Rachael Denhollander and her extraordinary speech

“blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy” (Jesus Christ)

 

Today I had the privilege, along with millions around the world, to watch one of the most extraordinary speeches I have ever heard.

Child sexual abuse is one of the great sins of this age. It is an ancient evil, as well as modern one, but until recent times so much was covered up and victims were so often not believed. Today, the former USA Gymnastics team doctor, Larry Nassar, was jailed for 175 years, having sexually abused countless number of girls under his care.

 

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These stories are far too common, as we also know here in Australia, and we should not be surprised to hear of many more similar cases coming to the fore in days and years to come. The crime is now sadly a familiar one, but in the midst of harrowing testimonies there came a message of purity, goodness, and astonishment.

Rachael Denhollander was the first victim to publicly come forward with allegations against Nassar, and she was final of 156 survivors to speak in court. 24 hours ago I had never heard of Rachael Denhollander, but today I encourage people to listen to her voice and to hear her message.

We live in a world filled with the stench of evil, and that evil resides in the hearts of humankind. It was not so long ago that we all had friends who doubted the existence of evil, certainly in an intellectual or objective sense. At yet, as doors open and as people find courage to speak, we discover that evil abounds and it is more prevalent and real and darker than we believed.

In her address, Rachael Denhollander speaks candidly of the pernicious and devastating behaviour of Larry Nassar upon so many girls, including herself.

“Larry is a hardened and determined sexual predator. I know this first-hand. At age 15, when I suffered from chronic back pain, Larry sexually assaulted me repeatedly under the guise of medical treatment for nearly a year. He did this with my own mother in the room, carefully and perfectly obstructing her view so she would not know what he was doing. His ability to gain my trust and the trust of my parents, his grooming and carefully calculated brazen sexual assault was the result of deliberate, premeditated, intentional and methodological patterns of abuse — patterns that were rehearsed long before I walked through Larry’s exam room door and which continue to be perpetrated I believe on a daily basis for 16 more years, until I filed the police report.”

She spoke of why justice must be meted out.

“Who is going to tell these little girls that what was done to them matters? That they are seen and valued, that they are not alone and they are not unprotected? And I could not do that ,but we are here now and today that message can be sent with the sentence you hand down you can communicate to all these little girls and to every predator to every little girl or young woman who is watching how much a little girl is worth.

I am asking that we leave this courtroom we leave knowing that when Larry was sexually aroused and gratified by our violation, when he enjoyed our suffering and took pleasure in our abuse, that it was evil and wrong.

I ask that you hand down a sentence that tells us that what was done to us matters, that we are known, we are worth everything, worth the greatest protection the law can offer, the greatest measure of justice available.”

She also spoke of an idea, a message and desire that is shared less often in Western societies today, less believed and more rarely practiced. Rachael Denhollander spoke of Divine judgment and mercy. She affirmed her belief in the God of the Bible as one who rightly punishes evil, and yet who lovingly offers mercy.

While addressing Larry Nassar, Rachael Denhollander said,

“In our early hearings. you brought your Bible into the courtroom and you have spoken of praying for forgiveness. And so it is on that basis that I appeal to you. If you have read the Bible you carry, you know the definition of sacrificial love portrayed is of God himself loving so sacrificially that he gave up everything to pay a penalty for the sin he did not commit. By his grace, I, too, choose to love this way.

You spoke of praying for forgiveness. But Larry, if you have read the Bible you carry, you know forgiveness does not come from doing good things, as if good deeds can erase what you have done. It comes from repentance which requires facing and acknowledging the truth about what you have done in all of its utter depravity and horror without mitigation, without excuse, without acting as if good deeds can erase what you have seen this courtroom today.

If the Bible you carry says it is better for a stone to be thrown around your neck and you throw into a lake than for you to make even one child stumble. And you have damaged hundreds.

The Bible you speak carries a final judgment where all of God’s wrath and eternal terror is poured out on men like you. Should you ever reach the point of truly facing what you have done, the guilt will be crushing. And that is what makes the gospel of Christ so sweet. Because it extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found. And it will be there for you.

I pray you experience the soul crushing weight of guilt so you may someday experience true repentance and true forgiveness from God, which you need far more than forgiveness from me — though I extend that to you as well.”

Rachel Denholander’s words are the Christian message. The God whom she spoke about is not ignorant of, or complicit with, or powerless to judge sin; he hates it more than us. She is right, no supply of good works can erase the evil Nassar perpetrated and which arose from a heart that is more putrid than his actions. But Rachel Denhollander did not end with a message of condemnation, but she pointed her abuser to God’s mercy and forgiveness.

Should you ever reach the point of truly facing what you have done, the guilt will be crushing. And that is what makes the gospel of Christ so sweet. Because it extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found. And it will be there for you.

