Anglican General Synod votes ‘yes’ & in so doing discredits controversial Victorian Law

The big story coming out of the Anglican General Synod this year will be the 12 bishops who voted against Jesus’ definition of marriage (10 bishops voted to uphold Jesus’ teaching).

It’s encouraging to learn that a large majority of laity and clergy affirm this basic Christian belief. Nonetheless, it is tragic to see ecclesial leaders voting against God’s good purposes.  To quote the Anglican marriage rites, “those whom God has joined together let no one put asunder”. These 12 bishops have decidedly torn the Anglican communion union, with a question remaining whether it can be healed or not. In response to the bishops abrogating their office & Christian teaching, synod delegates took the unusual step of writing and signing a letter this morning,  calling on those bishops to repent and to affirm the biblical and historical view of marriage. 

Archbishop Kanishka Raffel moved the original motion to support marriage. He later said how he was “deeply disappointed that a majority of Bishops voted against making a clear statement. A valuable moment for clarity has been lost.”

While the bishop’s decision to block the motion on marriage is grievous, other and related issues have been discussed and decided, and these have ramifications beyond what the General Synod may realise. 

Two motions have been adopted by an overwhelming majority. 

The first motion upholds the view that sexual intimacy is reserved for marriage alone. Outside marriage, people are to be celibate. While the motion was sponsored by the Sydney Diocese it received wide affirmation across the country, including from Melbourne delegates. Although there was some opposition, with one delegate speaking with more candour than they perhaps released, “I object to this motion because it has a too strong of a reliance on Christ’s words…”

Perish the thought that Christians would rely too strongly on Jesus’ words! 11 Bishops voted against this basic instruction from Scripture!

A second motion was presented by Dani Treweek, affirming singleness.

“Affirms that singleness is, like marriage, an honourable state for God’s people, in which the fullness of God’s blessings may be enjoyed. Singleness is highly commended in Scripture (1 Cor 7:8, 32-38; Matt 19:10-12).”

In her speech, Dani observed,

“I fear that our reluctance to genuinely honour singleness is deeply informed by an underlying and often unspoken suspicion that singleness is an undesirable and even unliveable state. A large part of our reasoning for this is bound up in contemporary attitudes towards sex.

To live a potential lifetime without sex?
To never experience the joy of sexual union with another person.
To expect an unmarried Christian to resist sexual temptation till their life’s end?

The world around us sees such prospects as unthinkable… even cruel. And so it also sees the Christian aspiration of a chaste single life as unthinkable… even cruel”.

Dani righty presses against this popular narrative as she powerfully and autobiographically explains, 

“Chastity, sexual abstinence, celibacy… whatever word we might otherwise insert here… is not an oppressive and unrealistic burden placed upon single Christians. Rather, chastity is the single Christians way of valuing their God-given sexuality.

To put it more personally, chastity is not a cruel suppression of my sexuality as a single Christian. Instead it is my active and godly expression of the sexuality God has gifted to me.

Chastity is the way in which those of us who are unmarried are able to both value our sexuality as a gift given to us by God… and the way for us to demonstrate to others the great esteem with which we hold that gift.”

What makes these two motions interesting is that their application in the State of Victoria is illegal. 

Among the delegates voting and adopting these motions, are representatives from the Victorian dioceses. Indeed, a number of Melbournians spoke in support of the motion. The statements are straightforward and positive and Christian, and yet they cut against the grain of how people often view sex and fulfilment today. In Victoria, while these statements can be read out loud and the biblical principles explained in a public setting (i.e. preaching a sermon), counselling an individual along this line now sits outside the law.  Victoria’s new conversion and suppression laws prohibit any conversation, counsel or prayer that is perceived to convert or suppress a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation. To be very clear, the law isn’t limited to banning aversion practices and nonconsensual activity (everyone agrees such practices are wrong) but extends to prohibiting consensual prayer and conversation where the Bible’s sexual ethic is encouraged. For example, counselling a Christian same sex attracted man to stick with Jesus and remain celibate and single, is illegal. Setting a stand for church members of sexual godliness in conformity with Scripture is also contrary to the new laws.

Anyone falling foul of these new laws can be brought before a civil tribunal and even face criminal charges and up to 10 years imprisonment. In other words, Christians can hold to the principles (how very gracious of the Victorian government to allow Christians to believe what Christians have for 2000 years), but we cannot apply these principles to discipleship, pastoring, and rare cases of church discipline.

The motions about singleness are designed to encourage positive conversations about this oft forgotten people, so that churches can work harder at encouraging them and making church a community where they belong. As positive and faithful as these motions are, they are another reminder of how foreign and countercultural Christianity is in today’s Australia. I wonder if the Synod realises the implications of the position they have taken? Imagine the headline, “Australia’s Anglican Communion votes to oppose Victorian law”!  I suspect the relevance has eluded most.

