Prime Minister prays to ‘Our Heavenly Father”

As the media report Scott Morrison’s prayer, they are evidently befuddled by his use of the Bible and him referring to God as “heavenly father’. I don’t know if they are trying to suggest that the Prime Minister holds to strange beliefs or if their understanding of Christianity is so shallow that they don’t realise that Father is the normal way Christians have always addressed God.

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Anthony Galloway writing for The Age,

“Mr Morrison also offered prayer for the “Heavenly Father” to “give us strength in this country, give us wisdom, give us judgment, give us encouragement and let your peace rein let your love shower this nation at this time”.”

To be fair, I’ve read the pieces for Fairfax and in the Guardian. The journalists have tread carefully and done a decent job in reporting the story. I’m sure all the hysteria from the usual social commentators will follow shortly. One thing is already clear, journos don’t know how to make sense of the fact that an Australian Prime Minister is calling God, “Heavenly Father”.  I don’t blame them, but it is revealing.

My interest here has nothing to do with politics, but I want to explore for a moment, this idea of calling God ‘Father’.

To pray, ‘Our Father in heaven’ is to pray in line with Jesus’ teaching. The famous Lord’s Prayer that we read in Matthew ch.6 is a paradigm for praying that is given to us by Jesus himself. The disciples ask him, ‘teach us how to pray’, and so He begins, “Or Father in heaven…”

Far from the notion of God being an abstract concept or as a distant being or an impersonal force, Jesus reveals God as Father.

Jesus says later in Matthew’s Gospel, 

At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.[27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

To address God as Father is an extraordinary idea. It signifies that God is personal and relational. It speaks to communication and knowing. It suggests that God is interested in us, and even that he loves and care for us as Father who loves and cares for his children.

By no means is this a right, as though I can address God as I please. The Christian message talks about this as being a gift, just like in adoption. When parents decide to adopt a child, the child has no inherent rights over the family. As a decision of love and grace, the parents welcome the child into the family, both legally and relationally. Adoption is a beautiful gift. The same is true when a gracious God welcomes us.

We might already appreciate that God made the world. We might believe that God judges the world. To know God as Father is quite different and exceptional. As Jesus also indicates in Matthew 11, it is through him that we can come to know God as Father.

‘Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves’…I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:9-11, 14)

In other words, if we want to know this beautiful Christian teaching for ourselves, personally and really, Jesus says, understand and accept him. To believe the Son is to know the Father. To connect with the Son is to gain access to the Father.

Again, leaving politics aside, if you’re curious about Scott Morrison’s prayer and why Christians speak of God as Father, take some time to wrestle with Jesus’ words and let me know what you think.

What are Pastors doing during the Pandemic?

One of the questions I’m often asked by unbelievers is, so what do you do? Once I have explained that I’m a pastor of a local church, the follow up question is often (and sometimes by Christians too), do you only work on Sundays? What do you do for the rest of the week? 

I’m sure there are a few people who are curious to know what pastors are doing during this pandemic, given that Sunday Church services are postponed for the foreseeable future. Walking the dog and watching Netflix aside, there are one or two responsibilities that occupy a pastor’s time. 

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The principal of Ridley College (Melbourne), Brian Rosner, has written an excellent article on the ABC, Coping with coronavirus disappointments: Five lessons from Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Rosner highlights, 

“Bonhoeffer’s approach to prison life was not to allow the confinement to restrict his activity. Quite literally, he did not sit still while waiting for his hope for freedom to materialise”

Not that any of us are in prison, but parallels with today’s restrictions have some warrant. Speaking of his incarceration, Bonhoeffer wrote,

“I read, meditate, write, pace up and down my cell — without rubbing myself sore against the walls like a polar bear. The great thing is to stick to what one still has and can do — there is still plenty left — and not to be dominated by the thought of what one cannot do, and the feelings of resentment and discontent.”

So how are pastors spending this time during Stage 3 lockdown? In short, the work never ceases. In fact, the past three weeks have proven to be extra busy and particularly stressful. They are also exciting, not because of the threat to peoples’ health and livelihoods, but because we believe in a Sovereign God who can exercise his grace and mercy even during a season such as this. 