I pray you experience the soul crushing weight of guilt so you may someday experience true repentance and true forgiveness from God, which you need far more than forgiveness from me — though I extend that to you as well.”

The cross of Jesus Christ highlights our sins more vividly than we wish, and it reveals the justice of God more holy and fierce than we imagine, and the cross is God pouring out his love and grace more wonderfully and abundantly than any could ever conceive.

 We should not be so quick to dismiss the efficacy and goodness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ today. In a court of law, and in circumstances addressing the ugliest of human affairs, a woman spoke with quiet dignity, sharing her pain, calling for justice on behalf of countless girls, and speaking grace to a man who deserves none. Rare? possibly. Contrary to human wisdom? Yes. Attractive and causes us to ponder? Absolutely.

Abortion, Canada, and the relentless wave of Authoritarian Secularism

I love taking Claude (family greyhound) for an early morning walk through the streets of Parkdale and Mentone, and to listen to the Bible as we go. Today in the Psalms, I was struck by Psalm 8:2, which says,

“Through the praise of children and infants

    you have established a stronghold against your enemies,

    to silence the foe and the avenger.”

Afterward, I was catching up on the news and heard a report about a recent announcement by Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. Organisations applying for Government funding for the Canadian Summer Jobs program, must now sign an attestation that they support abortion. The Government had tried previously to prevent funding to pro-life groups but there were legal hurdles that couldn’t be jumped. Instead, they have now built a wall to keep out organisations they won’t subscribe to the extreme social secularism that is being enforced on Canadians by the Trudeau Government.

 

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The form states,

“CSJ applicants will be required to attest that both the job and the organization’s core mandate respect individual human rights in Canada, including the values underlying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as other rights. These include reproductive rights and the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, race, national or ethnic origin, colour, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.

The employer attestation for CSJ 2018 is consistent with individual human rights in Canada, Charter rights and case law, and the Government of Canada’s commitment to human rights, which include women’s rights and women’s reproductive rights, and the rights of gender-diverse and transgender Canadians. Canada Summer Jobs 2018 4 The government recognizes that women’s rights are human rights. This includes sexual and reproductive rights — and the right to access safe and legal abortions. These rights are at the core of the Government of Canada’s foreign and domestic policies. The government recognizes that everyone should have the right to live according to their gender identity and express their gender as they choose, free from discrimination. The government is committed to protecting the dignity, security, and rights of gender-diverse and transgender Canadians.”

According to information stated on the application form, the rationale for this change is twofold:

-to prevent the Canadian Government from funding projects that don’t endorse abortion and LGBTQI rights,

-and to protect minors being “exposed” to these anti-social views.

Among the organisations that are unable to sign the attestation are Christian groups, many who previously were part of the program and providing work for Canadian youth.

Attention to this new policy came to fore last week when Justin Trudeau was asked a question about free speech during a Town hall meeting at McMaster University, Hamilton. He answered,

“In this country, we defend each other’s rights, even when they’re unpopular, as we’ve seen a couple of times. At the same time, we need to know that there is a difference between freedom of expression and acting on those expressions and beliefs. A great example that I was wondering whether you’d bring up is the current kerfuffle around the Canada Summer Jobs program, and expecting that any organization that gets funding to bring young people through the Summer Jobs program – which hundreds of thousands of young people go through – will respect the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Now, that doesn’t mean that religious groups and faith groups can’t apply for that. On the contrary, so many of the great community organizations that we have working incredibly hard are faith-based across this country and it’s an important and wonderful part of our society. It does, however, mean – and this is where we get to the crux of the matter – that an organization that has the explicit purpose of restricting women’s rights by removing rights to abortion, the right for women to control their own bodies, is not in line with where we are as a government, and quite frankly where we are as a society.”

The fact the Mr Trudeau felt liberty to use the Summer Jobs Program as his example in answering a question on free speech, says something about his confidence for advancing his social agenda.

Trudeau’s comments are sadly not unusual, but are indicative of much western civilisation today. He is saying to Canadian Christians, ‘we’ll let you hold your believes in private, and perhaps within the confide of your association, but these views are no longer permitted publicly’. This means that organisations will either have to bury their convictions, hide their conscience, and sign the document, or accept that they are no longer Canadians of equal footing and thus lose their funding.

Of course, this is Canada, not Australia. However, we are not so different. Our culture, our history, and our system of Government, is more closely aligned to Canada than it is the United States. The same authoritarian secularism that is sweeping the the land of the maple leaf is also at work here in the south.

It is a perfect illustration of where Western secularism is moving; the gods of the sexual revolution don’t take prisoners. Indeed they will sacrifice the unborn and will trample on the living dissidents. We have already seen a similar move undertaken in Australia. In 2016, the Victorian State Government attempted to legislate that all religious groups must conform to a proposed ‘inherent requirements test”. In short, this would removed freedom from churches and organisations to employ persons based on the theological convictions of the group. The legislation was finally defeated in the Upper House by a single vote. The point is, a State Government in Australia felt as though the sway of society had moved such that they could put forward such Erastian law.

