Sadness, shock, anger, disappointment, frustration, and despair. Such feelings are not uncommon in our streets and suburbs. Of course, there is much for us to enjoy, and opportunities abound for most people across Melbourne, and yet more and more data suggest that a cavity exists in many lives and it is only growing with time.
In the extraordinary musical, Les Miserables, Fantine sings a song that haunts. The words tell her story. It is a story of lingering hope. It is a story of desperate hope that fades. It is a story that too many of our neighbours and friends resonate with, and perhaps even yourself.
I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high and life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die
I prayed that God would be forgiving
Then I was young and unafraid
And dreams were made and used and wasted
There was no ransom to be paid
No song unsung, no wine untasted
But the tigers come at night
With their voices soft as thunder
As they tear your hopes apart
And they turn your dreams to shame
And still I dream he’d come to me
That we would live the years together
But there are dreams that cannot be
And there are storms we cannot weather
I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I’m living
So different now from what it seemed
Now life has killed the dream, I dreamed
In our search for hope, we are often urged to look inside ourselves or to carry on and push through barriers. On other occasions, we are encouraged to hold onto relationships or careers as though these can secure contentment and peace. What happens when these things fall apart or fail? What happens when we reach all our goals, only to discover that they cannot fulfil the burden we placed upon them?
Easter really does give us the answer. Maybe that sounds a little too Christian for you; an unimaginative and prosaic offering. I don’t mean the long weekend or colourfully wrapped chocolate bunnies and eggs. I’m referring to the historic events that took place just outside Jerusalem about 2000 years ago. Even today, with all our latest gadgets and knowledge, the world hasn’t overcome the irresistible story of God who gave his life for hopeless and helpless people.
Over Easter, my church is exploring (as will churches across Melbourne) the good news story that never dies or fades or disappoints. On that cross, the darkest dark fell upon the Son of God in the place of a sinful world. On the Sunday morning, a light more brilliant than the dawning of the sun pierced history and continues to shed light on millions of lives across the world.
Our Bible text for Easter Sunday this year includes these breathtaking words from John’s Gospel,
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.” (John 3:16-21)
Notice, how God is described as recognising there is something not right in the world. Also, note how these verses assume God doesn’t agree with every want and desire and activity we pour our lives into; it’s as though we’re not the standard for righteousness. At the same time, there is a profound love spoken and expressed.
A lot of Aussies have given up on Church. Millions have discounted Christianity. When we’re being honest we can understand why this is sometimes the case, given the horrors uncovered in some church buildings and lives of clergy. At the same time, most churches aren’t playing games of pretension and hypocrisy, but they are filled with ordinary people who are convinced by the power and goodness of the God who has loved the world.
Many of our dreams cannot be and some ought not to be. But life cannot kill the greatest dream: God is forgiving. Jesus has paid the ransom.
Why not visit a church this Easter? Perhaps open a Bible and read the Easter story for yourself (Mark chs. 14-16; John chs. 18-21)*
* You can read the Bible online for free. https://www.biblegateway.com/ is one of many great websites that allow us to search and read any part of the Bible)
We are living in an age of outrage. No matter where we find ourselves on the political spectrum and no matter where we land on a myriad of moral issues, navigating anger and abuse is becoming normalised. This indictment on our society isn’t a sign of progress but an alarm signalling that we have deep-rooted problems. The issue isn’t just that people disagree on important matters, and do so strongly, but that people feel unable to disagree for fear of retribution.
Last weekend Melbourne witnessed scenes that shocked us. Neo Nazis standing our the steps of the Victorian Parliament House, saluting their vile gestures and shouting obscenities. As aghast as Melbournians were by this sight, there were a multiplicity of reactions and stances made around the broader events on that Saturday in Melbourne city. The organised women’s protest has since gone to other Australian and New Zealand cities, this time without interfering fascists but with even more vitriol and violence conducted by counter protests
Despite the insistence of some of our political leaders and media personalities, it is possible to believe several things are true all at once. Indeed, I’d argue that it’s sensible and necessary. For example, all of the following are possible:
One may not support the women’s march (for a variety of reasons) and yet support concerns raised by women attending the march.
One opposes neoNazism with every fibre in one’s body.
One disagrees with the Premier and Opposition Leader who wrongfully (and slanderously) labelled the women protesting with Nazism (the Nazis were the group of men who hijacked Spring Street from the women protesting.
One opposes popular gender theories on scientific, moral, and theological grounds
One wants good for Victorians who don’t see themselves comfortable in their biological bodies.
I think very few people want our city of Melbourne marred with violence and ugly protests. We’ve seen them in the past and sadly such events will appear again in our streets; it’s human nature. However, the one sight that filled the news and left us groaning was the group of around 20 men parading outside Parliament House in balaclavas, with Nazi salutes and shouting unrepeatable things at other protesters. Why the Government allowed this group to protest at all, and at the same time and location where two other (opposing) protests were taking place, boggles the mind.
I understand that the original plan was for a women’s protest on the steps of Parliament House. A rally was organised in support of women’s rights, and this then met with a counter protest in support of trans activism. The already tense scene was then crashed by what was a crude gang of thugs, who were either pretending to be or actually representing Nazism.
My understanding is that the women’s protest was alerting people to the fact that many women are feeling increasingly marginalised and under threat by a new ideology that is sweeping the Western world. A hundred years of progress for women seems to be taking a sharp decline, leaving many women feeling vulnerable and maligned.
Can one imagine 10 years ago, women protesting in our cities against the mistreatment of women, only for counter-protests to shame them and for political leaders to condemn them? It is quite staggering. The writing has been on the wall for some years, however. The sexual revolution has been underway for 70 years and it continues to follow its natural course of undermining sex and gender and removing anything that gets in the way of self-actualisation. A movement that achieved some good is bearing much fruit that is harming women. In that sense, the latest chapter of the sexual revolution has feminist roots. And so we have reached the point where it’s near impossible to answer the question, ‘what is a man and what is a woman?’ Indeed, even asking the question is often deemed offensive and will have you hauled before the HR department at work.
Professor Richard Dawkins believes that what is a man and what is a woman are basic and incontrovertible facts. In a recent interview with Piers Morgan the world-renowned microbiologist said,
“As a biologist, there are two sexes and that’s all there is to it.”
“Sex really is binary”.
Richard Dawkins is able to get away with defending this brand new ‘heresy’, but most women (and men) cannot. As Premier Daniel Andrews has demonstrated on numerous occasions, if you transgress the latest gendered religion, he will call you the meanest and worst names he can think of and get away with in public. And
It’s not only issues of sex and gender, but there is a gamut of important social issues today where finding rigorous discussion and respectful discourse near impossible to find. We are living in a polarised world and fault lines are appearing everywhere. If you want to be on the ‘right side of history’ (which is code for keeping your job and reputation), without pausing one has to employ the strongest rebuke at social dissenter, and failure to do so may cause us to doubt your moral credentials.
