Hope during uncertain times

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

Feel free to subscribe

MurrayCampbell

You can also subscribe to the podcast on itunes:

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

Imagine there is God

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

Imagine there is no overarching design and no inherent significance. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”

    says the Teacher.

“Utterly meaningless!

    Everything is meaningless.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

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.

The Apocalypse is coming

The Apocalypse is coming and we are not ready.

I woke up last night (Susan says I have old man sleeping syndrome); I noticed Stephen McAlpine was writing about the great toilet paper crisis, a tornado was hitting Nashville, and then without warning our street suddenly had a blackout.

Morning finally came, and while our power had returned, the toilet paper crisis had worsened, and a real tragedy had unfolded in Nashville.

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Firstly, I just want to say to all the panic buyers around Australia, thanks for nothing. Quite literally, nothing! I had tried to convince Susan that while there was no problem with the supply of toilet paper, people don’t always react with good measure. Thank you media for ramping up the scare levels. I heard this morning that one of the country’s major supermarket chains has begun rationing its toilet paper supplies thanks to those Aussies who couldn’t hold on for a little. While I sit around and hold on for the foreseeable future, let me share some thoughts about the Apocalypse which I was preaching last Sunday at church.

Talk about the end of the world was once associated with religious mania, but today throngs of irreligious people have amped up the chorus, ‘the end is nigh’, while others are following on social media, quietly pondering the possibility.

I’ve already responded to a piece by Geoff Dawson on the ABC, where he argues that perhaps humankind will become extinct and it doesn’t really matter because people are not special.  Dawson may be following the logic of his own Zen Buddhism, which sounds almost identical to atheistic naturalism, but most of us don’t buy it. People do matter. We are not the same as animals. Prospects of mass eradication of human beings trouble us because surely we have inherent and great worth.

Then we have our Climate Change alarmists who are going around and warning us that the world only has 10, 12 or 20 years remaining on the clock.  Before we roll our eyes at this new era of apocalyptic mania, I  can understand people being swept up rhetoric and tales of disaster. Indeed, for those who have survived personal trauma, such concerns are not merely hypothetical.

Global warming isn’t a phantom, Australia has just experienced a frightful bushfire season, and there are geopolitical uncertainties, and now, of course, there is the potential global pandemic with the Corona Virus.

Instead of thinking that maybe Hollywood was right, with its constant stream of disaster movies, there is another word that’s worth consideration.

Matthew ch.24 records the famous ‘Apocalyptic’ sermon of Jesus. You can listen to my exposition of Matthew ch.24 on the Mentone Baptist website. For now, I want to make note of four salient points from Jesus’ discourse on the end of the world.

Firstly, Jesus is describing how life in the world will be.

Jesus isn’t giving us a linear description of history, but a Divine interpretation of history and what we ought to expect in the world before the real and physical return of the creator King. There are 3 characteristics that mark this age.

One, there are global catastrophes and uncertainties,

 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains. (vv.6-7)

When we see a disaster, it makes us pause and ponder. When the sky darkens and the thunder rolls, we often ask, what of the end? These things are not the end but serve as reminders that the world has not yet finished.

Second, there are attacks on the Church, from outside and from within. Jesus speaks of persecution, false prophets, and apostasy.

 “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 

Again, we are not required to read these verses as though Jesus is describing a not yet time in the future or as though there will necessarily be an escalation of these things prior to the coming of Christ. Rather, throughout this age Churches will experience this trifecta.

Thirdly, world evangelisation will take place. The good news of Jesus will be preached and reach every nation, and people from every tongue and tribe will respond and believe Jesus is Lord.

 “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (v.14)

 

Second, we are not the first generation to face significant crises.

Last month I wrote an article criticising legislation that the Victorian Government is planning to introduce this year.  Thousands of people were reading, with hundreds and hundreds of comments made on social media. One of the more popular responses came from Christians who said things like, “this proves Jesus is coming soon….this is a sign of the end times….the anti-Christ has appeared in Melbourne…”

This reminded me that not only do we let our imaginations disconnect from the Bible, but also from history. I wanted to post an emoji with a screaming face, saying, “no, you have misunderstood me”! 

The problem with our apocalyptic manic Christians is that they always believe that ‘now’ are the last times, whereas yesterday wasn’t. If only we listened to our history classes at school. Ours is not the first generation to experience massive issues and seen terrible evil. The world has faced staggering mountains of trouble and uncertainty before. What of Jews living in Poland in 1939 as the Nazis destroyed everything in their wake? What of a Jewish family in hiding, as the SS hunted down neighbours and friends, either shooting them dead on the spot or throwing them onto a train bound for a death camp? Could things be any worse? Or what of those living 14th Century Europe as the Black Plague killed 1/3 of the continent’s population in Europe? What about the people fleeing from Genghis Khan who killed population after population across Asia and Europe? Could things be worse than that?

Most Aussies live in a luxurious bubble that few people in the world today enjoy, and even fewer in history.  There are however issues of major consequence facing us. At the very least, reading Jesus’ words should cause us to rethink our assumptions about our own security and dependencies in life.

Third, Jesus gives only one sign for his impending return

The word apocalyptic simply means, unveiling. It is to make known something that was previously unknown. The great unveiling concerns the time and manner in which the world will wrap up and the new creation revealed. As Jesus speaks to this question of the apocalypse, he explains that there is one sign, and that sign is his return.

“Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. 31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other. (vv.30-31)

This one sign will be visible, unavoidable and unmistakable. As Jesus adds, people will mourn. Why? Because we have spent our days denying and explaining away the reality of Christ. To those whom he describes as the elect, he says, stand firm (v.13) keep watch (v.4; v.42), don’t grow cold (v.12), don’t get sucked in by false teachers (vv.23-24).

Fourth, God is Sovereign

When will the final hour strike? No one knows the time or hour when Christ will return. Jesus tells us that only God the Father knows, and yet people press for more information and our imaginations get drawn into all manner of crazy theories and speculations.

42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 

And Jesus also says,

“see to it that you are not alarmed.”

We should not be alarmed or surprised by events that take hold of people, nations, and the natural world. We can be appalled and grieve these sharp reminders of a world that is cursed and cannot redeem itself. Alarmism, however, isn’t befitting for the one who trusts in a God who is Sovereign.

Jesus’ apocalyptic sermon reinforces one of the Bible’s great themes, that events in our time are not beyond God’s knowledge or control. He isn’t reacting to events in the world as though he’s playing catch up. He knows what will happen tomorrow. He knows the outcome before the event. He is omniscient and omnipotent. Surely, this can be of great comfort? We may not know what lies tomorrow, whether it’s a virus or the weather, our work or exams. God has it all under his control and it is all pointing to the return of our Lord and Saviour.

The Apocalypse is coming and we are not ready.

And yet, here we are, religious and non-religious Australian alike are beginning to talk and to contemplate the potential. As talk about the apocalypse intensifies here are two simple things Christians can do: 1. Don’t contribute to the mania, 2. Take on board the encouragements and admonishments Jesus gives to the apocalyptic generation.

 

Epilogue:

Susan has just returned from the supermarket….there was no toilet paper!