It should also be noted that in addition to the new restriction, Canadian groups are calling for  “anti-abortion” agencies to lose their charitable status altogether.

Joyce Arthur, executive director of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, 

“No anti-abortion agency should be registered as a charity…The mission and activities of anti-choice groups are inherently political and biased, which should disqualify them from charitable status. They work to stigmatize abortion, constrain individuals’ access to it, and ultimately to re-criminalize it.”

In light of the recent introduction of same sex marriage in Australia, the hot issue has become religious freedom and freedom of conscience. These issues have been highlighted by some in the Federal Parliament, and mocked by others. In response to what is probably a combination of reasoned argument and political pressure, a panel has been established to review Australia’s religious freedoms.

As Australians talk about religious freedoms and submit reports to the Ruddock Inquiry, we shouldn’t be surprised to find some who look to this latest Canadian example and use it as ammunition to further squeeze religious freedoms here in Australia.

Jane Caro is a representative of the vanguard of socio-politico thinking in Australia. Two days before Christmas she wrote an article for The Saturday Paper, in which she argued a case for defunding religious schools. In the wake of same sex marriage, Caro has strong views about schools and other organisations whose views differ to the newly redefined Marriage Act.

“We believe that if publicly subsidised schools – and other religious organisations – wish to discriminate against others, they should have to advertise both whom they discriminate against and why – prominently – in all promotional material, prospectuses, websites and job ads. One of the costs of discrimination is that it narrows the field of available talent and anyone considering using the services of such a school ought to be fully informed about that.

Another way of making the statutory right to discriminate fairer for everyone is to remove the blanket exemption and require authorities wishing to discriminate to appeal for an exemption in specific cases. As private school providers claim they rarely resort to exercising their freedom to discriminate, this would seem the most sensible way forward. It might be reasonable to seek to apply religious selection criteria to those who will be giving religious instruction, but why would a mathematics or physics teacher, or a rowing master, or a cleaner or groundskeeper need to be selected on such a basis?

Why should public funds be provided for those staffing positions that require religious discrimination? Surely it would be reasonable for the costs of these positions to be met by the faith community itself, specifically the church and the parents?”

 

It is easy for people to say, “the answer is straightforward, stop applying for Government funding.” The issue is less about the money, but the attack of religious freedom and freedom of speech. This is yet another example of a western nation shedding principles of a liberal democracy. Where citizens lose the freedom to express a point of view (indeed, a viewpoint that was until recent times morally accepted and valued) and are threatened with defunding for holding that position, we are witnessing societies letting go of principles that made possible the creation of the modern democratic State.

Authoritarian secularism may employ the language of progress, equality and fairness, but the reality is very different to their sloganeering. This is about changing how people think and live, this is about redefining truth and morality, and forcing everyone to worship at the feet of our modern manifestations of Moloch and Venus. Aussie Christians need to get used to the fact that the country has changed. We are no longer nominally Christian, and that means that many of the structures and moral frames which built this wonderful nation are being removed. There will be social stigma, there will be financial cost.

How different was my morning reading from Psalm 8. The God of the Bible reveals his glory in his creation, and most wonderfully in humanity. He affirms the praises and song of children and of infants; they are wonderfully made. How different is the view of children that Canada now promotes.

The Lord is majestic in all the earth, both in his stunning acts of creation and in his wondrous act of redemption.

The Psalmist asks,

“what is mankind that you are mindful of them,

    human beings that you care for them?”

The answer given is that God give human kind unique glory and honour, and has placed them uniquely in all the universe to rule. God’s image bearers all fall, failing to rule with care, justice, and kindness.  In love God’s only Son descended to the grave, having being killed in the place of sinners. He was raised to life on the third day, to defeat not only death, but to prove the efficacy of his death for sin.

“Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

Volunteering makes the world a better place

2018 may only be 5 days old, but we already have a contender for the most stupid article of year award.

For a moment, I thought all Fairfax Editors had vacated the building for summer holidays and had given the keys to an 18 year old work experience student who’s started the campaign to elect Bernie Sanders as the next Prime Minister of Australia.

Fairfax has published a piece with the title, Volunteering doesn’t make the world a better place.

As the headline suggests, the article is an attack on the indispensable practice of voluntary work in Australia.

Catherine Walsh is calling on Australians to “stop volunteering”.

Why? She sees volunteering as a faux help, not resolving societal issues but aggravating them. Walsh arrives at her conclusion by arguing that voluntarism is inefficient, is unvalued, and is exploited by organisations who are disinterested in solving problems.