It’s becoming the norm for all kinds of community and business groups to expect total affirmation and support, and failure to do so means one thing: you are a hate-filled and anti-everything nazi loving awful human being! Of course, that may be the case, but most likely, the labels are untrue. But what is truth? Mud sticks.
Slinging mud at people you disagree with and don’t like is easy. Anyone can do that. And sadly, sometimes that mud stains, stinks, and stays.
The Bible has some fairly strong things to say about our words, For example, Proverbs 10:18 says,
“Whoever conceals hatred with lying lips and spreads slander is a fool.”
Psalms 15 says,
“Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent? Who may live on your holy mountain?
The one whose walk is blameless, who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from their heart;
whose tongue utters no slander, who does no wrong to a neighbor, and casts no slur on others;
who despises a vile person but honors those who fear the Lord”
Using words liberally and losing isn’t something God treats lightly. The Apostle Paul cautions against responding to verbal insult with more of the same kind.
“when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment” (1 Corthinians 4:13).
Paul was a regular target for insult and assault. He didn’t enjoy the mischaracterisation that he regularly experienced, and he fought hard to not respond in kind. Rather, it caused him to lean more heavily on God and to respond as the Lord Jesus responded to his critics and crucifiers.
The right to protest is engrained in western liberalism and it is an important freedom, albeit one that I choose not to exercise (with one exception many years ago). I personally think there are better ways to communicate concerns but I also recognise there can be power and persuasion through the force of numbers. Then again, pro-life marches in Australia often outnumber other protests and yet they rarely make the news.
Leaving aside the question of whether protests are helpful or not, last weekend’s protests and the response since are yet another example of how our culture has turned into the ouroboros. We are chasing our own tail and trying to bite it off! We are slowly destroying ourselves as we deny essential realities about the world and about ourselves. And we have lost the ability to communicate hard issues with grace, gentleness, and respect. It’s as though some bright spark read Romans 1:18-32 and thought to himself/herself, what a brilliant pathway to progress! But this isn’t progress, it is a dangerous game of power and bullying and it is hurting real people who are struggling with real issues.
Jesus once asked a group of intellectuals, “Haven’t you read…that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female…”
Can you imagine Jesus standing in Melbourne city and saying these words today? He was willing to say the unpopular thing. Jesus was also known for his great compassion. He didn’t renege on truth or on grace.
Above all, our city of Melbourne needs to relearn how to listen to the One who came from heaven and who was crucified out of love for us. But giving up hubris and putting on humility isn’t an easy path to take, but it is a necessary one if we have any chance of finding redemption. Shouting and demeaning is easy. Listening, speaking well and showing grace is hard. Until such time that we recover these Christian graces I suspect we are going to face more trying times ahead.
And so for my final plea, Christians of Melbourne, don’t buy into the rage. Resist it with all the strength God gives and offer a better pattern. Perhaps no one will listen for now. But eventually, a day may come when the road of rage ends its course and people no longer know where to turn. So be that presence where people can turn. But they probably won’t turn up to our churches or ask those deep questions of us if we’ve already signed up to angry and spiteful mobs that are controlling our public discourse today.
I guess I belong to the podcast generation. At the moment I have something like 15 different podcasts on my phone. From history to politics and to theology, and with Aussies, Americans and Brits, I tend to cycle through various shows, ducking in and out of episodes that grab my eye.
The point of listening to podcasts isn’t to reaffirm my existing convictions, although that’s not a bad exercise, it’s to engage with a variety of voices and learn interesting things about the world and how people think and form their beliefs.
One podcast that I’ve been listening to a little is TRIGGERnometry. TRIGGERnometry is a political/social podcast show hosted by two British comedians: Konstantin Kisin and Francis Foster. On the train home just now I was listening to their recent episode which is an interview with actor Lawrence Fox. Fox is well known for the Detective series, ‘Lewis’ and for his roles in films including ‘Elizabeth: The Golden Age’.
The conversation revolves around Fox’s interests and recent political engagements on issues especially surrounding freedom of speech and cultural shifts that are taking hold across Western societies.
My interest here isn’t the podcast or the talking points raised during the episode. There was a line of thought that arose late in the episode and which stood out to me (around the 58-minute mark).
Lawrence Fox was speaking about loving those who are different to ourselves when Francis Foster turned the conversation to these words of Jesus. He said,
“It comes back to Christ on the cross. ‘Forgive them Lord for they know not what they do”.
“Even if you don’t believe in God (don’t have faith), it’s not a bad manual for living…It’s not a bad thing, this idea that someone else has died so that you can be a b***ard to everybody…It’s this modern infection, I meet a lot of people who think, “I’m just a really good person”, and I’m thinking you’re f***en deluded if you think you’re a good person. If I started spouting half the sh** that goes on in my head you know you’re not a good person. That’s why you’ve got to talk all the time and express and connect with other people and find how you can become a better person…being the lovely made in the image of Christ person you are but the fundamental sinfully creature you are”
Unsurprisingly (for those who know me), these comments grabbed my attention and they did so for a couple of reasons.
First of all, it reminds me how our culture still doesn’t travel far from the person of Jesus. We are living 2000 years later and 1000s km from Nazareth, and yet our culture hasn’t been able to let go of Jesus of Nazareth. His words and deeds and even his cross remain deeply embedded in the way we view the world today and even ourselves.
Now, I have no idea what Fox and Foster believe about God in general and Christianity in particular. Their use of language and some of their comments throughout the episode doesn’t give me the impression that they are closely following Jesus, but clearly, though, they are impressed with Christ and they think there is something about him for which it is worth anchoring life.
Second, in his own way, Lawrence Fox has offered a more accurate biography of human nature than what most people, even Christians, are willing to admit. In theological terms, it’s called ‘total depravity’. This doesn’t mean that we are all as terrible as we can be, but that sin permeates every part of us and we cannot change the status quo.
As the Apostle Paul explains,
“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23)
In another letter, Ephesians, Paul elaborates,
“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins,in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.” (Ephesians 2:1-3)
Just think how shocking these words sound to our ears. Are we offended? Maybe not, until we realise these words are talking about us as well. And yet Fox kind of agrees with Paul.
When Fox admits the kinds of thoughts that enter his own head, he’s entering the same kind of space Jesus speaks about when he says, “Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”
It only requires an honest person to see that everything’s not ok inside us. Even as Lawrence Fox gave an expose on his inner attitudes, I began nodding, ‘yeah, that’s me as well’. It’s hard to sustain the argument that people are basically good when confronted with the kinds of things we often think and desire. This is one reason why we rarely share the secret things of our hearts.
