Billy Graham and Melbourne’s record

The Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) is one of the great sporting stadiums of the world. First built in 1853, it is the home of Australian Rules Football. For 6 months of the year, 10,000s of football fans descend onto the G each weekend, to watch their teams play. The MCG has also been the scene of many memorable Cricket Tests, where on Boxing Day, 90,000 Melbournians take their seats to watch 590 balls bowled to terrified or dumbfounded batsmen.

During the Second World War, thousands of American Marines and GIs camped under the stands. In 1956, Ron Clarke lit the Olympic cauldron at the top of MCG, during opening ceremony of the Melbourne Olympics Games.

Every Australian knows the MCG, and almost every Melbourne family has taken a seat to watch the cricket or footy. It has become a family tradition of ours, to enjoy Carlton beating Essendon on a winters day, and in the summer heat, to cheer on the Aussie cricket team. We still talk about the times when our eldest son was given the opportunity to train at the G (and ran out on the pitch when no one was looking!)

The Melbourne Cricket Ground is symbolic of Australians favourite past-time, sport. We idolise anything that involves running, and kicking or hitting a ball. It’s how we spend our weekends, playing and watching sport.

 

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This temple of Melbourne once bore witness to a very different stage. There were no footballs or cricket bats present, no athletes running around, and no one paying for admission. Instead, 140,000 men and women crammed the stands and spilled onto that famous turf, to hear Billy Graham preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The 1959, the Billy Graham crusade had already run several meetings at another stunning venue, the Myer Music Bowl. But because of the large crowds, it was decided to move the final crusade to the MCG. Even then, no one would have predicted how many people would come, and the mark it would leave on Melbourne’s history.

I love this surprising fact about my city: Melbourne who is so proud of its prosperity, Melbourne who worships sport, Melbourne who is clambering to make herself one of the world’s most progressive and secular cities. In our most loved place, the record highest attendance is for an evangelistic sermon.

Our MCG has witnessed many celebrated moments, but the one which has left a mark for eternity was that day in 1959, when  Billy Graham came and opened the Bible, and preached the good news of Jesus Christ. In the kindness of God, and perhaps with a degree of irony, God replaced the idols of Melbourne with the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ, and lives were transformed.

Melbourne in the 1950s could be described as conservative, and having a strong Christian culture. It was not however Christian. For hundreds of people that day though, Christian influenced habits became a living faith. Today, our society may still hold onto many strands of Christianity but it has long forgotten their significance, and with moral certainty we are one by one cutting these ties. Perhaps in His mercy and love, God might again reveal his grace and power in Melbourne. Not that we are looking for a repeat of a Billy Graham crusade, but rather we look to the one whom Billy Graham preached and lived.

 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:16-18)

Regeneration Church, a Church in and for Monash

It was a great joy to visit Regeneration Church last night for their first ever public service. It was exciting to see a packed building, and encouraging to see the Regeneration team in action for the first time.

If you live in/around Clayton, why not visit one Sunday?

 

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I was invited to offer a word of exhortation to the new church. Below is a copy of my remarks:

“200,000 people live in the City of Monash. They are made in the image of God, important to God, and needing Jesus.

The Great Commission is Jesus sending his disciples to the nations in order to preach the Gospel and to make disciples. In line with this mission, Mentone Baptist Church has sent the Regeneration team to area of Monash, a place where the nations have come.

Understand that being part of a new church may be the hardest venture, the most joyful venture, and the more important venture, of your lives. Indeed, today marks the beginning of a new Gospel work that, we pray, will bear fruit lasting into eternity.

Most residents in this area won’t know of Regeneration Church and many won’t care, and some people will become interested and join. Understand, whatever the reception, God loves his church, Jesus will build his Church, and she is marvellous in his eyes.

While we at Mentone Baptist we will miss all of you, we are not so much saddened to see you go, as we are excited to partner with you in this new work. Indeed, Melbourne needs hundreds more Gospel-centred Churches. New Churches have begun in Box Hill, Northcote, Officer, Footscray, and elsewhere. And yet we are yet to penetrate the first layer of skin in Melbourne.

As Paul reminded the Corinthians, may I impress on you,

“I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.”

Understand our role, it is to plant and water. Regeneration Church: Do the work of evangelism, preaching, teaching, loving and caring, serving. And trust God to grow his church. Trust him, depend on him, ask him.

Mentone will keep you in our prayers, and we are keen to continually support you in other ways. I’m  also looking forward to preaching here a couple of times this year.

