from the grave, we are all in fact heading along the same road: the great and the small,  the iconic and the average.

As a minister of a church, I have often spoken with people who are approaching death. There is always sadness for death is a great enemy, destroying life and ripping apart relationships. Rarely does anyone want the innings to end, perhaps ‘retire not out’ but no one wants to be bowled. Yet, we do not choose the day or manner of our dying, whether we are given time to assess our end or it comes suddenly and without warning. Ignoring the question will not fix it and save us. 

If it is time for middle-aged men to ‘wake up’ and get a check up, it is also wise and imperative that we find the ultimate answer to death. 

My Twitter feed has been filled with ‘RIP Shane Warne’ and ‘RIP Rodney Marsh’. When a person dies we often resort to this simple and hopeful phrase. I was reminded today of how the saying has been shortened.  The phrase was originally and purposefully longer: “Rest in peace and rise in glory”. This is a Christian idiom that harkens back to the early centuries AD and whose meaning is found in the Bible and rests in the person and work of Jesus. As the Scripture says, 

“Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” (Hebrews 10:27-28)

If this is indeed the time to evaluate our mortality, then may I suggest we need to go no further than the One who died and went to the grave, only to defeat death with resurrection life. You see, the answer is staring at us and has been for millennia. We have heard the words spoken at funerals, in school chapels and at church. These living and hope bringing words are found in every Gideon’s Bible and available to us on our smartphones. 

Young and old, men and women, cricket devotees and those who should be, if we are serious about answering the question of our own mortality, then believe the One who has gone ahead of us and conquered death for us, that it may not have the final word:

“When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

“Where, O death, is your victory?
    Where, O death, is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:54-57)

Do I watch the Beijing Winter Olympics or not?

I’ll be honest, when it comes to the Beijing Winter Olympic Games I feel torn. In light of recent human abuses in China and the growing tensions over her intentions with Taiwan, and the wellbeing of tennis star Peng Shuai, several nations including Australia refused to send Government representatives to the games. I also have friends who have decided not to watch the Games as a form of protest. 

Politics has never been far from the Olympic Games. In 1968, two American sprinters took a stand against racism on the dais. The 1972 Games was marred by a terrorist attack against Jewish athletes. Nations boycotted the 1980 and 1984 Games due to the Cold War. Games in the 21st Century have been increasingly influenced by cultural movements. And of course, there is the infamous 1936 Berlin Games.

 

I saw a few ‘highlights’ from the Opening Ceremony and was floored by the reuse of John Lennon’s insipid song, Imagine. Leaving aside the fact that one must have very little imagination for trotting out this dribble again, but did others notice the palpable hypocrisy of having those words resound around the Bird’s Nest?

“You may say I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one

I hope someday you’ll join us

And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions

I wonder if you can

No need for greed or hunger

A brotherhood of man

Imagine all the people

Sharing all the world”

One might ask, but what of the Uyghur people? What of the treatment of Christians? What of the military threats facing Taiwan? Hong Kong? Perhaps the CCP read ‘join us’ and ‘the world will be as one,’ and assumed Lennon was talking about the Communist utopian dream!

After all,  Imagine is a fitting anthem for the Chinese Communist Party. The song is explicitly anti-religion, anti-pluralism, anti-God, and near nihilist in its agenda. 

Leaving aside the bizarrely befitting opening ceremony song, I’ve been trying to figure out whether I watch the games or not. To be honest, I’ve been feeling pretty blah about a number of the recent Olympic Games. Indeed, what is one to do about the Soccer World Cup hosted by Qatar later in the year?

I understand why a lot of people aren’t turning on the television to watch the Games. Why do we want to encourage in any way, a regime that stands in opposition to the values of liberal democracy? Why we would we wish to promote in any way, a Government that is actively stifling social and religious freedoms. No doubt, some in the CCP might turn and ask, well what about your own backyard Australia? Yes, indeed. 

While part of me wants to protest the Games by not watching, another part of me enjoys sport and I like watching the Olympic Games, both Summer of Winter. After all, some of these winter sports are pretty specular, from downhill skiing to bobsledding and aerial snowboarding. And don’t I want to support the Aussies competing? I suspect I’m not the only one facing the dilemma, do I do what I enjoy doing or do I hold to my principles? Do I stand by the belief that the CCP is a dangerous Government who should not be given support and praise (as these Winter Olympics are most assuredly doing) or do I cave in and submit to the Aussie primal urge for sport?

Maybe can I do both?  I can voice my objections with a swift statement on Twitter and then quietly turn on the tv in the background! Who would ever know?

In the case of the Winter Olympics, as with many sporting events, the answer isn’t always straightforward; there is some grey. For example, the Olympics isn’t solely about China: we want to see our fellow Australians compete and succeed, there is something noble in admiring human athletic brilliance. Again, in this conversation we may reflect and ask, is our own Aussie backyard pure as snow? 

The dilemma isn’t new. This Beijing impasse reminds me of that most ancient of battles, where we acknowledge God who is right and yet we decide to go our own way. Even today, we look at the life of Jesus and read his words, and yet the power of doing our own thing most often wins the day. We may be convinced by the moral norms presented in the Bible, but then the pull to satisfy personal desires and preferences leads us to explain away such Christian principles. We are proficient compromisers; revising, excusing, and justifying all manner of behaviours despite what we might ascend to formally.