The Bible’s analysis of the human condition may be triggering, but so also is the Bible’s solution. It’s one thing to diagnose the human condition but it requires humility to accept the answer given to us by Jesus.
Lawrence Fox indicates what sounds like his answer, it’s a course of dialectical improvement that results from meeting and listening and learning with others. However, I’m unconvinced, and given the guys at TRIGGERnometry involved Jesus in the conversation, let’s turn to the words of Jesus.
At the moment my mind is living in one of the most famous conversations ever had: Nicodemus and Jesus (found in John ch.3). In podcast terms, this would have to be one of the most influential interviews ever recorded. Millions of people are still reading this interview every year and millions of lives changed demonstrably as a result.
In short, Nicodemus was a respected and influential political and religious leader. He’s a member of the governing council. He’s heard about Jesus. He’s intrigued and so he visits him one night (just in case his friends find out that Jesus is on his playlist). Nicodemus is introduced and shows respect to Jesus, but Jesus doesn’t buy it. You see, behind Nicodemus’ words is attached a certain hubris. He’s the expert and he’s come to learn and assess whether Jesus fits his criteria for what he’s looking for in God.
Jesus pushes back on Nicodemus. Jesus is fully aware that education and influence and personal improvement aren’t the basis on which we can overcome the basic human problem which is, as Lawrence Fox highlights, called sin.
Jesus explains to this man of erudition and position,
“Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
It takes Nicodemus a while before he understands what Jesus means, but Jesus graciously sticks with him and helps him grasp this basic truth about humanity: we cannot redeem ourselves. We may hide our nature or we may affirm our nature or celebrate our nature but digging ourselves out of the sin hole is beyond us. If you don’t believe me, then take a look at the history of the world.
Jesus says that we need a new birth. We need to be born again. When we heard that phase we need to unlearn the parody of the American evangelist wearing a shiny suit and southern drawl. “Born again” is Jesus’ phase and his idea. What he means is that people need a new beginning from the inside out, and only someone outside of ourselves who loves us enough can do that of messy impossible work. It takes someone as big as God and as merciful as God to want to love and redeem us. That’s the point, says Jesus.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
As I listen and converse with people today I hear a fair amount of negativity and even anger aimed at Jesus, and yet we still hope that what Jesus stands for and stands on can provide some kind of restitution and way forward for the world today.
If you’re someone who thinks there is still something interesting and even important about the person of Jesus, I recommend listening to his words and wrestling with his message. He triggers us because he is good and has something to say to us. He stings but then he heals. He confronts but then he reconciles. He disagrees with us but only because he loves us.
In case we’re unclear about what Jesus thinks, in the same discourse between Jesus and Nicodemus we are given a verdict,
“This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.”
The near-annual call to remove the Lord’s Prayer from the Victorian halls of power has reemerged in the media. Boroondara Council has suspended the recitation of the Lord’s prayer, after being directed by a ‘legal letter’ alleging that the practice is unlawful.
In 2021, Former MP Fiona Patten of the Sex Party (now Reason Party) introduced legislation to have the Lord’s Prayer removed from the Victorian Parliament. The motion failed, but the Attorney General indicated that the Government would reconsider legislation in the new Parliament.
The Age newspaper has tonight reaffirmed its push to ban the Lord’s Prayer from our political institutions. An Editorial was published, arguing that today’s multi faith society and a decline in Christianity demonstrate that this Christian prayer no longer has a place in our political institutions.
“In the 2021 census, barely 44 per cent of respondents said they were of Christian affiliation. New migrants, meanwhile, were more likely to practise a different religion (40.7 per cent of those arriving from 2017 to 2021) or no religion at all (28.5 per cent) compared with those affiliated with Christianity (28.4 per cent)…These trends are likely to continue. According to the census, while older generations are still more likely to practise a Christian faith, more than 60 per cent of Millennials either follow a different religion or none at all. This necessarily has implications for those public institutions that still incorporate the Christian faith into their procedures, among them many of Victoria’s local councils.”
As a Christian minister living and serving in Victoria, I have some thoughts about this perennial debate. I have shared them previously and I’ll repeat them here for the sake of public information and discussion.
The Age Editorial makes a point (as did Fiona Patten back in 2021) and it’s not without some merit, but it’s not without a reasonable refutation.
First, this is an audible reminder to Victorians of the fact that Australia has been profoundly and positively shaped by Christianity. The prayer offers both a historical and cultural connection to the worldview that has provided vital and foundational influence on Australian life. The Lord’s Prayer serves as one of the few remaining signals in Parliament to our nation’s Christian past. This is a past that many wish to have erased although doing so will also remove the very foundations upon which our society depends for stability, tolerance, and viability.
Second, the Lord’s Prayer is a salient reminder of our humanity and our dependence on God who is Sovereign and good. We ultimately need a God of Biblical proportions to give us wisdom and understanding as we lead, serve and live.
However, again missing in this conversation is this key question: What is the Lord’s Prayer about? What are we praying?
This prayer which brings great comfort is also dangerous to pray. The words Jesus taught are not vague spiritual notions; nice and innocuous. If anything, the Lord’s Prayer should probably come with a warning sign or some kind of disclosure before reading. Indeed, there are bigger and better reasons for avoiding this prayer (and for praying it). Let me explain.
The prayer begins with Jesus addressing,
“‘Our Father in heaven,”
Jesus invites us to call God, Father. This is an incredibly wonderful idea and it’s one that’s unique to Christianity. To know God as Father suggests that he is not an impersonal being, but he is relational and personal. What a remarkable concept Jesus is teaching!
However, God is not everyone’s Father and it’s imprudent to call him such. It is inappropriate for any child to call me dad, only my children can do that. Similarly, only God’s children can truly address him as Father. It is exclusive and yet it is also wonderfully inclusive, for no one is born Christian but we are adopted by grace, a gift from God. The Bible shows us that the privilege of knowing God as Father comes through faith in his Son. This is one of the great possibilities that’s opened in Christianity, we can come to know God as Father.
It is either a bold or very foolish politician who addresses God as Father if they have not first put their faith in his Son.
Notice also how the Lord’s Prayer petitions God to end this fallen world and to judge wrongdoing,
“your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
This prayer is asking God to bring an end to all sin, evil, and death, and to judge the guilty. It is also an appeal for God to unveil his rule publicly and universally so that we might live under and enjoy eternity with him in the new creation. Are we ready to pray for Divine judgment on the Victorian Parliament, and all our attitudes and actions?
The Lord’s Prayer recognises God who provides our daily provisions and who is able to do the harder work, of forgiving us our sins: “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” Such a petition is humbling, requires honesty, and it provides a stunning possibility; Divine forgiveness. There is hypocrisy and hubris to ask God for forgiveness and to speak words that depend on a crucified and risen Christ without intellectual and heart assent to them.