Here are some of the things Pastors are continuing to do during this season of uncertainty (not in any particular order):

  1. Pastors will be praying for their congregations, neighbours, community and nation. Pastors will be praying for the sick, for medical workers, and for our Governments.
  2. Pastors are reflecting theologically on this crisis in order to rightly direct Christians and non Christians alike to think and respond in appropriate ways.
  3. Pastors are listening to Government advice and guidelines so that our churches adhere to best practice in order to flatten the curve.
  4. Pastors will continue to study the Scriptures, in order to be refreshed and to refresh others.
  5. Pastors will continue to shepherd their Churches, exercising responsibility for the spiritual health of the body.
  6. Pastors are regularly connecting with church members: phone calls, emails, live conferencing, etc.
  7. Pastors are meeting with their leaders in order to see that they are doing ok and are equipped to carry out their responsibilities 
  8. Pastors are finding new ways to teach and using older models of teaching. Among the methods I’m using are: preaching a weekly sermon, writing short articles, publishing short podcasts, personal conversations (virtual) with particular people, and starting an online cohort who are studying a subject at Bible College.
  9. Pastors will continue to guard their churches against bad theology which rots peoples’ lives and offers misleading hope.
  10. Pastors are organising Sunday gatherings for their congregations online, and discerning what is theologically appropriate and pastorally edifying. 
  11. Pastors are maintaining the administrative side of church, ensuring that the every day behind the scenes structures remain in place and are in working order
  12. Pastors are organising spiritual, financial, and practical care for people.
  13. Pastors continue with the task of evangelism
  14. Pastors are trying to model godliness in the face of uncertainty.
  15. Pastors are helping at home, loving their spouse and children, and finding more time to help make homestay a success.
  16. Pastors will continue to serve the sick and the dying
  17. Pastors will continue to conduct weddings and funerals

These are some of the activities that require a Pastor’s attention and energy.

The stresses experienced by many pastors will be similar to those of a small business owner: for many, financial difficulty is a very real prospect. And yet the analogy only goes so far, for pastors are not selling products to consumers, they are Shepherding God’s people. 

A pastor’s work can also be likened to that of a medical professional, although we are not fighting against physical disease but caring for both peoples’ temporary and eternal condition. As has been witnessed in Italy, sadly many doctors and nurses have fallen ill and even died from COVID-19, and by their sides many priests have also become ill and died. 

A pastor’s duty is also analogous to that of a teacher, trying to establish healthy discipline among students, encouraging them to learn and not give up or become distracted in this virtual world of online education.

By no means is any of this meant to play up or down the work anyone is doing during this time. A pandemic requires a whole community approach. I simply sharing with readers the kind of activities pastors are engaging in at the moment. While pastors are very much conscious of their responsibilities, we are also thankful for and reliant upon the Chief Shepherd. We will make mistakes. We will grow tired and grumpy and not handle every situation with grace. There is one Saviour to whom we direct our congregation, and for whom we serve. He is our great joy and it is our great privilege to be engaged in his work at this time.

I’m reminded of what Peter wrote to the elders of the churches in Asia, 

 “To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.” (1 Peter 5:1-4)

The ever present evil that is anti-semitism

A video appeared on my Twitter feed this afternoon that has already been viewed 1 million times.

It features a ‘pastor’ in America claiming that the Corona Virus is being spread in Jewish synagogues because they oppose Jesus Christ. He suggests that God is judging Jewish people for their rejection of Christ with this virus

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I had never heard of Rick Wiles until an hour ago, and frankly, I’d prefer not to know him. After doing a little investigating I discovered that he’s not a pastor of a recognised Christian Church, but  belongs to an outlying cultish group, much in the vein  of Westboro Baptist. They claim to be Christian and to speak for Jesus, and yet their words and actions could not be further from Him.

Rick Wiles has a history of coming out with  the most egregious statements, including anti-semitic attacks.

His tirade exhibits the worst of religion and how words must surely grieve the Lord Jesus Christ.

There has been a rise in anti-semitic behaviour and speech in the last couple of years, even here in Australia. It is disturbing and Christian leaders have a responsibility to call it out for the evil it is. 

To claim to speak for God when God has not spoken is bad enough. Rick Wiles’ words are not mere speculation, his speech comes from the pits of hell. 

Let us remember that the Lord Jesus was Jewish and raised Jewish.

The first Christians were Jewish.

The Apostle Paul was Jewish. 

In what is the greatest theological tome ever written, Paul’s letter to the Romans, he begins with an explanation of the Christian message, in which he argues that the Gospel of Jesus is given a special place among Jewish people

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.  For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”(Romans 1:16-17)

Paul is suggesting that there is a theological priority for the Jewish people. Why? Because they are special to God. They are loved by God. 

In an extensive argument that begins in Romans ch11., Paul argues that Israel remains precious to God and that his grace is not finished with them. With great clarity and conviction, Paul states, 

“I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin.  God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew.” 

Anti-semitism has no place in our society. Anti-semitism has no place in a Christian Church. Jewish people have a place in our society. They have the right to worship in their synagogues. They are welcome in my home and in my church.