As a non Anglican observing the proceedings, there are lessons for other Christian denominations to learn, follow and avoid. The bonds of peace and spiritual unity require more than a few litres of administrative glue and a splash of rhetorical clag! Thank God for congregation members and local church leaders who have resisted the Sirens call to shipwreck on the rocks of Scylla. Isn’t that temptation? The sound of societal acceptance is strong. The pull of holding onto comfort and power is magnetic. However, we will not serve Christ and his body well, and neither will we display the beauty and grace of God by abandoning what God has laid out in his word as true and good. Even as I write this, the General Synod has returned to the issue of marriage with some voices calling for same sex marriage to be accepted. Despite the ominous signs in the Anglican communion as some blow the sails closer to the rocks, there are also some encouraging signs among crew members as they faithfully navigate through these dangerous waters.

Bill Shorten said it right.

Since the 1960s societies like our own have pursued a moral outlook whereby the rules of life are thrown out in favour of personal autonomy and self-expression. The sentiment has existed far longer, but the sexual revolution provided the catalyst to make possible in public what was often lived out in private. However far from creating a hedonistic dreamland, we are turning the landscape into an unforgiving wasteland. 

The promises of sexual and social freedoms are now being met with education classes and workplace policies because we do not trust each other to act appropriately. Public figures who do or say something that even gives the appearance of impropriety are readily cancelled and publicly shamed. We have become expert fault finders, putting to shame the Puritans of old with our rules and public executions. 

Every word and gesture from our political leaders is noted and recorded and reported to the public in an instant whirlwind of media hysteria and political cannonading.

Yesterday it was the turn of Federal Labor leader Anthony Albanese. On the very first morning of the election campaign, Mr Albanese was asked two questions: what is the current unemployment rate and what is the cash rate? He was unable to answer either.  

Bill Shorten, who led Labor at the last Federal election, was asked this morning to comment on his leader’s error. Mr Shorten said,

“The last person who never made a mistake – we are celebrating Easter – was 2,000 years ago”.

I’ll leave the pundits to do their work in assessing the merits of Mr Shorten’s response. My interest here isn’t to speak to the politics. I wish to observe that Mr Shorten’s words are true, and even more astonishing than perhaps he realises. 

The last person who never made a mistake is Jesus Christ. Jesus lived in Judea 2,000 years ago. It was a period of tremendous political and social upheaval. Poverty abounded and social freedoms were anathema for most people. Life for populations living under Roman rule was hard and harsh. Into this world, came Jesus. 

Jesus’ life, his words and deeds consistently and unerringly testify to his human nature being without any sin. Instead, the historical records reveal how Jesus is the most selfless and compassionate, gentle, truthful and holy person ever to walk this earth. He always spoke the truth, even at great personal cost. He loved the loveless and showed kindness toward the discredited and despised in the community. He exercised Divine authority and power over every manner of evil and ill. As he journeyed to Jerusalem, questions over Jesus’ identity and mission heightened, who is this man? 

In so many ways Jesus was just like us: he ate and slept and worked and became tired, he expressed happiness and humour and he felt sadness and anger.  And yet, his character is blameless. People tried to find fault with him, especially the religious leaders of the day, and yet none could be found.

The Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, oversaw Jesus’ trial. Upon examining Jesus, he could find no wrong in him. Pilate appealed to Jesus’ accusers, 

““I find no basis for a charge against him.”

The most remarkable fact about Jesus is not his sinless nature, although that is truly outstanding, it is that this innocent one chose a path of betrayal, suffering, and death.  The incredible fact of that first Easter is how the man without guilt resolved to die the death of the guilty. 

Why would a man of such promise, and possessing the character of God, choose to enter this world and embrace suffering, humiliation, and willingly face the most public and excruciating death that the Romans could devise? Was it a mistake?

Jesus didn’t die for our moral platitudes, platforms, and self-justifications, he died in the place of those who deserve to be cancelled by God.  On the third day, he rose from the grave, promising new life to everyone who believe.

“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.” (1 Peter 3:18)

As important as political elections are, this week we are approaching the weekend where we remember the definitive act of a loving God to redeem people with great fault.

There is far greater wonder and glory at Easter than we probably ever imagine, even for those who annually attend Easter church services. Our society rightly commemorates and thanks those who sacrifice their lives for the good of others. We even quote Jesus who said, “”Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13)”. On the cross, Jesus went even further, 

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

This sublime world in which we live today with such advanced knowledge and ability has once again exposed our frailty and even culpability. Our uncertain world has been shaken by a pandemic and once again we are contemplating the possibility of global armed conflict. At home in Australia, we are wrestling with political disappointments and considerable social concerns. How much do we need a saviour who doesn’t make mistakes? 

Do Churches have a Houston problem?

Brian Houston has resigned as global senior pastor of Hillsong Church, following an internal investigation. He was found to have breached the church’s code of conduct with incidents involving two women over the past 10 years.

Concerns have been levelled at Hillsong over what is perceived to be a long standing lack of transparency and even an unwillingness to deal with erring leaders. One senses that the Board is now trying to set the record straight but even yesterday’s press release fails the mark. As many are noting, it is inappropriate to announce the resignation of a pastor found guilty of mistreating women and in the same letter, praise the man.

“Irrespective of the circumstances around this, we can all agree that Brian and Bobbie have served God faithfully over many decades.”

I suspect it was unintentional but the fact is, this one sentence diminishes the seriousness of the offences against the two women and it fails to acknowledge the damage now caused to the public reputation of the Gospel due to Houston’s behaviour. 