Walsh’s solution seems to be, get rid of voluntarism and instead let’s create a bigger government and remunerate people for all their work. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Let’s handball even more communal opportunity and responsibility over to Government, and let’s suck out the tiny bit of oxygen that keeps Australian philanthropy alive. Instead of donating time and money to causes that we think highly of, let’s give Government permission to charge even higher taxes to pay for the programs that it subscribes as morally relevant.

 

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Apart from her less than satisfactory alternative to voluntarism, there are several important flaws in Walsh’s presentation of volunteering that require response.

Firstly, Walsh largely equates volunteering with virtual signalling. She says,

“Being a volunteer, or fundraising, or working for a charity, signals that you are a good person.”

“If volunteering was valued we would have a separate resume for it, at parties people would ask each other about their volunteering, and hours worked would contribute to superannuation.”

I have no doubt that there are persons involved in voluntary work because it gives them a drug free high. They feel good about themselves, and they enjoy the praise they receive from people around them. That is certainly not the Christian motivation for doing good. We give because we know the joy of what it is to receive. Those who have been loved, want to love others.

According to Walsh, if Australians truly value volunteering, we would be congratulating one another. But why should people boast about their volunteering and donating? Doing so undercuts the very nature of the work, that is, it is being done for the good of others, not for oneself. Is it not possible that Australians happily give time and effort to serve others without demanding compensation, let alone, superannuation? Where is the ideal of sacrificial giving? Indeed, as soon as we strip these Christian foundations for society, we fast become bereft of moral structures that we need for building a healthy society.

And BTW, people can and do include volunteer work on their resumes!

Not only does Catherine Walsh paint volunteerism as egotism, she secondly alleges that voluntary work is inefficient.

“A lot of the volunteering we do is inefficient. Schools ask that parents bake cakes to be sold to the children of other parents who have baked cakes. Most school events involve sausages on white bread and fizzy drinks, which is not recommended as a healthy diet. Chocolates are sold in staffrooms to raise money for the children’s hospital. Rubber wristbands are sold by charities to raise awareness of illnesses. A fundraiser for the environment can sell unhealthy food one week, and a fundraiser for health can damage the environment the next. This is inefficient. Any effort to help one system should not be feeding into the brokenness of another. In order to be helpful we need to factor in all systems at once.”

I do agree with one small point here  – her examples about about cake stalls and chocolate drives; these are often self-defeating exercises given that the very people designed help are the ones buying the sugary treats. We shouldn’t need incentive in order to give generously to a cause that we value. Volunteering though is not donating: voluntarism isn’t donating $5 at a school fete and receiving a chocolate bar in return.  Voluntarism is work without pay; it is giving time, energy, skills, and productivity for a cause without expecting any reimbursement.

Is voluntary work always efficient? No. But then, is paid work always more efficient? Is Government the very epitome of efficiency? And why is efficiency the only measure worthwhile considering?

Much of life is not efficient. Relationships are often complex and messy, and they require time and patience and perseverance. The reality is, not all of life’s brokenness can be fixed with a signed policy statement and a grant dispersed by Government bureaucrats.

Matt Perman explores this myth about work in the book, What’s Best Next?. He writes,

“While efficiency is important, it is secondary. More important than efficiency is effectiveness — getting the right things done. Efficiency doesn’t matter if you are doing the wrong things in the first place.”

It is also important to broaden the view of worthwhile work which is suggested by Walsh. For example, Tim Keller defines work as, ‘rearranging the raw material of God’s creation in such a way that it helps the world in general, and people in particular, thrive and flourish.”

Dorothy L. Sayers asks the poignant question, “We should ask of an enterprise, not “will it pay?” but “is it good?” She argues, “the habit of thinking about work as something one does to make money is so ingrained in us that we can scarcely imagine what a revolution change it would be to think about it instead in terms of the work done. To do so would mean taking the attitudes of mind we reserve for our unpaid work – our hobbies, our leisure interests, the things we make and do for pleasure – and making that the standard of all our judgements about things and people”

In other words, while we shouldn’t ignore inefficiency, there are bigger and more important questions that need asking about our work, and indeed why we should value unpaid work. At its root, Walsh advocates a consumerist and individualist paradigm which inevitably squashes the greater love, which requires selfless giving for another’s good.

Thirdly, Walsh presents a narrow understanding of voluntarism.

In her article, Catherine Walsh is targeting organisational volunteerism, however much voluntary work and giving in our local communities is informal.

I think of my local cricket club which depends upon the generosity of volunteers who love the game and who want to encourage children in the game. I think of the local athletics club where my daughter runs, and how they depend on the voluntary time giving by families.  

Thinking of my own local church, where people lovingly pour 1000s of hours into giving, serving, caring, and organising. What they achieve is more than running a few programs, they are building and belonging to community, and including others in this endeavour. Societal cohesion and growth cannot be left to Government, but requires spontaneous and informal contributions from the grassroots up. It’s about loving our neighbour as ourself.

