Stay at Home

Stay at home. This is the new warning being issued to my suburb.

I’m typing away on a beautiful autumn day here in Melbourne. The sun is out, the sky is blue and the temperature is nudging toward a perfect 25.

Dare I say it, it’s almost beach weather. It would be a stunning day for lazing about at the beach except that my local council has today closed all the beaches in the City of Kingston. I happen to live in a beachside suburb of Melbourne. In fact, both Parkdale and Mentone beaches are within walking distance of my house. Despite the close proximity, I have a small confession to make, I rarely wander down to the sand and water. As a lifelong Melbournian, Melbourne and beach have never quite synchronised, as they do for Sydney. Melbourne should be about food and culture, enjoyed under gloomy skies and drizzly rain, not this pseudo subtropical lifestyle for living in Byron Bay and Bondi.

 

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Speaking of Bondi, last night we discovered that Melbournians are as poor at doing maths as our northerly neighbours in Sydney. Only a day earlier we tut-tutted the masses in Bondi for flouting the new social distancing rules, but then St Kilda beach revealed that we are as stupid.

The warning coming to us beachside homemakers has become, Stay Home. 

The new limitations being brought to bear on our lives are a challenge for many. We don’t like our freedoms being curbed. Like the Law of Moses, we read a prohibition and subconsciously begin to plot how we can break it. 

In Australia, we have lived the dream. We have maximised pleasure and autonomy. Melbourne is regularly voted the most liveable city in the world, and not without good reasons. But what are we discovering? All this is fleeting. The good life is not certain. 

The book of Ecclesiastes should become required reading for this season. We would do well to listen to the wise person and in their pursuit for meaning.

I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless. “Laughter,” I said, “is madness. And what does pleasure accomplish?” I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly—my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was good for people to do under the heavens during the few days of their lives.

I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired male and female singers, and a harem[a] as well—the delights of a man’s heart. I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me.

10 I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;

    I refused my heart no pleasure.

My heart took delight in all my labor,

    and this was the reward for all my toil.

11 Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done

    and what I had toiled to achieve,

everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;

    nothing was gained under the sun.”

The COVID-19 crisis will eventually subside and a new normalcy will settle into our lives. We will return to the beaches and to the footy. We’ll once again hang out at the cafe and pub, and splurge on shopping and holidays. These can be good things to enjoy, but will we learn the lessons that are now being forced upon us? How will we understand life’s meaning? Will we return to all the extras and scoff them down in a frenzied attempt to make up for lost time, to will we discern that contentment and happiness can be had without them?

Here is a simple word of advice: don’t waste your stay at home. This forced homestay presents us with an unusual and unique moment. We could, by God’s grace, learn the answers to the biggest and most important of questions.

Accompanying these social closures are some very real dangers; we can anticipate growing social distancing and loneliness. Authorities have good reason to be fearful about increased domestic abuse in our homes. We need to be conscious of these awful realities and to combat them.

Without diminishing the negative, there are also enormous benefits and possibilities to be seized at this time. Here are a few:

  1. We can spend more time with our children
  2. We can rediscover the long lost art of creative thinking
  3. We can reevaluate the big questions of life
  4. We have the time to form healthy spiritual disciplines: regular prayers and Bible reading
  5. We can catch up on sleep
  6. We can develop intentional habits for looking out for friends and neighbours
  7. We can learn how to enjoy and be content with the simple things

How are you planning to maximise your home stay?

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.

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)

Mentone’s COVID-19 Policy: neither alarmism nor complacency

We have communicated with the Mentone family our policy for COVID-19. Of course, with changing circumstances, the policy may well change over coming days. I’ve posted a copy here for readers as an example of what one church is communicating.

COVID-19

 

Dear Church,

Over the last two Sundays at Church we have explored Jesus’ apocalyptic teaching in Matthew’s Gospel. Our preaching schedule is usually organised months in advance and in God’s providence he has been provided us with a timely word. In light of living in this age, the Lord Jesus cautions us against both alarmism and complacency. We don’t need to resort to panic or irrational behaviour because God is Sovereign and the Lord Jesus remains on the throne. Neither should we be careless or thoughtless.

The certainty of our hope in Jesus Christ gives us great freedom and impulse to love our neighbours. A significant way we can serve one another during this current health crisis is to adopt sensible measures as a church.

Mentone Baptist Church will follow government and health department advice and wish to put forward the following as our policy from today:

1. If you have been in countries now on the travel ban list or have high cases of infection (China, South Korea, Iran, Italy), you are required to quarantine yourself for two weeks before gathering with your brothers and sisters from Mentone Baptist Church. 