If we’re being honest, prayer can act like a placebo, serving to trick my consciousness into believing everything will work out. Prayers, even in many churches, have become about upholding tradition rather than the intended purpose which is about knowing and delighting in God. However, one cannot read this prayer with understanding and come to those conclusions.
I understand why some Christians (and even unbelievers) are keen for the Lord’s Prayer to remain in the Parliamentary (and Council) program and I’ve above outlined two reasons above. At the same time, I am not keen to see our political and council representatives heaping more coals on their heads by speaking words that condemn them before an authority who stands above their own station.
Removing the Lord’s Prayer is another indication of a culture turning its back on the very beliefs upon which the very best of society is built. However, its continuation is not a sign of living faith but of hypocrisy and dead religion. While there is great sadness in seeing my State of Victoria walk away from the God who exists, lives, and saves, the answer is not found in the local Council or in the State Parliament but in the local church. Christians should take care in how we argue, for we are mistaken if we conflate civil society with the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God and the cause of Jesus Christ isn’t extended through such cultural nodding toward Christianity. The Lord’s Prayer belongs to the Church. The Gospel is advanced when Christians believe, pray, and live out what Jesus taught us to pray.
This prayer provides comfort to millions of Christians and is far more weighty and formidable than I suspect many assume. My advice to the Victorian Parliament today is to pause and read it very carefully and to ponder the theological statements Jesus is making.
Embedded in Melbourne’s memory is the largest crowd ever to gather at the famous Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG).
Last night Ed Shereran lit up the G for 105,000 people. What a number! And he’s repeating the feat tonight with another 100,000 fans singing along to the pop star and his acoustic guitar.
For anyone walking past the G last night, a 100,000 strong chorus could be heard,
My bad habits lead to you
My bad habits lead to you”
There have been some monumental moments at the MCG. From the 1956 Olympic Games to the famed Box Day cricket test and the odd game of footy.
The MCG is almost a sacred space to Melbournians. Every year we take the pilgrimage to the G for football and for cricket and rock the stadium with cheers and boos as beer and tomato sauce splash on jumpers and jeans.
I have also visited the G at night when no one was around. We even managed to step onto that magical ground…before security ushered us off. Under that night sky and with the stands darkened, the stadium stood tall and magnificent, a Colosseum befitting the world’s sporting capital.
As journalists today rushed to the history books to uncover the biggest crowds in the MCG’s history, they found a day in 1959. On that day, 130,000 people converged at the MCG to hear a man talk about crucifixion. He explained with clarity and passion, how God came to earth as a man and died to take away the sin of the world.
Billy Graham preached and the choir that day did more than sing ‘bad habits’, they cried out,
“Just as I am, without one plea
But that Thy blood was shed for me
And that Thou bid’st me come to Thee
Oh, Lamb of God, I come, I come
Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt
Fighting and fears within without
Oh, Lamb of God, I come, I come”
I was speaking with a friend during the week and commenting about how exciting it is to see my city of Melbourne alive again with music and concerts. Only last week Susan and I picnicked across the river from the G, and listened in the Melbourne Symphony under the stars. To be sure, I’ll be there in 2 weeks’ time for the start of the AFL season and watch the mighty Blues trounce Richmond!
I’m sure the Ed Sheeran concert was great and will leave 1000s with a night to remember. But that day when Billy Graham came, he pointed Melbourne to the Son of God and many thousands of lives were changed forever.
Imagine a God who exists? Imagine moving not only to songs about romantic love but of a God who loves his enemies? Imagine not only enjoying watching a pop star live but coming to know the Son of God?
This message of Jesus Christ isn’t spoken around Melbourne as much as it was once. To be sure, there are still churches preaching this Gospel of Jesus and people are becoming Christians. Fewer people though are attending church and one can’t imagine an evangelist ever again filling the MCG. If anything, we find this Jesus repellent. From politics to education and our local celebrities, we are trying really hard to squeeze Jesus out of the city. We’re uncomfortable with his assessment of this thing called sin. He tells us, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” Frankly, we choose ourselves and we’ll worry about God later on. Even the Melbournians who refuse belief in God still clench their fists at his words and claims on this world. But confirmed in the history books and still lurking in our memory, is the compelling story of Jesus and the cross he bore for humanity.
Perhaps it is time for Melbounians to open the old book and rediscover the One who laid down his life for us.
I’d never heard of Reuben Kaye until yesterday, but the shock value of Kaye’s ‘joke’ clearly fell flat across the country. The comment was more like a drunken Uncle misbehaving at a wedding reception: unpleasant, not funny, and kind of embarrassing.
I missed the great offence as I’m not a viewer of Channel 10’s The Project. I’ve since gone back and watched the 15 seconds of stinging jocularity. Yes, it was pretty offensive and yes, it was pretty unoriginal.
I’ve grown in an Australia where snide remarks and jokes at the expense of Christians are a common pastime. A lot of the comments may lack the deliberate bite that Kaye offered, but our political representatives regularly deride Christian beliefs, and so do teachers and university lecturers, and our mates on the sporting grounds. Christians have long been easy pickings for public insult. After all, what does it cost someone to crack a joke about Jesus or the church? Nothing If anything, you’re likely to win more adulation than less.
Let’s admit, there are some Christians whose behaviour probably deserves a few words of humour.
And yet, on this occasion, it seems as though people realised that there exists a line and Reuben Kaye had crossed it. I’m sure that the same joke will garner claps and cheers in the local comedy clubs, but there was something about adding sexual innuendo to Jesus’ death on a national television program that didn’t sit well.
Are we experiencing a conflict of conscience? Australians want to mock Christianity and yet we’re also taught to respect alternate views. After all, the media steers well away from mocking certain religions, so why should targeting Christians be allowed?
I’ve gone back and watched the clip in question, and yes, Reuben Kaye’s attempt to put down Christianity yet again, fell flat. I wonder why?
Insulting Christians is as original as crucifixion and as old as the Bible. That’s the sad irony about mocking the death of Jesus. Far from standing over the Christian faith with comedic judgment, you’re simply following the crowd who were present that day and jeering Jesus as he died. It wasn’t comedy, it was spite.
Luke’s Gospel records the so-called comedic hour at the crucifixion of Jesus,
“Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.
The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”
The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”
There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews.
One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
Attacking the cross is little more than a pale copy of what the Romans did. The first Christian knew it was a symbol of shame and disgust. The Greek intellectuals happily pointed out how absurd it was to consider the cross as an act of Divine love and redemption. But this foolishness turned out to be the answer that the world so desperately needs.
The attempted humour was offensive but that’s par of the course. It is important for the 6 Christians who watch The Project, and for the rest of us, to respond in a manner that matches how Jesus turned insult into grace. Don’t get fired up. Don’t write angry emails to Channel 10. Avoid spitting on your iPhone as you send that tweet.