Walsh soon enlightens us as to where her real criticism lays – it is with religious organisations and churches. She says, 

“Many government services are now outsourced to church-run charities, which win contracts due to their tax concessions and tax donation status – and rely on the work of volunteers. They are exempt from anti-discrimination laws. It is not in their interest to solve problems.”

“It is not in their interest to solve problems”?

Wow. One can only assume Walsh has never visited a church, nor observed religious charities at work, nor considered the data which elucidates the extraordinary work being achieved by religious groups in this country. Of course there are always going to be a few bad eggs in any system, but is she being serious? Is this a moment of hyperbole? I know of countless people who have found financial restitution through the generosity of others, of mums who can go back to work because friends are helping to baby sit, of marriages being healed because of counselling provided, of people offering beds for those without, of finding hope and forgiveness where society offered none.

A healthy society can only exist where the people contribute to the wellbeing of others without seeking personal benefit. Do we want to be taking away further personal responsibility and opportunity, and therefore assume that big Government will take care of it? If anything, this will produce more cracks and more people going without.

Imagine Australian society with Surf Life Savers, the CFA and SES, without locally run sporting clubs and playgroups. Consider the billions of dollars that we would be required to pay to Government, should churches and religious organisations (yes, primarily Christian) were abandoned of free serving and giving volunteers?

I’m reminded of the words by the Apostle Paul, who said of Christians,

“Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people.”

The Apostle doesn’t call us to dump everything on Government, or to assume someone else will do it, or to demand reimbursement for services completed. He writes in the context of Christian freedom, for we work in light of an eternal future that has been made secure by a God who worked by grace for our good.

Australian Generosity at Christmas

Caitlin Fitzsimmons has called for Australians to be more generous, and to give to charity outside the Christmas period. She offer some sage advice for all of us, and her points about generosity also got me thinking.

She writes,

“Before we dive into the prolonged festival of consumerism that is the summer sales or turn our thoughts to the new year, let’s pause to reflect on the season of giving.

December is the third-biggest month for charitable giving behind May and June, the two months before the end of the financial year when people are trying to maximise their tax deductions, according to Commonwealth Bank figures.”

Fitzsimmons helpfully points out,

“The lead-up to Christmas is when many charities give a big marketing push to drum up donations. It’s also a time of greater need, especially for organisations that help disadvantaged families in Australia or rescue abandoned pets, for example. But no matter the cause, the need doesn’t disappear in January.”

Fitzsimmons doesn’t want us thinking that we’re a nation of Scrooge’s. She proclaims that,

“The good news is that Aussies are generous year-round”.

So how generous are we?

According to research cited in the article, 2/3rds of Australians give to charity, totalling $4.2 billion. That’s not an insignificant sum, although it in fact equates to approximately $300 per Aussie. Hmmm. Generous? I’m beginning to wonder if Scrooge was an Australian.

Fitzsimmons goes on to offer some helpful practical advice about how to give to charity, and why it’s important for organisations to have knowledge of regular giving rather than one off guilt driven contributions.

It would be interesting to know what the average regular Church attender gives per annum. Based on many years of experience, working for and being a member of several Churches, I reckon that a conservative estimation would place Christian giving at 10 times the national average, and Christians often give without any tax benefits.

According to NCLS research (a national survey across Christian denominations, which involved 10,000s of participants), 66% give regularly, with 20% of attendees regularly giving over 10% of their income. It is important to note that these figures only include financial contributions to the local church, and does not include all the charitable giving beyond. Again, this is consistent with my experience of Christians and Churches.

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The question is, why is the gap between general Australia and Christian Australia so great? I’m sure that some Christians give out of a sense of obligation (although they should not), and others give because of a dubious understanding of Divine blessing (ie the prosperity Gospel). But those two reasons cannot explain the giving that continues in evangelical Churches across the country.

So what is the reason?

My hypothesis is a simple one, and it comes from the Bible: Grace changes peoples’ hearts.

“Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7)

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)

When you have come to experience the sacrificial love of God in Christ Jesus, and how the Lord of the universe gave up everything, even his life on the cross, this good news changes you inside and it reorients the way you view your income and the way you look at other people. I’m not suggesting that Christians are better people; Christians are ordinary citizens who face the same financial responsibilities as other Aussies. I am however proposing that there is a difference, and that difference turns on belief in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The extraordinary gift of forgiveness that is found in Jesus, not only frees people to give generously but installs a joy in giving to others.

I happily join Caitlin Fitzsimmons in encouraging Australians to think about generosity in 2018, and we do so, I also encourage us to consider the greatest act of compassion and sacrifice the world has ever known.

This Christmas, Churches be clear about Jesus

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Our Christmas tree is up. The smells of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg are gently drifting through the house.  Yes I know, I’m not a very particularly strict Puritan this time of year!

I’m also preparing my Christmas sermons and at Church we’re gearing up for our Christmas Eve service.