If you are staggered and angry by Brian Houston’s behaviour toward these women and the excuses offered by Hillsong (medication and alcohol), you are right to feel this way. If this raises further suspicions and causes you to ask if there are more stories hiding and may be uncovered, that reaction is pretty natural. If this latest Hillsong revelation is causing you to lose trust in churches and their leaders, I understand. If you’re wondering, is church a safe place for women, again the question is understandable. It is reprehensible that any person should mistreat another no matter the setting; how much worse though when the man is considered a pastor over Christ’s Church. It should never be. 

Having said that, this is not an anti-Brian Houston post. Neither am I here to throw rhetorical rocks at Hillsong. I rarely speak about Hillsong, especially in the public domain. Readers won’t be surprised to learn that I have never been a fan of Hillsong. There have been serious question marks over their ‘brand’ of Christianity for more than 30 years. The thing is, Hillsong isn’t alone in admitting to sinful and failed leaders. There are examples appearing in all kinds of churches. There are failed church leaders who once oversaw churches and organisations that are fairly aligned with my own theological convictions. Whether it is Mark Driscoll, Jonathan Fletcher or Ravi Zacharias, and many names that never reach public attention, bullying, abuse, sexual sin,  and unfaithfulness is a contagion that crosses denomination lines and churches, and societies. Hillsong has become a popular football for media pundits to kick around, but a quick look in our own backyard may reveal that we also have serious issues with inappropriate and even wicked leaders.

Houston has fallen, let us be careful lest we follow him.

What are we going to do about the growing number of errant and disqualified leaders? On the one hand, the Bible warns us that such figures will arise and control and damage churches and people’s lives. On the other hand, the Bible also expects leaders to be godly and faithful and humble and servant-hearted. 

Last year we decided that our first sermon series for Mentone Baptist Church in 2022 would be First Timothy. This letter written by the Apostle Paul is concerned with right and godly leadership over the church. As an example, last Sunday I was preaching on chapter 3, a fearful passage for any preacher given it outlines qualifications for church overseers (pastors) and deacons. I am not mentioning this in order to convey some hubristic sense of godliness, as though Mentone is holding the high bar perfectly and without shakes and knocks. Rather, as we revisited these important Scriptures, I am reminded of how high God’s bar is for those desiring to serve as church leaders.

I suspect, one of our issues isn’t that churches think too much of the Bible, but that we think too little of Scripture. Our problem isn’t too much faith in God, but that we don’t really believe what God says. We are quite proficient at pointing the Bible at other people but less willing to let God address our own lives.

A Church cannot survive on the personality or prowess of the pastor(s). The health and future of any church runs far deeper than any individual’s desire or demand to lead.

Desire is one thing. 1 Timothy 3:1 indicates that “whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task”.  However, desire alone is inadequate. Our broader culture might believe that we should pursue what we feel. We mustn’t let any ceiling prevent us from realising our desires. Paul notes that pastoring is a noble task, however, desire is not enough.  Desire is necessarily coupled with qualifications and these are qualifications that must be recognised in the candidate by the church.

In the case of 1 Timothy ch.3, there are 13 qualifications. The list isn’t designed to be comprehensive, for there are more attributes and responsibilities explored in other parts of the New Testament. However,  these 13 are non-negotiable and must form part of the resume for any who are suited for pastoral ministry. For anyone interested in an explanation of the qualifications, you can listen to the sermon I gave last Sunday (or read a good commentary). For the sake of brevity, I will just state each qualification here:

  • the overseer is to be above reproach,
  • faithful to his wife,
  • temperate, 
  • self-controlled,
  • respectable, 
  • hospitable, 
  • able to teach,
  • not given to drunkenness, 
  • not violent but gentle, 
  • not quarrelsome, 
  • not a lover of money. 
  • He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) 
  • He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 
  • He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.

Over the last 5 -10 years, the broader culture has resurrected the question of character. Does a politician’s private life matter when it comes to public office? Can we ignore a leader’s personal sins so long as we approve of their politics? Whether it is the case of Barnaby Joyce or Donald Trump or Tim Payne, our aspiring neo-puritan age is indicating that character does in fact matter…at least in those cases where leaders fall foul of the culture’s milieu. 

The Bible has always said that character matters in our leaders. Godliness is important in all our lives, and especially those who are appointed to lead. 

As one way of getting around the problem I recently heard an old adage repeated: the way we avoid bad leadership is by having no leaders in the church. In order to fulfil some egalitarian dream of the church, everyone should have an equal say and role. Perhaps that sounds appealing to you, but of course, that model of church contradicts the pattern laid out in Scripture and it’s also irresponsible. What ends up happening is that those with personality and power end up leading by default.

In addition to those essential qualities presented in 1 Timothy ch.3, I want to suggest these further 7 points that I believe will help churches in protecting the congregation and helping leaders from falling into grievous sin. Of course, no system is perfect, and any process can be misused, but any Christian Church must recognise how high the stakes are. At hand are things of greater consequence than we can grasp. It is not only the question of character that the Bible emphasises, it is the gravity of the pastor’s work. It is of such weight that we should hesitate before raising our hands for the job or before accepting a nominee.

“Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.”

May I humbly present this offering, as I reflect on our own church and the near impossible task of shepherding the people who belong to God and have been purchased by the precious blood of Christ:

  1. Don’t be a pastor. Of course churches need pastors, both those training formally at theological college and those raised from within the congregation. It is ok to slow down. It is okay to realise that this isn’t for you. It is okay to say no.
  2. Insist on character. Churches, don’t sacrifice character. 
  3. Establish a plurality of leadership. The New Testament’s vision for healthy churches is not a solo pastor but of a plurality of elders and plurality of deacons who are accountable not only to each other but also to the church membership.
  4. Insist upon clear accountability structures that are readily observed.
  5. Insist upon a fair and accessible grievance process for everyone in the church.
  6. Pray for those who lead.
  7. Build a culture of transparency and trust. It is worthwhile quoting Paul’s letter once again. In the chapter following the qualifications for elders and deacons, Paul urges Timothy to lead by showing and sharing his life as well as his teaching. Paul comprehended the value and importance of transparency and trust, and he also understood saw the goal to which this pastoral oversight is pointing,

Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers”.

When Schools Educate Children away from Christianity

A friend’s teenage son recently attended a high school excursion in the city. The day was focusing on empathy and learning skills to understand people who are different from ourselves. Sounds great! There we are discussions about homelessness and disabilities, which is great. Some of the day was about how to relate to LGBT people. It still sounds as though it may be useful. As part of the training, the presenter informed the kids that Christians are among the worst offenders in handing out bigotry. Christians are hateful people who cause all kinds of harm to LGBT people. Indeed, the school children were informed that parts of the Bible needs to be removed.

The boy spoke up in front of the class and explained that the trainer’s claims were untrue; that takes courage. One can imagine how his views were received. The poor kid went home having been essentially made to feel that he and his family were awful people on account of their Christian faith…and his entire class now know it!

Let’s leave aside the overdose of irony about an ‘empathy’ training event teaching kids that Christians are the worst and are bigots, and so are parts of the Bible, the claim is simply not true.

This presenter is simply repeating the popular lie which alleges disagreement equals hate. The correlation is both intellectually and morally insipid. Take Jesus for example. Jesus Christ disagreed with all manner of beliefs and behaviour (including sex outside marriage) and yet he is the most loving person ever to have lived. Indeed, it is his love that drives him to disprove ideas and actions that contradict God’s good purposes. Jesus even went to the cross and willingly gave his life for people who actively opposed him in every way imaginable. Activists, politicians and educators may repeat the mantra a thousand times, but disagreeing on important matters is not equivalent to bigotry and hatred. 

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

And notice the gall of the presenter, who in the name of tolerance and acceptance, felt confident to tell a class of school children about all those hateful Christians and their hateful Bible. According to the group’s website, this organisation teaches 1000s of school children every year; imagine what other messages they have pushed onto children.

In a reasonable world, one might assume that defaming a religion in front of school children would be unacceptable. Surely inclusion includes Christians? Imagine the public outcry if a school program taught that Islam was evil or that Jews held abhorrent beliefs? Common sense ought to lead parents to trust that schools will object and never use the program again. But in today’s world, schools will probably shy away from doing the right thing because the fear of being outed by activists is tangible and the very long and judgemental arm of the Government is also quite real. 

We put trust in our schools who in turn place a lot of responsibility on these outside groups to deliver material in a considered and constructive way. People may remember the incident at Parkdale Secondary College last year when another group, addressing similar issues, asked all the white heterosexual Christian boys to stand up, and then berated them and told the class that these boys were responsible for the ills of our society.

In this particular case, I believe the school is disappointed by what occurred, but that’s the problem, schools are often in the dark as to what these outside groups are teaching our children. 

Schools are unlikely to go as far as formally objecting to these program providers and desist in using their services; they can’t afford to make such a stand in this age of public outrage. To push back on program content is interpreted as questioning the new ideology and that’s an automatic red card. The school will be branded as phobic and relentlessly so. Let the reader understand, Christian kids will either become forced converts to the new ideology or they will be sacrificed at the altar of today’s gods.

What happened to my friend’s child is no longer unusual. Believing that men and women are men and women, and holding to the classical view of marriage is considered anathema, and reforming these social ‘delinquents’ has become the task of the State. Educating and pressuring them away from the Christian faith is fast becoming normalised in Victoria’s Education system.

What makes this particular incident more egregious is that the organisation in question is connected to a supposed Christian Church. It would be laughable if it were not so serious. Of course, such Churches have long abandoned the faith. They long ago sold their soul and dumped Christian beliefs for the sum of social acceptance and admiration. In one sense they are forced to do so because without the Gospel they have no reason to exist other than to become advocates for the latest moral trends.

Parents, know what your children are being taught. When your children attend special seminars and lessons with outside groups, do your homework and find out what’s going on. Ask the school in advance for information about what will be taught. Debrief with your children afterwards. Listen to their questions with lots of patience and love. Remind them that God’s ways are good and show them how to persist with kindness and grace when our schoolmates disagree.  Lest you think this is only an issue in Government schools, this is now widespread among private and independent schools.