“Blessed are meek…Blessed are the merciful…Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me”
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
The Apostle Paul writes,
“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” (Romans 12:14)
The Project co-presenters, Waleed Aly and Sarah Harris, have since offered a public apology. While never watching The Project I often read Waleed’s opinion pieces in the newspaper. His writing is thoughtful and worth consideration. I have no reason to doubt the genuineness of their apology. Thank you. We accept.
So if anyone is thinking about protesting outside Channel 10 today, maybe give it a miss and instead take a few minutes to share with someone why this cross of jokes is in fact more remarkable than they realise.
The Church of England, like many Christian denominations, has faced trials and temptations down the centuries, from both outside in the culture and from within. Its beginnings were turbulent and yet the grace of God started what became a global witness for Christ, albeit a shaky one.
The Church of England is famed throughout the world, for its connections to King Henry VIII through to Westminster Abbey and the village church and is quintessentially English. More than that, the Church of England was once a beacon of light, preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ and gathering men and women into Christ’s Church, producing theologians and pastors and missionaries who stood firm on sound doctrine and who loved the church. Sometimes this came at a great cost.
The Church of England establishment had an unhealthy dating program with the State and wanderings back into a religion of form and with cassock and golden crosses. At times it was the Common Book of Prayer with the readings of Scripture that kept a light flickering within ageing stone walls of St Mark’s and St Mary’s. Other churches grew and were centres of faithful Gospel proclamation. Indeed, when my wife and I lived in England 20 years ago, we visited and were so encouraged by numerous parishes who’d invited me to preach. Young and old, married and single, were united together by the Spirit of God and were hungry to feed from Scripture. It is of no surprise that the healthiest and largest Anglican Churches in England are mostly evangelical parishes, that hold to and teach the faith once for all delivered.
Indeed, at the General Synod this week, their voices were heard and their impassioned warnings and love for the church resonated around the meeting place In London. To their shame, all 3 Houses voted in support of the Bishops’ recommendations in the report, ‘Living in Love and Faith.
Everyone agreed with aspects of the report. There have been times when Christians have not loved others as we ought. We have treated people with disdain, not love, with fear not welcome. We ought to repent when we look upon others in a way that contradicts the Lord Jesus. Other aspects of the report, including the Bishops call to introduce same sex blessing services, are untenable to Anglicans who uphold the teaching of the Church of England.
Today, in London, the Church of England entered into what is essentially a de facto relationship with the Devil.
The Church of England’s press release today states,
“The Church of England’s General Synod has called on the bishops to take the next step to issue prayers which would enable same-sex couples to come to church after a civil marriage or civil partnership to give thanks, dedicate their relationship to God and receive God’s blessing.”
This is effectively a de facto relationship with the Devil. They haven’t (as yet) redefined marriage, but they have determined to however call holy, that which God calls sin. It is only a matter of time before the divorce is formalised and the new marriage arranged.
This is a historical moment. This is the undoing of centuries of agreed and believed doctrine for the sake of fitting in with a culture that is proud of its sex without borders ethics. The self is King and no one is to object or disagree with the sexual preferences of anyone. And as numerous MPs have said over the past week, the Church of England must embrace same sex marriage or be cast aside.
There are many parishes scattered around England that have declared their faithfulness to the Lord of the Church over and above an errant English Church. How they proceed now will require much wisdom and strength and courage. May the Lord honour their faithfulness to Jesus.
Without repentance, there is no saving the Church of England. Without a return to doctrinal orthodoxy and practice, the Church of England will be little more than an English version of Thyatira.
God is love. God is truth. His word is loving and true. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is good news for everyone who believes. It is not as though the Bible is unclear about matters concerning human sexuality, marriage, and life fulfilment. Churches for millennia and the majority of Christian Churches around the world today affirm the same theological understandings. Jesus never said that following him would be easy. Sometimes the world offers everything, if only we fudge His world a little, if only we excise that chapter or that verse and include a sentence from the hymnbook of today’s culture.
The Church of England’s song sheet is certainly sounding more like Sam Smith’s ‘unholy’ than it is God’s beautiful, gracious and life giving word.
One does not need to be a member of the Church of England today to feel a sense of loss, anger and great sadness. A small part of every Protestant believer has been betrayed. All our churches may come under greater social scrutiny and derision if we do not follow the now lost Church of England.
Today, as we did yesterday, and as we must tomorrow, take hold of the message of Jude,
“Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people. 4 For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.
17 But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. 18 They said to you, “In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.” 19 These are the people who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit.
20 But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.
22 Be merciful to those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.
24 To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— 25 to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen”
One thing worse than Sam Smith’s performance at the Grammys is the revisionist Bishops in the Church of England who are this week gaslighting both the sheep under their care and deceiving the general public.
Presumably, Sam Smith thinks that dressing up in a satan costume and performing a song called ‘unholy’ is making some kind of loud and shocking creative statement. Perhaps someone could tell him, he’s doing nothing more than copying a longish line of musicians. It is all rather boorish, except that mimicking the very personification of evil isn’t a particularly bright idea.
Over in old England land, ecclesiastical leaders have taken up that ancient inquisition of the Devil, by suggesting, “Did God really say?”
What have they done?
The Bishops in the Church of England wrote and issued a paper whereby they intend to introduce same-sex blessings services. They are not proposing same-sex weddings (at this stage), but wantng same sex blessing ceremonies. In other words, this change amounts to formally recognising same-sex relationships as a moral and God accepted good and that churches ought to offer services of prayer and blessing for these couples. Not every bishop agrees with the document, but clearly, there is sufficient consensus for its publication and presentation to General Synod for serious consideration.
In what can only be described as a dishonest riff, some Anglican leaders are insisting that the church’s doctrine on marriage isn’t changing…quite literally as they call for changes to the church’s understanding of sex and marriage. The same hypocrisy is being offered up by The Australian Law Reform Commission, albeit a legal entourage rather than a church one. Their recent submission to the Federal Government calls for religious schools to lose their freedom to practice traditional views of sexuality. For example, they are recommending legislation that allows Christian schools to teach a Christian view of sex and marriage, but they may also be required to teach alternate views. They will lose the right to employ staff on the basis of religious convictions. In other words, we’ll tolerate your religion so long as you tell and permit today’s sexology. That’s not compromise, it’s forced capitulation. That’s not co-existing with two unbridgeable views, that’s crossing over and demanding change.