 

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At least since 1965, we have been preaching that commercialism is the real enemy of Christmas. Remember what Lucy says to her friend Charlie Brown in A Charlie Brown Christmas,

“Look, Charlie, let’s face it. We all know that Christmas is a big commercial racket. It’s run by a big eastern syndicate, you know.”

Sermons warned us about not drowning out the true meaning with all the food and shopping and decorations. In the last few years though, we’ve changed our sights and declared that the real enemy of Christmas is now secularism. As shopping centres ban songs about Jesus, as manger scenes disappear or are pushed to the side, and as schools are discouraged from singing beyond Rudolph and bells that jingle, our Christmas messages now come with admonitions about those ripping Christ from Christmas.

First of all, our message isn’t “save Christmas”, our message is, “Jesus is Lord, and he came to save”. There is certainly less Jesus in today’s culture, and dislike for the Christian view of Christmas has become mainstream. Also, the two are not completely disconnected, with the former signalling disproval of the latter. However it is just possible that Christianity can prosper without the public holiday

Second, and maybe this is stating the obvious, but should we be getting all our Christmas lights in such a knot over this? Is it the role of society to announce the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Does it make sense that an unbelieving population should focus attention on God incarnate? Why would they? Perhaps we should revisit the Nativity passages to remind ourselves of how Jesus was received,

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” (John 1:9-11)

I wish more Australians would consider Christ, not only at Christmas but every day of the year. The angelic announcement to the Shepherds remains the greatest news ever to be broadcasted. The proclamation was so astonishing that it was recorded in Holy Scripture, and for over 2000 years people have been hearing the news and millions more will sing about it this year.

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

You kidding me? God has come to earth and become human,  entering as a baby? He is Lord and he has come to save? We Aussies are so absorbed in finding little happinesses that we stubbornly refuse to accept the joy God promises in Jesus Christ. It’s nuts, and the nuttiness is only equaled by Churches obscuring this glorious news,

Surely the cult of tradition can be just as great an enemy of Christmas, as is secularism and commercialism. Clouding the message of the incarnation through candles and processions and choirs can just as easily keep people from grasping the reality of Christ come. Don’t get me wrong, I love a well performed Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, but often that’s all it is, a performance. For many Australians still interested in Church during the season, attendance is often driven by the appeal of tradition or keeping grandparents happy.

Sometimes, because Churches want to “build” relationships with our local community (which is a good thing), we avoid too much Jesus and too much Bible getting in the way. We’ll say the necessary words, but let’s pad it lots of other elements that we know everyone enjoys: if we have to have the egg, make sure we add plenty of nog!

Sometimes, because we’ve assumed the old story needs retelling in new and innovative ways, we sacrifice clarity for the contemporary. Yes, I realise that these things don’t have to be dichotomous, but tell me, how many carol services have you attended where the Bible is never read, the prayers are vague and politically correct, and the headline act is a man carrying about with a pillow stuffed under a $75 hired suit?

It’s not the job of channel 9s Carols by Candlelight to preach Jesus. It’s not role of the local primary school to explain Luke ch.2. If they do, fantastic; a truly pluralist society would embrace such, but it’s not their mandate.

It is the role of Churches, and our privilege, to present and explain the reality of the incarnation, and of the death and resurrection of Immanuel. If the coming of Christ is truly good news that brings great joy, shouldn’t we make it our aim to present Him as clearly and passionately as possible? We can still put on the BBQ, light candles, drink mulled wine, and let the kids do a pageant, but please don’t hide the Gospel. If we are not making the good news of Jesus Christ clear, who will?

Jerusalem and Gaza, the home for many

As Jerusalem makes headline news across the world today, as so often is the case, my mind turned to a letter written by a friend a couple of years ago. At the time, with his permission, I posted it on the Mentone Baptist Church blog. Again with his permission I’m publishing the letter here, because it brings to the fore an often forgotten group of people who are living in that most beautiful yet tumultuous land. His letter doesn’t concern Jerusalem per se, but it does bring a nuance, and timely theological reflection, to a context which is too often misunderstood in binary ways. It was written in 2014.

 

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G. Athas (2017)

Editor’s note: due to the sensitivity of the issues I have withheld the author’s name. It is written by a Christian friend from Palestine who now lives in Melbourne. I am publishing, with their consent, part of an email correspondence from last week that came about after I learnt that members of their family have been killed in Gaza in recent days. 

 

“It is a sad reality…our loss is for my dad’s cousin, and 2 of my second cousins.  My dad is somewhat bitter about the events dominating the land since 1948 and the gradual ethnic cleansing since, and his family (and my mothers) experienced much sorrow seeing Christians flee – taking with them the true heritage of the land. 