When I was at school 30 years ago Christians were tolerated but thought to be stupid. Today, Christians are evil. It’s a different world!

This latest story reminds me that things are not getting easier. We don’t need to jump into the pit of apocalyptic excesses to realise that following Jesus is becoming harder. The front line is school as much as it is the university or the workplace. The pressure on our children to give up what they know to be true now forms part of their school education. This reinforces how important home life is and the role of parents to display, teach, love, and pray for our children. I am reminded of how vital church is, to be that safe place where children can explore the faith and learn to trust God and to be encouraged and equipped throughout the week. 

We might be tempted to respond by withdrawing or self isolating from all these influences and pressures. I understand the pull, and there are times when we must make changes for the sake of our kids’ wellbeing. My general encouragement is, equip your children to navigate this course for they will face it beyond school and long after they have left home. I also suspect our churches need to invest more heavily in discipling our parents so that they are better equipped for the task. And don’t give up praying for them.

Shane Warne and our own mortality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thinking Through Ukraine

A mother and daughter from my church are currently residing in Ukraine. Bombs have hit the city near where they are living. Thankfully, for now, they are safe. While internet connections have become unreliable, the mum has been able to send a message to one of our church members. For us at Mentone, as with many families across Australia, the events unfolding in Ukraine are more than just stories in the news.

I think it is fair to say that many people around the world are stunned by the audacity of President Putin’s actions, but we should not be surprised. I don’t believe these are the decisions of a madman but someone calculating with warranted confidence.  For more than a decade Russia has had military successes with incursions into Crimea, Georgia, Chechnya, and Syria. More than that, as the world looks at the West, they see moral decay and social disruption and division; no wonder they might conclude that they can act with impunity.  The insurmountable disaster of the withdrawal from Afghanistan won’t cause nations to tremble at the United States and her allies. Far from fear mongering or throwing around hubris, this is about understanding human nature:  Belief + power + opportunity can be a very dangerous mix.

The West has become the polar bear who with each new season finds it harder to uncover firm ground to stand on, and instead relies on jumping across tiny and shrinking blocks of floating ice. As we consciously and deliberately remove the very foundations upon which our societies formed and which a civil and healthy society requires,  we create a future that is less certain and less safe. While other nations are perhaps economically and militarily weaker, they have greater conviction and resolve.

Stan Grant writes,

“This is the sort of war the West does not know how to fight. It is not just about territory, or borders, or resources, or power. It is existential — it is about identity.” 

As far as I can see, the United States gives all the appearances of being supine. The United Nations is weak. NATO cuts their own hamstring. Russia is emboldened, and so will China and Iran. This war in Ukraine is only beginning and it is unlikely to end at her borders. Indeed, ominous days ahead.

As we watch the war unfold on the news, what should we do? 

First of all, humble ourselves before Almighty God and pray. 

We should follow the example of many Ukrainian Christians and pray. Prayer is not the helpless pleading of people to a blank sky, but the cries of people to God who remain Sovereign and good today, even in Ukraine. Naturally, many Westerners with their sense of intellectual smugness will laugh at such a notion. I dare them to voice their condescension toward the many Ukrainians who are praying in public space at the moment or the pastors who have led their families to safety and then returned to care for the people. 

Few of us have the influence to make foreign policy, introduce sanctions or to speak to global leaders, but we can pray to the God to whom all authorities will be held to account.

Second, it is right to feel anger. Most often our anger is wrong and sinful, but there are times when anger is not only justified but even required. When innocent blood is shed, when a human life is abused, and when a nation is invaded by another for the sake of greed and control, it is appropriate to sense and express indignation. President Putin is a despot with millions of Russian people living in fear and under his autocratic rule, and he has just invaded a Sovereign State and put at risk the lives of millions of people.

Third, remember, God will judge the wicked. 

As Christians, we know and believe God is love. God is a merciful Father who pours out grace upon human beings who pursue the most arrogant of ways. Christians affirm alongside the Apostle Paul, “ Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst”.

We also believe that God will judge the nations by his Son. Neither the small nor the great are exempt. Ukraine’s UN representative, Sergiy Kyslytsya gave an astonishing speech yesterday, one that I suspect will enter the annals of history. Addressing the United Nations Security Council, Ambassador Kyslytsya spoke directly to the Chair, the Russian Ambassador, 

“There is no purgatory for war criminals, they go straight to hell.”

Purgatory does not exist, but hell certainly does. The world needs a judge who will put right the wrongs committed. As a result of human limitations and at times ignorance and even complicity, much evil escapes justice in the moment. One thing Jesus Christ promises is that the wicked will not escape his justice.

Fourth, we need a biblical anthropology. 