This General Synod is happening on the other side of the world and in a Christian denomination that is different to my own, so why take interest in this debate? This particular case is important for several reasons: 1. I have many friends who pastor or who are members of churches in the Church of England. 2. The very public stature of this denomination (part through age and part through connections to the State) will garner significant media and public attention. 3. The Church of England is part of the worldwide Anglican communion which accounts for 10s million of believers, including Australia. 4. The same revisionist agenda playing out in the Church of England is present here in Australia, including among Baptists.
The flavour of the month is self-expression. In every sphere of life we are told that autonomy and self determination is an absolute, and questioning this ‘reality’ is the gravest of sins. From TikTok to the Bishop of York, the sermon proclaims that an individual’s sexual preferences and gender identity is the most fundamental aspect of reality…with a dash of God apparently giving approval. While this religious message will arouse a clap from the culture’s elites, notice how it doesn’t bring people to the cross or persuade them to follow Jesus and join a local church. What’s the point of Christianity if it does little more than mirror the culture’s messaging?
Numerous British MPs have responded to the House of Bishops’ recommendations and are demanding even more change. The Guardian reports,
“The repeal of a century-old act of parliament that allows the Church of England to govern itself is among options being considered by MPs frustrated at the church’s continued refusal to offer marriage equality to same-sex couples.”
…“If synod does not make greater progress than is contained in the bishops’ recommendations, I think parliament would take this matter very seriously,” said Ben Bradshaw, the Labour MP and former cabinet minister.
…On Thursday, Bryant asked Penny Mordaunt, leader of the Commons, to “allow time for legislation to push the Church of England into allowing same-sex marriages to be conducted by parishes and clergy who want to do so, if synod does not act.” Equality campaigners suggested that Mordaunt’s reply – “I know this is an issue that many members of this house will wish to pursue” – left the door open for legislative action.
While the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has come out and said that he keeping the unity of the church is more important than remaining as the establishment church, he risks losing both.
“A church must conserve historic Christian teaching. If a church simply adopts the beliefs of the culture, it will die, because it has nothing unique to offer.”
That is true for churches in America and England and Australia
The irony of the revisionist message is that assimilation with the dominant culture’s doctrine doesn’t grow the church. The Churches less likely to decline and most likely to grow are those that hold to classical (yes, evangelical) beliefs, including on human sexuality and marriage. As one recent study found, in the Church of England the largest churches with the most young people are those that teach the traditional view of marriage.
There is something quite perturbing at work among the Bishops of England. I understand the nature of love and wanting to love others, and I even get how we might make the misstep of thinking that love requires acceptance. Of course, that isn’t true. Love requires disagreement at times. There are occasions when true love is required to say no.
As I have noted many times in recent years, the people who often most struggle through these conversations are godly men and women who talk about their own personal experiences with same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria, and who believe and are committed to God’s vision. They believe that a person’s deepest identity, whether single or married, is found in Jesus Christ. They are convinced that sex outside marriage is sinful. They hold that the most profound security and joy and contentment comes from knowing Jesus. They are right! When the church or its leaders cave into the sexual molasses of the day, we are mistreating and betraying these brothers and sisters.
Should the Church of England lose its official status in the land it will not have lost anything. Of course, you would say that Murray, you are Baptist after all! That is true, but any church that wants to get into bed with State rather than remaining Facebook friends is likely to wake up one morning with a hangover. Take a look at the orthodox church in Russia or the way some churches embed themselves in the United States with the Republican party or the Democrat party.
Like the insatiable appetite of Henry VIII, our cultural overlords will as quickly court you one day and send you to the Tower the next. To quote Jesus, you ‘lose your soul’ and society still thinks you’re an irrelevant silly group of people who dress up in funny clothes.
Few in churches are demanding an unchangeable sterile presence, as though wooden pews and particular clothes and the KJV is the way to do church today. We may consider our style and sense of presentation. After all, we want to communicate unchanging truths in understandable ways. However, one of the Bible’s basic and consistent messages is that biblical orthodoxy doesn’t make Christianity irrelevant to Melbourne or Sydney, London and Durham. To paraphrase from the Bible passage that I’m preaching this coming Sunday. It’s like a light shining into a dark place.
When the Apostle Paul told a young Timothy, ‘Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers’, he didn’t mean, adapt and change Christian teaching and life according to what is socially acceptable. The Bible’s vision for human sexuality was radical and counter cultural in the First Century and it remains so in the 21st Century. The Gospel offers what we need and cannot find in all the mountains and rivers and cities of the world: forgiveness, redemption and hope.
The light that appeared in the world 2000 years ago is described by John the disciple of Jesus as ‘grace and truth’. If the Lord Jesus is grace and truth, and we believe him, then his church will become a community of people who are defined by and filled with this grace and truth. Not choosing one or the other, not preferencing one or the other, but holding onto both because grace and truth belong together and cannot exist without the other. Sadly, there are some churches that think holding to truth means bashing people into submission; they are also in the wrong and need to repent. But we don’t fix one issue (finding grace) by removing the other critical component, truth. There is nothing loving about a church that blesses sexual unions outside monogamous marriage between a man and a woman.
We living in Australia, should take note of how this Synod plays out and learn important lessons about how we should and should not proceed in our denominations. More importantly, we Christians living in Australia might like to pray for this Synod and ask the Father for his mercy, for repentance and for churches to uphold sound doctrine and godliness, for the sake of the people of England and the glory of God.
Who am I? Who are we? How can we even begin to navigate these questions?
I don’t know who needs to read these words, but I pray that they will reach many who are finding life distressing, overwhelming, and as though they are fighting a hopeless battle against despair.
This week I’ve been meditating on a prayer, Psalm 139. It is both poetry and prayer, communicating extraordinary truths about both God and us. It will be my privilege to teach Psalm 139 at Mentone Baptist Church on the first Sunday of 2023. But I thought I would preempt this upcoming sermon and share some reflections on this Psalm of David here on the blog.
I am hearing so many stories of people struggling with mental health issues, men and women trying to understand questions about personal identity and worth, and families trying to keep everything together in the midst of financial hardship.
Today, The Age headlined this story, ‘Mental health disorders increase among children as young as 18 months’. Yesterday, the media reported the dire situation facing families trying to access mental health care for their children.
There is also much anger and distrust being vented in society; much of it is justified, while some is misplaced. Far from communities becoming closer together, we are becoming more fractious.
Just as lurking behind the excitement and successes of the Football World Cup are terrible injustices and abuses, underneath the veneer of Australia’s prosperity are millions of Aussies feeling lost and searching for meaning and hope.
This is where Psalm 139 offers us insights into God and ourselves that are wonderful and necessary, poignant and so refreshing. My aim here isn’t to offer a detailed explanation of every word or sentence, but hopefully to say something of use that will encourage you the reader to ponder the words of Psalm 139 yourself, and even to share it with others.