We expect this list will expand in the near future. In light of this, we are requesting that anyone who has recently travelled internationally to not attend Sunday services for 2 weeks (upon the date of your return to Australia).

2. If you suspect you have been in contact with any of the community COVIC-19 infections that are being reported in the news, please consult a GP and also self-quarantine.

3. There are also regular colds beginning to circulate among us that aren’t and won’t be COVID-19. We ask that you use commonsense.  If it is not COVID-19 there is no need to quarantine yourself. However please be mindful of others in the church community and minimise the chances of infection by taking care in your personal contact and when we gather.

4. As a policy, we will now be urging our church members not to shake hands or hug (or high-five) with one another. Given the nature of Christian community, this is not easy among brothers and sisters in Christ, but we do so in order to love our neighbour and honour those who are in authority over us.

5. In addition, cover your mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing with a tissue, or cough into your elbow.Dispose of the tissue into a bin and then wash your hands afterwards. 

6. Wash your hands regularly, using soap and water, including after using the toilet, and before eating. Alcohol-based sanitiser (greater than 60 per cent alcohol) is a good back-up if soap and water is not readily accessible.

7. If you are planning not to attend a service, we encourage you to contact us (Mike or myself) and let us know how you are going and if there is anything we can be doing to help.

We are monitoring advice that is being issued from the BUV (Baptist Union of Victoria) and from Government agencies. We will keep you informed if the situation arises where we need cancel public gatherings for a period of time (inc. Sunday services). In the event of cancelling public gatherings, we will inform you of alternative arrangements (ie livestreaming).

We encourage you to look after each other by following these steps. Also, given there is a shortage of some supplies in supermarkets, if you are needing something please ask people in our church family. The church’s private facebook group is an easy way to do this. Let us show generosity toward one another.  Let us check on the elderly in our church and ensure that are ok. Let us pray for each other, and pray for our local community.

Above all, know that the Lord Jesus is sovereign over his people and he tends his flock like a shepherd (Isa. 40). We have his love and peace and security over our lives because nothing can separate us from his love (Rom. 8). So go in peace to love and serve him even in the midst of this crisis. Speak liberally and graciously about the peace Jesus offers to those who are most anxious and worried at this time.

Educator recognises that boys and girls are different

In what may be a betrayal of much contemporary philosophising about boys and girls, I’ve just a read an article in The Age arguing the case for single sex schools, “particularly for girls”.

Loren Bridge (Executive Officer of the Alliance of Girls’ Schools Australasia), contends that while,

 “Positives can be found in every type of education, but there are just so many more positives for girls in a single-sex school.”

This educator suggests that both research and experience demonstrate that girls perform better academically and adapt better socially in a single sex environment, 

“There is simply no doubt that single-sex education benefits girls. Research shows unequivocally that girls thrive in an all-girls environment – they do better academically, socially and emotionally. Not just a single study but a plethora of data from across the world supports these findings.

Research aside, you only need to visit a girls’ school to see the difference. Girls in co-ed schools tend to be more self-conscious and less confident. They are less likely to speak up in class, ask questions or take on a leadership role. They are also more likely to have a negative body image and to experience sexual harassment or bullying. In contrast, those in girls-only environments feel empowered to be themselves. They participate more freely in discussions, are more competitive and take more healthy risks with their learning – skills that are advantageous for life success.”

But hang on, I thought there were no differences between boys and girls? Until recently it was permissible to acknowledge biological differences between girls and boys, but no longer. Talk about biological distinctions is now considered social blasphemy and a quick route to public cancelling (see here for an example). Why? The woke brigade preach’s that biology has no bearing on what defines a boy and girl, because boys can fall pregnant and girls can have a penis. 

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What is interesting about the article is that Loren Bridge isn’t discussing physical differences; she goes much further. She suggests that there are psychological and social differences between the sexes, such that it warrants single sex classes in schools. Whether conscious or not of the fact, she has crossed the line and entered that chilling space known as woke heterodoxy. 

I happen to agree with her. As a Dad with two boys and a girl, it’s one of those self evident truths; boys and girls are not the same. Gender makes a difference not only with appearance and physical attributes, but it also impacts how we think, react, and relate. This is not something to be ashamed of or to be denied or ignored, but is part of who we are. In making male and female, God didn’t make a mistake. 

To be sure, cultural conditioning influences the way boys and girls view themselves. But this cannot fully explain the why’s and how’s and what of boys and girls. As Bridge has noted,  it is the case that some approaches to education work better simply because boys and girls are not the same.