It is our failure to understand and believe human nature, that causes our disbelief in events such as the one unfolding in Ukraine. On this point allow me to give an extended quote from ‘Symphony From the Great War’, a little book that I wrote a couple of years ago, as it sums up the point at hand:

“The paradox of the human condition bewilders: such inexplicable worth and wonder and yet constant and repeated reproach. The height of creative prodigy with the ability to love and to show kindness, and yet in our DNA are also traits that stick like the mud of Flanders, and which no degree of education or scientific treatment can excise. At the best of times, we contain and suppress such things, and at the worst, we can explode into a public and violent confrontation. The First World War wasn’t human madness; it was calculated depravity. It was genius used in the employment of destruction. This was a betrayal of Divine duty. I am not suggesting that this war was fought without any degree of moral integrity, for should we not defend the vulnerable? When an emerging global war sends signals of an aggressor’s intent to its neighbours, to what point must we remain on the sideline and permit bullying and harassment? At what juncture do allies speak up as a buttress for justice but not support words with deeds? How much politicising is mere virtue signalling? 

“War creates no absolutely new situation: it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice.” (C.S. Lewis)


The temptation is to conclude that lessons have been learned and today we move forward with inevitable evolution. While the superficial has progressed enormously, that is, with scientific, medical, and technological breakthroughs, and with cultures building bridges and better understanding differences. And yet, we mustn’t make the error in thinking that today we are somehow better suited to the task of humanity. This is an anthropological fallacy of cosmic repercussions. The bloodletting has not subsided; it’s just that we exercise our barbarity with clinical precision or behind closed doors. We continue to postulate and protect all manner of ignominious attitudes and actions, but these are often sanctioned by popular demand and therefore excused. 

The world sees the doctrine of total depravity but cannot accept the veracity of this diagnosis of disease because doing so would seem to be leaving our children destitute, without hope for a better tomorrow. And yet surely wisdom causes us to look outside ourselves and beyond our institutions and authorities to find a cure for the disease that ails every past and future generation? 

It does not take a prophet to understand that the world will once again serve as the canvas for a gigantic bloodstain. There will be wars and rumours of wars. There will be small localised conflicts and globalisation will inevitably produce further large-scale violence, perhaps outweighing the experiences of the first two world wars. We may see and even learn from the past, but we project a fools’ paradise when we envision the human capacity to finally overcome evil. Religion is often no better a repose than the honest diatribes of Nietzsche and his philosophical descendants. Religion, ‘in the name of God’, is often complicit with death making and at times it is missing from the task of peacemaking, while other efforts are much like stacking sandbags against a flash flood: that is, hardly effective

Theologian Oliver O’ Donovan refers to the “nascent warrior culture” in the days of ancient Israel, some fourteen centuries before the coming of the Christ. This culture is perhaps no longer emerging in our world, but it is now long tried and tested among the nations. Does war intrude upon peace? Perhaps it is more accurate to say that war is interrupted by periods of relative peace and at times by ugly appeasement. Soon enough another ideologue and another authority tests the socio-political temperature and attempts to scale the ethereal stairs of Babel. 


The human predicament is perhaps a grotesque complement to the rising philosophical concerns of the late 19th Century. Karl Marx and Friedrich Nietzsche began dismantling the imago Dei with a new and devastating honesty. Far from discovering superior freedoms, they justified authoritarian systems of government and the mass sterilisation of ‘lesser’ human beings. To strip humanity of its origins is to leave us destitute and blind, but admitting this truth demands an epistemic and moral humility that few are willing to accept. Nietzsche was right, at least as far as 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.”

If optimism seems out of place and if pessimism is a crushing and untenable alternative, where does the future lie? The lush green cemeteries of the Western Front with their gleaming white headstones convey a respectful and yet somewhat misleading definition of war. This halcyon scene covers over a land that was torn open and exposed the capacity of man to destroy. Perhaps, as a concession, the dead have received a quiet bed until the end of time, but the serenity of this sight mustn’t be misconstrued in any way to deify war or to minimise the sheer horror that befell so many. In part, we want to learn and so avoid repeating history, and yet history shouts to us a message that we don’t wish to accept.

There is ancient wisdom that stands tall in the midst of time. There are words which demand closer inspection by those who are seeking to exegete the past and to consider an alternate tomorrow. Every step removed from this wisdom signals further hubris that we can ill afford, but epistemic humility and confession may well reorient the compass toward he who offers peace instead of war, life instead of death, and love instead of hate: 

“Why do the nations conspire

    and the peoples plot in vain?

The kings of the earth rise up

    and the rulers band together

    against the Lord and against his anointed, saying,

“Let us break their chains

    and throw off their shackles.”

The One enthroned in heaven laughs;

    the Lord scoffs at them.

He rebukes them in his anger

    and terrifies them in his wrath, saying,

“I have installed my king

    on Zion, my holy mountain.”

I will proclaim the Lord’s decree:

He said to me, “You are my son;

    today I have become your father.

Ask me,

    and I will make the nations your inheritance,

    the ends of the earth your possession.

You will break them with a rod of iron;

    you will dash them to pieces like pottery.”

Therefore, you kings, be wise;

    be warned, you rulers of the earth.

Serve the Lord with fear

    and celebrate his rule with trembling.

Kiss his son, or he will be angry

    and your way will lead to your destruction,

 for his wrath can flare up in a moment.

    Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

(Psalm 2)

Do I watch the Beijing Winter Olympics or not?

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

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

 

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

“You may say I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one

I hope someday you’ll join us

And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions

I wonder if you can

No need for greed or hunger

A brotherhood of man

Imagine all the people

Sharing all the world”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then comes this life giving, relieving and redeeming word,

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

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

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

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

Boxing Day: the hardest Sunday of the year?