The author of this prayer is David, the famous King of Israel. Despite his position ruling over a nation, he addresses God in a personal way. For David, God isn’t a remote or abstract Divine Being who is somewhere responsible for everything. He calls God, ‘Lord’, which is God’s special name given to his covenant people for them to address Him. To know God as Lord is to enjoy a personal connection and relationship with Him.
The Psalm consists of 4 stanzas. I’ll quote each stanza in turn, and offer a brief comment about each one.
1. God knows us intimately
1 You have searched me, Lord, and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.
4 Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely.
5 You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.
This is a message that’s worth us getting our heads around: We are not unknown to God. In fact, David recognises how the Lord knows him better than David knows himself. We all have someone idea about our deepest convictions, desires, fears, and joys. We have some ability to hide aspects of our personality and ambitions from others. We might even successfully block out aspects of hearts from our own consciousness.
God however sees everything. He wouldn’t be much of a God if he doesn’t. David talks about how God peers into our minds and knows our thoughts. He knows what I’m going say before the words leave my tongue. This isn’t some spooky kind of trolling, but a picture of God who both understands us and who cares for us. For example, the metaphor in verse 5 of, ‘you lay your hand upon me, speaks of a gentleness and love that is active in God toward us.
I love David’s reaction in verse 6.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.
He isn’t just saying that this is an intellectual absurdity and therefore cannot be true. David’s point is, ‘God, you blow my mind’. God is above him in wisdom and comprehension. Einstein and Mozart are like simpletons, compared to the mind of God. This knowledge is formidable but not scary because this personal knowing is from the God who cares for us. This knowledge brings David comfort and assurance; God understands me.
2. We can’t hide from God.
7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.
Jonah famously tried to do a runner and escape God, as though we can outstride or out-think God. As David exclaims, where can we hide from the God who made the universe? In our bedroom? In the desert? Under the ocean? What if I close my mind to God and eat the key?
Running away from God is futile and David knows it. As he considers the God of the Bible, he doesn’t want to remove God but instead rest in Him. Because God is truly God, we are safe in Him.
3. You made me
13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
These verses are replete with exquisite images that fill life with meaning and awe. Take for example, the stunning metaphor in verse 13, ‘God knitted us together in the womb.’
No wonder, David’s mind is again blown away,
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand— when I awake, I am still with you.
These words are true not only for David but also for every human being. This testimony has profound meaning and implications for how we view other people and also ourselves.
As the artist is devoted to his/her work and as a composer imprints their own glory in the music, so each and every human being has intrinsic value, glory and worth. Monet’s Water Lilies were no mistake and Schumann’s Piano Concerto was no misstep or blunder. You are not a gaffe or error. You are not a waste. You are not insignificant. We are profoundly known and loved by our creator God.
4. God, change me
19 If only you, God, would slay the wicked! Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
20 They speak of you with evil intent; your adversaries misuse your name.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord, and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
22 I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies.
I appreciate how these verses may make some of us cringe or feel a little uncomfortable. Aren’t we meant to forgive everyone? Should we not look for the best in people?
There are a number of threads appearing in this final stanza, which are each true and somehow need to be held together despite apparent tensions or even contradictions with other parts of the Bible.
David is expressing to God how he is feeling as he reacts to enemies who are seeing his demise.
It’s okay to long for justice and for God to punish evil. We don’t want evil to win out in the end, but for wrongdoing to be punished, whether the perpetrators are individuals or corporations or institutions. Asking God to bring justice and to judge wickedness is an entirely right and good prayer. Christians may not stop at that point, for we also long for mercy and forgiveness, but we also believe in and trust in God who is righteous and who will hold the world account.
David’s enemies were often political, whether rebels attempting to usurp his throne or competing nations who waged war against Israel. David’s prayer reflects the system of government that existed and set the boundaries of God’s people at that particular time. This isn’t our situation today. The Church isn’t a nation-state or system of government. As we discover in the New Testament, our King is the true David, Jesus Christ. When churches are oppressed, our answer isn’t to go to war or to hunt down assassins, but “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse” (Romans 12:14) and “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” Luke 6:27).
It is important to continue reading as the Psalm doesn’t end at verse 22, but with verses 23-24. David doesn’t end on a note of vengeance but with a plea for God to examine his (my) own heart.
23 Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
It seems as though David’s aware that strong emotions can be misleading, and mixed up, and that he himself might have sin lurking about in his own life. David is praying, Lord is, sift through my prayer because you know what’s true and what’s not true, and where I’m right and where I’m wrong. You are able to do this because you know me well. Where and if there’s anything offensive in me, lead away from it and to the way everlasting.
David isn’t self-righteous or strident or judgmental. His prayer is, Lord, change me. This is of course a far cry from our cultural sermons which defines change as heterodox. Our prayers today are less, ‘Lord, change me, they are more often, ‘God affirm everything about me’. Our 21st Century prayers often finish at verse 22, judge my oppressors and justify me.
No wonder our streets and suburbs are filling with growing vexation, anxiety, and melancholy. The burden we are placing on ourselves is too great.
This Psalm can speak both of wonderment and of wrong. Wonderment in God who made us and wrong in what others do and even what I have done. Our culture can’t sustain this tension. The Bible is able to both speak of immense value and worth of every human being and also remind us of profound sinfulness. Any time when we hold onto one of these truths and not the other, we are only a short journey away from an identity crisis and social catastrophe. David was conscious of both and he found resolution and peace in the fact that hope isn’t found in himself, but in a God who can be trusted.
The ultimate and final fulfilment of this Psalm is found in that little child born in Bethlehem whom millions around Australia will soon be singing about as Christmas approaches.
The book of Hebrews reminds us,
“we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
10 In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. 11 Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters” (Hebrews 2:9-11)
On Saturday morning before going to vote at the Victorian State election, I sent out this tweet, quoting Psalm 146,
“Do not put your trust in princes,
in human beings, who cannot save.
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
on that very day their plans come to nothing.
Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God.”
This morning, the day after the election, I retweeted these Bible verses. The reason being, the words of the Psalm remain true, before and after the votes had been cast and counted.
I understand that in quoting Psalm 146, some people might be a little annoyed and perhaps a tad angry, especially among voters disappointed by the election result. I certainly don’t mean to sound unfeeling or facile, as though the election was unimportant. I happen to believe elections do matter because government plays a significant role in the life of society; controlling much power and influence. After all, Government is a legitimate institution that falls under the banner of God’s common grace. It may not be the main game, but government nonetheless plays an important supporting role.
It is also the case that Government has less influence in setting the direction for society as it is about providing the legal, economic, and social mechanisms by which society moves in the direction that it is already preferencing. The old adage about politics being downstream of culture is complicated but still true.