As a parent with a daughter I found Bridge’s article interesting and persuasive, but I’m also conscious that her opinion contradicts the Victorian Education Department’s own understanding of sex and gender (as evidenced by the  Safe Schools and Respectful Relationships Curriculums). At the end of the day, reality either catches up or catches us out. No matter how much we suppress and explain away the realities of boys and girls, what is true eventually insists upon being recognised, and it’s encouraging to find educators acknowledging  this.

Viral Mocking Prayer Tweets Fall Flat

A viral photo has been passed around social media this week, mocking Vice President Pence and the Coronavirus Task Force. The photograph shows the group in prayer.

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Mocking Christians is hardly an original idea. Ridiculing prayer has been a popular pastime since ancient times. So forgive us when we roll our eyes at this supposed great gotcha moment. Perhaps the disdain has less to do with prayer, and it’s really about politics and searching for another reason to throw mud at the current administration. Whatever the motive, may I suggest that you haven’t quite thought through the logic of this attempted smear.

I understand that for those who hold the belief that there is no God, prayer would seem like a foolish use of time. Of course, this conviction has little to do with the efficacy of prayer but with the firmed a priori belief that prayer is wasted breath. As though, I don’t accept that this medicine will save my life, therefore I refuse to take it!

The commentary pinned to this photograph reveals a wallop of smugness and a waft of superiority breathing over those who practice prayer, as though the truly wise and smart amongst us know that prayer is a useless activity.

If praying was the only thing this task force completed, then we’d have reason to complain. Or is it the fact that they first gathered to pray and then proceeded to work, and to use all their knowledge and wisdom to put together an action plan? Has praying hampered their duties? Has spending a few moments in prayer defused them of the ability or desire to work effectively for the good of the American people?

In what is an interesting twist, the Bible does on occasion empathise with Thomas Chatteron Williams. In Isaiah ch.44, God mocks the idea of praying to wooden statues and gods of human creation.

“From the rest he makes a god, his idol;

    he bows down to it and worships.

He prays to it and says,

    “Save me! You are my god!”

They know nothing, they understand nothing;

    their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see,

    and their minds closed so they cannot understand.”

The question about prayer is, does the God to whom we pray exist and does he hear our prayers and can he answer them?

Prayer is not an irrational response to situations facing us, but is perfectly legitimate in light of the biblical view that there is a God and he is truly sovereign. This is the conclusion that only for those men in the room, but for hundreds of millions of people, including many of the most revered minds of our age.

Few tirading twitterers will admit it (or perhaps even realise this simple fact), that many of the smartest people in history (and of today) believe in God and pray to him. 

Try standing in front of Francis Collins and call him stupid. Or tweet a photo of William Newsome praying and add the tag, “we’re screwed”. I reckon the really intelligent people among us should create a meme about Nobel Prize winning physicist, Antony Hewish, jeering his belief in God. Of course, It’s not so easy to smear the intellectual credentials of people when we take politics out of the equation.

In fact, a case can be made that without those Bible believing and praying Christians over the last 2,000 years, civilisation would be screwed! Many of the vital scientific and medical breakthroughs, socio-political advances, and ethical foundations that we rely upon today are ours to enjoy thanks to those praying Christians. 

But here lies the problem, evidence doesn’t support the thesis that prayer indicates lack of intelligence or capability to perform one’s job.  My own church has several members who teach at universities in Melbourne, others are doctors and lawyers. This is not a point not boasting, for the intellectual aptitude of church members does not signal the ‘success’ of a church in any way. I’m simply making the point that intellect does not cancel out belief in prayer.  A high IQ or position of great authority and responsibility does not equate to or necessitate a-theism. Belief in prayer has nothing to do with intellectual ability and everything to do with humility. Prayer is for both the genius and the simple, who are both sufficiently wise to know that we can trust God.

Perhaps there is another misunderstanding at play here, as though prayer is currency used to collect what I want out of God. The Bible’s view of prayer is far richer and deeper and more meaningful. Prayer is a gift from God, that we might commune with him and share with him. As Jesus taught, God is Father and like a loving Dad, we can approach him and ask him anything. Also, like a wise Father, he sometimes says yes, sometimes no, and sometimes the answer is to wait.  It makes sense to pray to an all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good God. But does he exist?  More important than any the opinions of any scientist or politician or journalist, the person of Jesus Christ says yes. And by his life, words, and deeds, he has demonstrated the reality of this God.

The success of these prayer mocking warriors has failed to evidence high functioning cognitive ability. All it shows is a high level of epistemological narrow-mindedness infused with pride.

I thank God for his gift of prayer, and I’m thankful to see people from all walks of life being humble enough to ask God for wisdom and help.