The hardest Sunday of the year for organising church is the first Sunday following Christmas Day. As it happens, this year the Sunday falls only one day after Christmas,  Boxing Day.

Boxing day in Melbourne is huge.  For Melbourne Boxing Day means cricket at the MCG and shopping sales at Chadstone and eating lots of delicious post-Christmas food. I love all those things and later on our family will be participating in each of those activities today. But as Melbourne awakes from its Christmas slumber and drinks enough coffee to get the body going, something else is happening around Melbourne today. Gathering in small groups across hundreds of locations there is something taking place that is of even greater significance and will do more to accomplish the direction of 2022 than everything else Melbournians will be doing and enjoying this Boxing Day.

For most of us at Mentone Baptist, holidays have started and the majority of our congregation are already away interstate visiting family whom we have not been able to see for almost 2 years; that’s important. Others at Mentone have returned for church, only 24 hours since we last met.

Despite meeting in smaller numbers than usual (and yet counting many thousands across Melbourne), men and women are praising God and remembering God’s good news about his son and we are committing to God in prayer the year that has been and the year that is about to start.

Such praise,  we are told in the Bible is like a pleasing aroma to God and which reaches heaven and is accepted by him. The voracious sounds of the MCG cricket crowd today is nothing compared to the praises of God‘s people.

And the prayers we pray to our Father in heaven may be of such consequence that lives will be changed and the very fabric of society can move. After all, God heard the pleas of his people in the Old Testament and answered them by sending the saviour of the world. The kaleidoscope of history is pitted with God answering prayer and fulfilling all his promises. There is nothing in all the world, no event, no pandemic,  no government that can outbid or outlast what God will accomplish through his Son.

To the many and the few who are this morning meeting as church, be encouraged. We are probably feeling tired this morning and we’re looking forward to Melbourne’s Boxing Day allures (as am I).  Also be encouraged, that as you meet for those precious minutes as a church today, this praise and prayer is of infinite worth and pleases God. And we can trust that God will use these petitions to accomplish his purposes in 2022.

A Christmas Acrostic

What is Christmas about? What does Jesus have to do with Christmas? How relevant today is the story of Jesus’ birth? Here’s a brief explanation via a short acrostic.

C

Christ came into the world: Christ means God’s anointed ruler. He is given authority by God to reign over a Kingdom that will never end, and he rules with justice and righteousness. He can always be counted on for doing what is right and good. 

H

Holy Spirit: Mary’s pregnancy was miraculous. While the circumstances of Jesus’ birth demonstrate his humanity, other particulars observe how this child is also God the Son. There are unique features surrounding Jesus which point to God’s special involvement. “His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:18).

R

Redeemer: God’s Son came into the world on a rescue mission. Jesus wasn’t born because everything is okay, but because everything is not okay. And yet God loves us despite our multitude of failings and sins. That’s an idea worth thinking about it!  “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)

I

Incarnation: God didn’t ignore the human condition. Jesus didn’t pretend to be a person. The one who enjoyed eternal communion with the Father took on human flesh. “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” (John 1:14).

It is because Jesus is God that he has the character necessary and power required to overcome sin and death. It is because Jesus is man, he could serve as our substitute and saviour. Today, this same Jesus lives embodied in his resurrection body, acting as our mediator in heaven and guaranteeing our resurrection from the dead. It is not putting it too lightly when the Bible says that Jesus is the hope of the world.

S

Scripture: The events of Jesus’ birth are more than history. They were promised by God in the Scriptures (Bible) over many centuries. Christ’s coming into the world was the long awaited event God’s people yearned to see. 

T

Travel: Jesus’ journey didn’t begin or end with the manger in Bethlehem. Jesus didn’t remain a forever baby, stuck inside Christmas cards or in portraits hanging in art galleries. Christmas is necessary preparation for Easter. The Son journeyed from heaven to earth, from Bethlehem to Nazareth, then to Jerusalem and the cross, the tomb and to life, ascension and heaven.

M

Manger: Jesus was born in the most humble of circumstances. His first bed was an animal’s feeding trough. God doesn’t ignore the baseline,  the poor or suffering. When he entered the world, he identified with those who have little. 

“Who, being in very nature God,

    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

rather, he made himself nothing

    by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,

    being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,

    he humbled himself

    by becoming obedient to death—

        even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:5-8)

A

Adoration: The angels praised God, the Shepherds worshipped the infant, and the Magi brought him precious gifts.  This same Jesus is deserving of all honour and glory because of who he is and because of what he has accomplished for us. It’s right to sing songs about and to this Jesus, and it is proper for us to live all of life for him. Who else died for sin? Who else can forgive sins? Who else can gift us eternal life? 

S

Shepherds. Among the first to hear the good news of Jesus’ birth were ordinary people, even social outcasts. This reminds us how God’s good news isn’t for society’s elite but for those without a voice. Christianity is not a gospel validating self-sufficiency but revealing human anx and God’s efficacy. To quote Jesus, ‘I’ve not come for the healthy but for the sick’.

