12 Lessons from Jeremiah

I am currently preparing for a sermon series at Mentone on the book of Jeremiah. It is a daunting task, not least because of the size of this volume; Jeremiah is the longest book in the entire Bible. More than that, the message that God speaks through his prophet is often distressing and frightening. God’s indictment of Judah and on the nations is terrifying in what it reveals about the human heart. The sheer number of words given over to spell out the charges and judgment can be overwhelming to read.

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Here are 12 things that have struck me as I’ve been meditating on the book Jeremiah:

1. Disobeying or making light of God’s word is dangerous and reckless.

“‘How can you say, “We are wise,

    for we have the law of the Lord,”

when actually the lying pen of the scribes

    has handled it falsely?

 The wise will be put to shame;

    they will be dismayed and trapped.

Since they have rejected the word of the Lord,

    what kind of wisdom do they have?”  (Jer 8:8-9)

Refusing to accept, believe and obey God’s word led to an entire nation being destroyed, its cities made rubble and survivors sent into exile.

2. God not only uses history to achieve his purposes, but he shapes history according to his purposes.

For example, God’s orchestrates Babylon’s rise to regional power and they will become an instrument to punish Judah, and yet Babylon is not exempt from being accountable for their own actions.

 

3. God’s warnings about judgement are also an expression of grace.

Within lengthy passages where God expounds his pronouncements on Judah, we also find words of grace and mercy.

“Return, faithless people,” declares the Lord, “for I am your husband. I will choose you—one from a town and two from a clan—and bring you to Zion. Then I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding.” (Jer 3:14-15)

God loves to show mercy. God longs for his people to repent and to return to him.

 

4. Social sins (i.e caring for the poor) are integrally connected to spiritual sin (what we think of God and his law).

“But these people have stubborn and rebellious hearts;
they have turned aside and gone away.

They do not say to themselves,
‘Let us fear the Lord our God,
who gives autumn and spring rains in season,
who assures us of the regular weeks of harvest.’

Your wrongdoings have kept these away;
your sins have deprived you of good.

“Among my people are the wicked
who lie in wait like men who snare birds
and like those who set traps to catch people.

Like cages full of birds,
their houses are full of deceit;
they have become rich and powerful

    and have grown fat and sleek.
Their evil deeds have no limit;
they do not seek justice.
They do not promote the case of the fatherless;
they do not defend the just cause of the poor.” (5:23-28)

5. Fake repentance is a thing

“In spite of all this, her unfaithful sister Judah did not return to me with all her heart, but only in pretense,” declares the Lord.” (3:10)

6. God’s promise of judgement is not merely rhetorical:

God promises:

“I have determined to do this city harm and not good, declares the Lord. It will be given into the hands of the king of Babylon, and he will destroy it with fire.” (21:10)

God acts:

“In the ninth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, in the tenth month, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon marched against Jerusalem with his whole army and laid siege to it.” (39:1)

“Then he put out Zedekiah’s eyes and bound him with bronze shackles to take him to Babylon.The Babylonians set fire to the royal palace and the houses of the people and broke down the walls of Jerusalem.” (39:7-8)

 

7. God is serious about his 10 commandments

22 For when I brought your ancestors out of Egypt and spoke to them, I did not just give them commands about burnt offerings and sacrifices, 23 but I gave them this command: Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in obedience to all I command you, that it may go well with you. 24 But they did not listen or pay attention; instead, they followed the stubborn inclinations of their evil hearts. They went backward and not forward”. (Jer 7:22-24)

 

8. Wrath is often a slow drip rather than a sudden flood

Jeremiah’s public ministry extended for almost 40 years, and there were prophets before him and afterward, who warned God’s people about their sin and who called them to repentance.

During the latter years of Jeremiah’s ministry, 13 years separated Nebuchadnezzar’s first invasion of Judah, and of his final defeat and destruction of Jerusalem.