Over the years, we have experienced losses that are hard to understand.  Another of my first cousins was shot in the hip, though is alive, and cannot walk around properly.  He has 2 daughters that he struggles to feed because he cannot work.  Therefore my dad and I have supported him somewhat – including his extended family.  This particular incident happened a few years ago in the previous incursion.  He’s a believer and knows that the Lord has a plan – but he struggles.  They live day by day.  His daughter, my niece, did not really know that bananas were yellow, because she had never seen one in real life.  Another of my cousins died late last year because he was unable to obtain medical treatment, and he was my age, and had 3 children.  The family is in great pain knowing that he may have been saved, but was not.

In Australia and much of the west it is very easy to take essential provisions for granted.  Food, water, warmth, basic amenities, and the freedom to worship as a Church or body of Christian believers.  Such rights as voting, police protection, medical and health cover, or a simple roof over your head do not exist to many in Palestine.  Freedom to move around from suburb to suburb within the nation do not exist.  There is no right to external travel, and no right of return.  

 We pray for Christians to be strengthened during this time.  We pray that they will not lose hope, and that they will not blame God, or Christ for the suffering and anguish they endure at the hand of politics, greed and selfishness – the inherent heart of man!  I know they have not got the answers they so desperately seek and they yearn for understanding and adequate explanation.  It is most undoubtedly a difficult time for them (and us being somewhat helpless here), and it seems like there is no real end in sight.  Every day passes by without offering a hint of improvement.  Another day of this life passes by and it cannot ever be reversed.  I know that this eats away at them because they feel they cannot even enjoy the simplest of lives with their children and families.  Uncertainty and persecution is everywhere.  Many fall in despair and suggest God is only a God of the Jews, and hater of the Palestinians.  They consider God hated Ishmael – whereas instead God saved him in the wilderness, and blessed him bringing into his line 12 princes.  The pain distorts their view on God’s true love and equitable justice.  God is not the racist they often time feel He is portrayed as.

So we do sincerely appreciate your prayer, and love in action.  Nothing else helps.  Earnest and fervent petition to our Lord to hear the voice of His people (Christians), whom He loves.  To incline His ear and see their affliction, and turn and answer them and heal their pain – bringing them closer to Himself.  And while doing so, to bring many more others to His Name that were once lost that they too may worship the One True God.  Selah. Amen. 

 As believers, we know that Jews can’t bring true peace.  Muslims can’t bring true peace.  But the Lord of the Bible can.

 I pray this is the Lord’s will for that land.  But I fear more trouble comes first.”

Australia is Changing and Churches are unprepared

Note from today (December 7):

During the course of today, several MPs have offered amendments to the Parliament in order to ensure that religious freedoms and freedom of conscience will continue without threat, once the Marriage Act changes to legalise same sex marriage. As in the Senate, every single motion has failed to win sufficient support in the House of Representatives. No one is surprised by this. What has surprise me was when the member of Canning, Andrew Hastie, sought to table correspondence from religious leaders across the country and was denied. He was not even permitted to table the concerns from many of the nation’s most respected religious leaders.

The constant response to proposed amendments has been, fears of limiting religious freedoms are “baseless”, and they have ironically insisted upon this while the choir sitting in the public gallery have all day applauded and cheered when any MP has suggested religious freedom will be reduced.

One thing we can guarantee once the law passes, a point that I raised a couple of weeks ago, “As soon as the Marriage Act is reworded, future laws and interpretations of these laws, and future social norms will all be defined by this wording. This raises important questions for millions of Australians who with good conscience, do not support the corollary of expectations that will ensue throughout many parts of Australian culture.”

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Since I was a child, Governments have promised to deliver a high speed train, to service Melbourne to Sydney. Last night, the Senate in Canberra began to deliver. The sexual revolution was offered a free upgrade which will ensure that it can accelerate toward its unaccommodating vision for Australia.

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Social progressives have declared their agenda for many years now, but other progressives felt the need to either downplay or ignore their voices, at least in public. Their dream for Australia seemed too bold, too audacious, too big to swallow all at once. 

The Australian public was reassured that same-sex marriage had nothing to do with freedom of religion, although social commentators and even politicians, dedicated an awful lots of words to insist that opponents of same-sex marriage are all haters and need to be silenced. Indeed, within minutes of the marriage survey results being announced, Fairfax had published an article calling for Parliament to ignore the of religious freedoms,

“So let’s not be hoodwinked into changing the law to pander to bogus religious freedom lobbyists.”

Even prior to the marriage survey’s announcement, there was a chorus of public voices explaining how the debate on marriage was connected to religion, and that marriage is the instrument of choice to erase religion from public life altogether.

Mauvre Marsden, in the Sydney Morning Herald (Oct 4),

“Yes, marriage is not the final frontier. Yes, we want safe schools. Yes, gay conversion therapy is child abuse. Yes, we want transgender kids’ agency to be respected and supported – regardless of what their parents want. Yes.”