May God richly bless this work, to grow a Church glorifying his Son.”

Terrorism, Christmas, and Boxing Day in Melbourne

Melbourne is my city. I love its people, culture, food, sport, parks, city and suburbs. It is a wonderful place to live. But over the past few days Melbourne has witnessed two significant threats to the human soul, terrorism and materialism.

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Last week’s threat of a terrorist attack in Melbourne City was not enough to keep people away from celebrating that most holy night. A large crowd converged on St Paul’s Cathedral, one of the alleged targets of the plot, to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

Terrorism is not an unknown experience for Churches, more often referred to as persecution. Persecution is common place for many of the hundreds of millions of people who profess Jesus Christ is Lord. It is also true that people of other faiths are also terrorised, and that there are also examples of people wielding the sword in the name of ‘Christ.’ There is no justification for any such heinous acts, but as Greg Sheridan of The Australian reported this year, Christians are ‘more persecuted than any other in the world, persecuted more frequently, more widely and with more intensity.’

Civilisations have not always survived the onslaught of horrid regimes. Carthage was put to the sword by Rome, and Rome destroyed by tribal groups from Northern and Eastern Europe, and the Mongols wiped out the Jin Dynasty, and the Conquistadors over the Aztecs. In all cases, reasons for subjugating another culture were multifarious, and it would be intellectually unsound to disconnect religious motivations from imperialism, trade, and at times racial provocations.

One idea has always outlasted persecution, and that is, Christianity. As Tertullian (2nd C) said, ‘the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church’. This is evident in history, for example, through sporadic seasons of persecution Christianity flourished in the Roman Empire, and when China closed its doors to missionaries under Communism, 10s of millions of Chinese were converted to Christ.

Terrorism is not new, and while separating modern ‘Jihadism’ from ‘faith’ is understandable, it is ultimately irresponsible. Islamic terrorism is targeting Christianity, as well as other religious groups, and Western Civilisation. Many Muslims are appalled by news that a group of Australian muslims planned mass murder, and so it is only right that politicians are careful with their language. At the same time, as long as the social ‘left’ play games with political correctness, they will only add weight to the extreme ‘right’, as the world is seeing in the United States at the moment. In my opinion both spectrums are dangerous to a healthy pluralist society, as both insist on a flawed moral absolutism.

Undoubtedly, people congregated at St Paul’s Cathedral yesterday for different reasons: as an act of defiance, to show solidarity, as well as for marking the birth of the world’s Saviour. All these reasons have a place, but there is something true and symbolic about the message of Jesus Christ breaking through threats of violence.

The message that resonated around the Gothic walls of St Paul’s and in hundreds of churches across Melbourne this Christmas is one of the incarnation, how God broke through a world of human hostility, even amidst State attempts to kill the new born child. At Mentone Baptist with a congregation overflowing into the hall, we sang of this most extraordinary wonder,

‘True God of true God, Light from Light Eternal,

lo, he shuns not the Virgin’s womb;

Son of the Father, begotten not created’

Today in Melbourne, the same city we love and that yesterday celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ, is once again teaming with people, somewhat sluggish from overeating but eager to fill shopping bags with deals. It’s the Boxing Day sale day!  While not denigrating the pursuit of a great sales price, to fill again Santa’s sack that was emptied only one day earlier, suggests a certain proclivity toward toys and clothes and other stuff.

There is a certain irony in that the Jesus whom we sang about with such gusto on Christmas, spoke more often about the danger of materialism than he did of persecution.

‘What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.

“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.’ (Luke 12:3-5)

“When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy.  Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!  Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Luke 18:22-25)

We may have resolved to resist physical violence, but eating away at the soul of Melbournians is an excessive love for things. We are the world’s most liveable city and we’re intent of maxing it out.

Christmas may be the happiest day of the year for many Australians, and it is also the loneliest for many of the poor and sick. What makes news of God incarnate, good, is not that we get to dress up in suit and tie, and visit Church for one day, feast on too much food and open presents. The incarnation says God understands human poverty and suffering, and he went further than any of us can go, he died on a cross for our sins and rose from the dead for our justification.

Terrorism can’t destroy this Christian hope, neither can materialism. But while terrorism may drive Aussies back to Church, materialism deadens the soul. I get it, such a suggestion is amount to heresy in this city that I love, but what if Jesus is right? What if these ancient words remain true for us today?

And what about the Boxing Day cricket test? Leave cricket alone!