I have 3 shorts sentences for Rick Wiles:

Stop it. Shut up you fool. Repent.

Be refreshed by God

Another way I am to encourage readers during this time is with this new podcast. My aim is to publish a couple of short messages each week that you can listen to on your phone. They are only a few minutes in length.
In today’s episode, I present a meditation on Psalm 23, as an encouragement for us to spend time with God and to be refreshed by him in his word.
If you want to listen and to subscribe, click on the graphic and follow the link
MurrayCampbell

Hope during uncertain times

We all need hope during uncertain times.  As a way of giving encouragement and stimulating thought on important topics, I’m starting a youtube channel (and podcast to come). The aim is to upload 1-2 short messages each week.

Feel free to subscribe

MurrayCampbell

You can also subscribe to the podcast on itunes:

https://podcasts.apple.com/au/podcast/murray-campbell/id1504044662

Imagine there is God

Imagine there is no ultimate meaning, purpose or goal toward which our lives are headed.

Imagine there is no overarching design and no inherent significance. 

Imagine if our lives were reduced to the pot luck outcome of billions of years of impersonal atoms and molecules running around hitting and missing, making and destroying.

Imagine a world where the reality of conscience and moral choice has no grounding in a purpose beyond that of group survival in the evolutionary race to the top.

Imagine human affections are ultimately an illusion, a cruel joke orchestrated by the impersonal rules pf physics.

Imagine all the people living for today, for tomorrow is the end.

Welcome to the world offered by John Lennon’s song, Imagine.

A group of celebrities have posted a new version of Imagine. The only reason this is going viral and being watched by millions of people is that these people are celebrities. Otherwise, the at times tone-deaf warbles in the rendition of this average pop song would probably have attracted zero attention. Music criticism aside, the song itself is hardly a suitable anthem for a time like this, or for any time in the world history for that matter.

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In contrast to Lennon’s nihilist proclamation, people want to know that there is hope beyond a crisis and that there is hope when faced with mortality. Times of economic uncertainty can drive people to the kinds of selfish and greedy hoarding of supplies that we have been witnessing. A health crisis can lead to further fragmentation in societies. Indeed, the longer this crisis continues the more likely we are going to witness the breaking of social cohesion. And yet as these economic, social and health pressures tighten, it is all the more necessary for people to hear news of hope.

There is little consolation to a gravely ill person that not only is death imminent, but that it is ultimately meaningless. This atheistic ethic doesn’t do much to help grieving families who have just witnessed a loved one being ripped from their lives.

We want there to be a heaven, a better world with a better life. We want the cessation of sorrow and suffering, but Imagine cannot offer any such promise. 

At the same time, hell is also a necessity, for we do not want to live in a world where evil wins or where injustice prevails. While we should be thankful for our judicial system, it is not full proof and many terrible deeds are never prosecuted. People need to know that in death the wicked do not escape justice. Imagining there is no hell would be a form of hell its self.

John Lennon’s song collapses in on its own irrationality. He imagines ‘living life in peace’, and there being no “greed or hunger”, but such talk demands a form and purpose, but atheism and naturalism cannot provide such a definition. 

The COVID-19 crisis is a voracious reminder of the fragility of life and the uncertainty of building society on credit. Hedonism is vanity. Pushing against greed and social disharmony suggests meaning, but meaning is disqualified in a God absent universe. As Solomon the wise wrote in the book of Ecclesiastes, 

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”

    says the Teacher.

“Utterly meaningless!

    Everything is meaningless.”

Nietzsche was right, at least as far his logic is concerned, that “the masses blink and say ‘We are all equal – Man is but man, before God – we are equal.’ Before God! But now this God has died.” A contemporary of Nietsche, Anatole France retorted without regret,

“It is almost impossible systematically to constitute a natural moral law. Nature has no principles. She furnishes us with no reason to believe that human life is to be respected. Nature, in her indifference, makes no distinction between good and evil.”

What if there is heaven and hell? What if God exists? Everything must change. What we think and say has greater import. How we live and how we treat others has far more consequence. 

What if the God who exists is the God of the Bible: who is Sovereign, and altogether righteous and loving, just and kind? What if Jesus Christ is the perfect image of God, the One who as John testifies, 

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

These words are far more sustainable and substantial than the sentiment of living in a world without Divine structure. A Biblical view of the world both assesses its beauty and its horror, the worth and the uncertainty. These Scriptures bring us to the most astonishing words, ones that counter John Lennon’s pipe dream with concrete hope, 

 “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.” (John 3:16)