The reason behind sharing the Psalm 146 quotation is that I’m wondering if we are attaching too much responsibility on Government for fixing social ills and rectifying economic currents. This is true for both the left and the right of politics. Have we become too dependent upon Parliaments and MPs for addressing what was once the prevue of churches, synagogues, media, and an array of social organisations? If we have lost trust in those civil and religious institutions (which seems to be the case), faith in our governments is also in sharp decline. There lies perhaps some of our misplaced faith and therefore frustration and despair at the political scene. We are not meant to burden Government with all our hopes and demands and needs. A healthy society needs to spread that load. Indeed, a truly healthy society would not require government to create what we have in Australia: a society wrapped in red tape and wads of laws and rules stickier than gaffer tape.
There are better governments and worse; it’s rarely a zero-sum game. More Victorians than not prefer the given election outcome over the alternatives. After all, that is what the votes indicate. Many Victorians are pleased with the outcome, with many others perplexed or angered, and more than a few are underwhelmed by the choice of candidates that were on offer. I suspect there is also a deep suspicion of and discontent toward political parties across the spectrum. Sometimes it’s a case of choosing the least bad option available, or at least that’s how many voters are feeling: I don’t like this candidate, but at least they’re not the other candidates!
How did we respond to the election at church today? This morning my church prayed for the new state government, as we do regularly for whoever is in charge at Spring Street and in Canberra. And we also prayed for our local representatives in Parliament. That’s what Christians do. It’s one of the few constancies in the unpredictable world of politics; churches pray for those in authority. To the reluctant among us, let’s consider it this way, if the Apostle Paul could pray for the Roman Emperor, then we ought to pray for our governments.
We should pray for our political representatives because they carry significant responsibility. Given the platform that we build for our leaders (or scaffold as it may be), praying is the right thing to do. Of course, government isn’t the big game in town, but its role impacts life at every level and therefore great wisdom, patience, integrity and compassion are necessary.
Without some kind of cultural reorientation, I suspect Governments will become bigger and bolder. It is interesting to see how Australians, or at least Victorians, have become more comfortable with authoritarian personality and political styled governing. The myth of the convict, bushranger, and nonchalant Aussie digger may still exist in local sporting clubs, but as a people group, we are quite accepting of big government and monocratic-styled leadership. I’m not arguing a case either way here but simply noting the public trend.
Of course, my eyesight is myopic and so looking at the next 4 years is an imprecise art. There are, after all, no more prophets! My guess is that in the name of freedom, more laws and regulations will be introduced, and in the name of economic prosperity, more debt inducing spending will occur. If we follow the now predominant current, I anticipate that we’ll see tighter controls on social behaviour, fewer parental rights and a more pronounced religion-socio education drive.
I would not be surprised if we see religious freedoms further eroded during this next term of government. That’s no scare campaign, I’m simply noting the growing list of legislative changes that have been enacted in Victoria in recent years: from removing freedoms from religious organisations and schools to employ people of faith, to banning some religious conversations and prayers with threats of criminal charges and prison time, and now to Premiers interfering with workplace appointments because a football club appointed a Christian man who also serves on the council at his local church. I’d be surprised if the cultural vultures do not require more blood to be taken.
Of course, what Victoria is experiencing is simply a few steps ahead of the rest of the country and it’s indicative of an entire part of the world that has not only lost its moorings but is consciously tearing them apart and doing so without realising that without these foundations, we are left to be smashed about by the wind and waves.
So I go back to the verse in which I began, Christians should not look to government to be the saviour of society. Don’t put your trust in princes and premiers. Honour them and pray for them, but let’s not expect government to rescue society from the deepest and darkest of places.
This is one of the flaws present in left-leaning politics; it believes Government is the answer. Hence it’s no surprise to see legislative agendas enveloping society around a new moral religion. God is optional in the new religion, but the worship of the sexualised individual is compulsory. Anyone thinking otherwise just isn’t listening to Daniel Andrews and Victoria’s Human Rights Commissioner and a hundred other bureaucrats working with the Government.
There is a counterpoint emerging on the right side of politics that is also deeply concerning, and perhaps more so. Daniel Andrews may talk about how his catholicism influences his life, but people can see through the disconnection. Christian nationalism, on the other hand, has started to captivate some pew sitters and pastors and therefore it is more likely to create issues for Gospel ministry in Victoria. This theorem is thankfully marginal and I pray it doesn’t take hold as it is doing in parts of the United States, but nonetheless, I don’t wait for 100 mosquitoes to enter my house before dealing with the first one.
Christians, be careful of voices that speak more about politics than they do the Great Commission and use more words of anger than they do words of compassion and mercy. By all means, as commitment to common grace and out of love for your neighbour, keep government accountable. Christians might join a political party and stand for Parliament, but even the most Christian of political leaders and most Christian of political agendas isn’t going to redeem society. That kind of thinking ignores the testimony of Scripture, namely that the gospel is God’s power of salvation and the church is God’s big game in town. Our churches are more likely today to sit on the sideline of culture and be ignored by many, but nonetheless, the church is the centrepiece of God’s work. Therefore, whatever you do in the name of political inspiration, aspiration or disappointment, don’t confuse it with the Gospel, don’t conflate common grace with saving grace, and don’t fuse the church with the state.
The best way we can love our fellow Victorians is by serving your church and being clear on the gospel.
I’ll finish up here with one final word about misplacing hope and faith in political elections. During the Premier Daniel Andrews victory speech last night, he said, “Friends. Hope always defeats hate.”
The statement is true, although one might like to fill the word hope with some content and also define hate as something more than an imprecise aspersion on your opponents.
Also, the irony of this comment was not lost. The election campaign was about as spiteful and negative a campaign as I’ve seen, and it was true across the major parties. And yes, our Premier’s chosen rhetoric can at times be described as hateful. In fact, I can think of few political leaders excising as much hateful language as Mr Andrews, especially as he describes people of faith in Victoria. His verbal attacks are often little more than vicious mischaracterisations of people (think Andrew Thorburn), but verbal attacks of this kind garner wide support in Victoria because it fits the religious narrative that now dominates the horizon.
Daniel Andrews is not only an advocate but a victim of a worldview that sees all other views as anathema and a danger to society. The new dogma that he seems to preach demands that we either agree and follow the new moral absolutes or we belong to the devil. Love means full acceptance and tolerance means public affirmation, and any diverging from the narrow path is justification for public humiliation by our Premier and others. It’s a tricky path though because the definition of acceptance and tolerance are continually changing, like the staircases at Hogwarts. Orthodoxy one week is heresy the next, as public figures are finding out once they’re cancelled.
I am forever grateful to Jesus who didn’t affirm everything about me, and who didn’t accept some of the desires of my heart. God did something far greater and more loving. God disagreed and even called out my living as sin. The Bible even says it’s worthy of death, and yet God loved disagreeable people and his only Son gave his life on the cross. So yes, hope has defeated hate.