Such paradoxes, tensions and even hypocrisies are noted in the Bible. For example, in the book of Roans the Apostle Paul notes this spiritual and moral disjunction that we all suffer. The assessment is fair as it is bleak. For him, it is autobiographical.

“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?

The prospects of surviving this hypocritical life are zero. The way to resolve the problem isn’t today’s ‘gospel’: just be true to ourselves. After all, is not the Chinese leadership being true to their own values and desires? Is Putin not being faithful to an old Russian dream?

In the same letter, Paul furthers the discord that many of us are subconsciously aware of. 

“We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? “

The story could end like this, in a spectacular fall that makes downhill skiing look like a novice’s act. But it doesn’t. Paul, who authored these words, was both a legal and religious expert. He was a fervent advocate for his national identity and he openly opposed a new minority group that had appeared on the scene; Christians. This same man later admitted that the greater conflict wasn’t the one taking place externally in the geopolitical scene, but the one facing his own heart.  The sun may be out, but what can warm this heart of ice? I suspect that as readers soak in his reflection, we may well recognise the anx and conflict that we also experience inside our own consciences. 

Then comes this life giving, relieving and redeeming word,

“Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

If you happen to be like me and feel conflicted over watching the Olympic Games, why not dig a little deeper. Sitting behind the world stage of ideological clashes are human lives whose hearts are in conflict with someone far greater than ourselves.  Why do we do what we ought not do?  

One of the greatest movements in the last 50 years took place in China. I don’t mean Communism and I’m not referring to China’s massive economic growth. I am speaking of 10s of millions of Chinese men and women who, despite the CCP’s active opposition, have found the answer to the conflict human heart. The solution is God’s gift of his Son, Jesus Christ. 

Maybe Australia does need to take a look at China, a deeper look behind geopolitics and into the way in which a people who lost all freedoms have in fact found the greatest freedom, namely Christ.

Devonport: a word offered when no words can be found

A devastating tragedy struck the Tasmanian town of Devonport yesterday. On what should have been a fun filled celebration for Grade 6 children who were finishing their final day of primary school, became the worst of nightmares. Children were playing on a jumping castle when a sudden gust of wind swept it high into the air, before plummeting 10m to the earth. Five children have died and another four remain in critical condition. 

One dares not speak a word, for what can one say? Even as a parent with 3 children, what words can I utter? One cannot understand what these families are going through unless one has already experienced such loss ourselves. How do we make sense of the senseless? The death of any child is beyond words, but five lost to such circumstances? The reporter on the news last night added the note that this accident has happened so close to Christmas.

I don’t think the proximity to Christmas makes this awfulness any more harrowing than it already is. But perhaps there is something in the Christmas story that touches and empathises with the inexplicable. 

Soon after Jesus’ birth, a tragic incident occurred in Bethlehem, and it forms part of the Christmas story. It is part of the original Christmas although we don’t often read it. And fair enough, it was a terrible event that involved the deaths of many little children.

“A voice is heard in Ramah,

    weeping and great mourning,

Rachel weeping for her children

    and refusing to be comforted,

    because they are no more.”

There are words in Scripture that speak the word of unspeakable grief in losing a child. The circumstances and time and place are different but they nonetheless echo the human heart. Indeed, those words from the prophet Jeremiah are all poignant and jarring for the loss of those little ones in Bethlehem following the birth of another child, the Christ.

This Son of God, whose name is Jesus,  would one day preach a sermon which today echoes through the generations and still pierces light and life into the darkness. In the address, Jesus spoke these words,

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

He is willing to comfort those who cannot be comforted.

On another occasion, in Jesus’ inaugural public address, he chose for his Bible text, verses from the book of Isaiah,

“the people living in darkness

    have seen a great light;

on those living in the land of the shadow of death

    a light has dawned.”

What an astonishing announcement, the darkness will not win. The shadow of death is long and thick, but its hold will not last forever. For you see, this same Jesus doesn’t only offer comfort, he has walked the path none of us wishes to undergo and yet will do so one day. He accepted the cross and descended to the dead so that he might punch through the darkness and bring the light of life that can never be dimmed.

We may struggle and grasp to find words to express our sorrow for these families in Devonport today, and that’s ok. For what can one say?  Sometimes all one can do is sit and quietly grieve. 

The one thing I can say to my fellow Aussies as we look on is this: the message of Christmas has a word to offer in every situation, even the darkest grief and unknown. Strip away Christmas from all the presents and food and decorations, and we uncover in the biblical story a God who hates death. He is appalled by it. He opposes it.  His only Son experienced the harrowing of that darkness, for us, that one day death may be defeated forever and all who call on him will know his resurrection power.

We cannot answer the ‘why’ of much that happens in life. The unfathomable can sit like an incurable pain. The Jesus of Christmas tells us there is one who knows and we can go to him, not because we can explain everything, but because he has already taken that journey through death and he has broken through to life again.