Photo by Somchai Kongkamsri on Pexels.com

If these facts about Jesus’ birth intrigue you, perhaps you’d like to open a Bible and read the Bible for yourself. Might I suggest starting in Luke’s Gospel, as it jumps straight into the story of Jesus, including the famous Christmas narrative. You may also like to visit a church over Christmas or in the new year. If you live around Mentone or Cheltenham (or in the Bayside area of Melbourne), you’re very welcome to visit us at Mentone Baptist Church.

Let us rediscover the power of forgiveness

As  I watched one of my boys play a cricket match over the weekend, I chatted with one of the dads for much of the time. As we talked about how our kids are growing up and the challenges they face in the big mean world of Melbourne, the conversation turned to the topic of forgiveness. This cricketing aficionado said to me with a tone of sadness, we live in a time where people no longer know how to forgive. 

I agreed. One of the key ingredients for human living is forgiveness, and it’s now lost. Our societal impulse is no longer to forgive (let alone understand the other). In today’s Australia, the first to throw the stone is the victor, regardless of whether the offence is real or just perceived. Anger is the mood of today. Controlling the story line and asserting individual rights is the power play at work.

It is interesting to observe that as our self-appointed cultural adjudicators assess the merits of Christianity and move from defining her teaching as half-baked to harmful, we should not be surprised to see our society also shifting away from forgiveness. 

Expressive individualism is god and politics, education, and social media are the priesthood. People and society exist to serve my interests, rather than I have a duty to love my neighbour as myself. But what good is a power play like this if we lose our soul in the process? In ditching the message of Jesus Christ, we are not gaining, we are losing.  If you don’t believe me, spend a few moments on Twitter today.

I’m not suggesting that only Christians know how to forgive (and yes, some Christians need to relearn this basic good), but I am saying that it is because of this Christian message our world learned how to forgive. As we turn away we leave behind key ingredients that keep society together.

There is a distinctive element in this Jesus framed understanding of forgiveness, one that is inescapably powerful in its goodness. Forgiveness isn’t something we practice because of self interest (although forgiveness brings benefits to the person doing the forgiving in important ways). Forgiveness isn’t a decision we bring to the table when we believe the offender is deserving of those words, ‘I forgive you.’ The very nature of forgiveness is that the offending party has wronged you and shouldn’t expect a semblance of peace making. 

Forgiveness is acting in mercy toward an individual in light of their transgressions toward you. In what is one of the greatest words ever spoken, on the cross Jesus sees those responsible for his public execution and prays, “Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

All this is to preface a word of grace and forgiveness that was spoken recently by a young woman at the funeral of her father. It is a word she shared about what she now wants for the man who murdered her dad.

Police Officer Richard Houston, of Mesquite, Texas, was killed in the line of duty by 37-year-old Jaime Jaramillo during a domestic disturbance.

At Mr Houston’s funeral, she said, 

“I remember having conversations with my dad about him losing friends and officers in the line of duty.

I have heard all the stories you can think of, but I’ve always had such a hard time with how the suspect is dealt with.

Not that I didn’t think there should be justice served, but my heart always ached for those who don’t know Jesus—their actions being a reflection of that.

I was always told that I would feel differently if it happened to me. But as it’s happened to my own father, I think I still feel the same.

There has been anger, sadness, grief, and confusion. And part of me wishes I could despise the man who did this to my father.

But I can’t get any part of my heart to hate him.

All that I can find is myself hoping and praying for this man to truly know Jesus.

I thought this might change if the man continued to live, but when I heard the news that he was in stable condition, part of me was relieved.

My prayer is that someday down the road, I get to spend some time with the man who shot my father—not to scream at him, not to yell at him, not to scold him—simply to tell him about Jesus.”

Do you find in her intent something hideous or something beautiful? Are we repelled by her attitude or intrigued?

The enacting and receiving of forgiveness is fast becoming a social memory. We all know how important it is, but the identity games that control social media and politics is creeping into our homes and every aspect of living. And it’s not only forgiveness that is being lost, we are also losing our grip on patience and gentleness and kindness; all virtues that are necessary for maintaining healthy relationships and a civil society. 

So long as we’re the one holding the stone or the dislike button, and everyone’s retweeting our version of justice, we can get by for a while. However, sooner or later we are the ones needing forgiveness. Indeed, one day the toll will toll for thee!

Jesus once taught his disciples to pray this,

“And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from the evil one.’

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

Is this Jesus so dangerous that a young woman finds in Him the power to want good for her father’s killer? Even that she might one day be able to tell him about Jesus? No one is ignoring the fact of the heinous crime or pretending justice should not be acquired. Just as we cannot live in a world without justice, we cannot live without forgiveness and neither will we survive for long without knowing the One who purchased for us Divine forgiveness.

May I suggest, don’t listen to our cultural overloads, avoid getting swept up by the tides of rage and intolerance that’s drowning our souls and dividing our society. Instead, let’s reconsider the powerful story of the Christ whose forgiveness so reconfigures the human heart, that we can be moved to desire good for those so undeserving. If we restart our own story with the definitive story of forgiveness, I can guarantee it will move our lives forward in ways that will surprise and surpass everything else.

John, one of Jesus’ disciples put it this way,

“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.”