Auberry Perry in The Age (Sept 3),

“This survey offers us a conscious opportunity to make a firm stand in support of a secular government and to reject discrimination or favouritism based on religion. It’s our opportunity to say that religion has no part in the shaping of our laws. A vote against same-sex marriage is a vote for religious bias and discrimination in our legislation, our public schools, our healthcare, and ultimately, in the foundation of our social structure.”

We should not forget, that only last year the Victorian Government attempted to pass legislation that would have taken freedom from religious organisations in hiring staff who subscribe with their values. By values, the Government was targeting beliefs that didn’t fall into line with the sexual revolution. It was, as Dr Michael Bird explained at the time, an example of Secularized Erastianism, a philosophy which asserts that the State shapes and controls religious belief and practice. Is this the direction Australia wants to head?

Remember all the assurances given to Australians during the same-sex marriage campaign, of how very little will change? Only a couple of weeks ago, the Prime Minister assured the nation that,

“I just want to reassure Australians that as strongly as I believe in the right of same-sex couples to marry, as strongly as I believe in that, even more strongly, if you like, do I believe in religious freedom…”

Last night in Canberra, we were given assurances that much will change. So what was decided in the Senate last night? In short, there will be no safety net for any person or organisation who oppose same sex marriage, except for clergy when it comes to performing weddings and perhaps also for official ‘church’ buildings (although, the ABC is reporting that religious institutions will not be able to refuse to hire out church halls for same-sex weddings).

Stephen McAlpine gives this helpful summary of the main points thus far (based on reporting from The Australian):

  • Protect Civil Celebrants refusing to marry gay couples
  • Create two definitions of marriage – one as between a man and a woman and the other as between two people
  • protect “relevant beliefs’ around marriage
  • prevent governments and agencies from taking action against people with a traditional view of marriage
  • Allow parents to remove their children from classes if they believe material taught is inconsistent with their view of marriage

McAlpine is spot on,

“I totally get points one, two…I didn’t expect anything different on those, and can’t really see an argument around them.  But to refuse protection around “relevant beliefs” about marriage?  That opens the door to all sorts of activism, and it will cost religious groups dearly.

But it’s that idea that the Parliament does not see fit to protect people with a traditional view of marriage from having action taken against them by governments and other agencies that is particularly unfortunate.  You can hear the knives sharpening already, can’t you?”

The prophets of the sexual revolution don’t appear so crazy this morning; they were right and they’ve won the social and political battle. This debate was never about equality, but always about social conformity with the new sexual milieu. There are certainly Australians who still believe that all this is solely about equality and human rights, but they are pawns being played for a much bigger game.

Social pluralism is on the way out, and adherence to the new gods of sexuality is obligatory. Pluralism in Australian could only continue so long as those in authority encouraged alternative views to be expressed publicly, without fear of litigation or threats of violence. The Senate has taken the next step to ensure that such freedoms will decline. This should concern all Australians, not because pluralism is god, and not because we are moral and spiritual relativists, but because we believe a healthy society requires its citizens to argue and persuade, and to allow others to make up their minds.

It’s not too late for the Parliament to deliver sensible legislation, but slowing down the train will be interpreted as a betrayal, and will likely have you thrown off. I’m not suggesting that Parliament puts on the brakes in relation to changing the Marriage Act. I’ve stated elsewhere that Parliament should not unnecessarily delay this process. However, it is incongruous to not fully address, the broader issues which are in fact the main issues.

It is important to remind ourselves that the future of the Gospel in Australia doesn’t ultimately need political assurances from the Government, for it is too good and too true. Charles Spurgeon was right when he said,

“The Word of God is like a lion. You don’t have to defend a lion. Unchain it and it will defend itself.”

The Parliament is however, setting up the scene whereby being a Christian will carry more cost than it has in the past. It is time for Aussie Christians to take  their cross from under the bed, give it a good dusting, and start following Jesus.

Those who identify as progressive of course have nothing to fear from any legislation, because they eagerly jumped on board and abandoned the Gospel 6 stations ago. It doesn’t matter that their churches are dying,  they are happy to pay the price for a seat in business class.

I also suspect that many more Christians will go on pretending as though nothing has changed, until such time that they too have their convictions forced out of them and are then left vulnerable, having their dreams of a prosperous life derailed. When will we wake up and realise Jesus was telling us the truth all along?

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy,[your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6)

The notions of liberal democracy and social liberalism lost some shape last night, and before this journey is over, we will have a nation that is less tolerant and less free. Christianity will survive because it is not defined by these terms, but we can no longer afford a cost free faith. Christians though are not the only ones who are likely to pay; eventually we will see people wanting to get off the train, and churches need to be there and ready to minister to the injured and hurting.

Are we ready?

 

 

 


An earlier report had suggest that Defence Chaplains were not given exemption. That was incorrect and have since made the correction here