This gradual unfolding of wrath and periods of ‘relief’ was sometimes interpreted as evidence that Jeremiah was wrong. It was not God who was lying, but Judah’s leaders and prophets,

“The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way. But what will you do in the end?” (5:2)

 

9. Not every story ends with grace, judgment can be final.

“There at Riblah the king of Babylon killed the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes; he also killed all the officials of Judah.” (Jeremiah 52:10)

 

10. Leaders of God’s people must not twist or ignore God’s word.

The strongest warnings and judgments are directed toward Judah’s teachers and priests, those who claim to speak for God and yet deny him with their words and actions. Churches leaders cannot afford to trivialise, ignore, and remove words of Scripture, simply because they are unpopular or difficult.

“They dress the wound of my people

    as though it were not serious.

“Peace, peace,” they say,

    when there is no peace.

Are they ashamed of their detestable conduct?

    No, they have no shame at all;

    they do not even know how to blush.

So they will fall among the fallen;

    they will be brought down when they are punished,

says the Lord.” (8:11-13)

 

11. Divine grace and forgiveness is more astonishing and wonderful than we can ever imagine

“At that time,” declares the Lord, “I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they will be my people.”

This is what the Lord says:

“The people who survive the sword
will find favor in the wilderness;
I will come to give rest to Israel.”

The Lord appeared to us in the past,[a] saying:

“I have loved you with an everlasting love;
I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.

I will build you up again,
and you, Virgin Israel, will be rebuilt.
Again you will take up your timbrels
and go out to dance with the joyful.

Again you will plant vineyards
on the hills of Samaria;
the farmers will plant them
and enjoy their fruit.

There will be a day when watchmen cry out
on the hills of Ephraim,
‘Come, let us go up to Zion,
to the Lord our God.’”

This is what the Lord says:

“Sing with joy for Jacob;
shout for the foremost of the nations.
Make your praises heard, and say,
‘Lord, save your people,
the remnant of Israel.’

See, I will bring them from the land of the north
and gather them from the ends of the earth.
Among them will be the blind and the lame,
expectant mothers and women in labor;
a great throng will return.

They will come with weeping;
they will pray as I bring them back.
I will lead them beside streams of water
on a level path where they will not stumble,
because I am Israel’s father,
and Ephraim is my firstborn son.

10 “Hear the word of the Lord, you nations;
proclaim it in distant coastlands:
‘He who scattered Israel will gather them
and will watch over his flock like a shepherd.’

11 For the Lord will deliver Jacob
and redeem them from the hand of those stronger than they.” 
(Jer 31:1-11)

 

12. Jesus is the promised redeemer in Jeremiah

“the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises.

For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. But God found fault with the people and said:

“The days are coming, declares the Lord,
when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
and with the people of Judah.

It will not be like the covenant
I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they did not remain faithful to my covenant,
and I turned away from them,
declares the Lord.

10 This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel
after that time, declares the Lord.
I will put my laws in their minds
and write them on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.

11 No longer will they teach their neighbor,
or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest.

12 For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.”

13 By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.” (Hebrews 8:6-13)

Indonesian Church attacks: some reflections

Surabaya

At approximately 10:30am, during the Sunday service at Mentone Baptist Church, three churches in Indonesia were attacked. While our children were heading out for Sunday School and the adults opening their Bibles for a second Scripture reading, suicide bombers entered 3 churches in the city of Surabaya. 11 people have died, with another 40 people injured.

As shocking as this news is, it is sadly not an unusual story for Christians in Indonesia. The persecution of Christians has been commonplace for many years in certain Indonesians provinces: in East Kalimantan, Aceh, and the city of Medan, just to name a few.

Not only in Indonesia, but similar horrific events are happening around the world on an almost weekly basis. Churches are attacked in Egypt, Nigeria, China, Pakistan, and many other parts of the world. The reality is, for millions of Christians in the world today, belonging to a Church and even attending a Church service, comes with an awareness that the cost may be great.

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Source: ABC news

Abusing our religious freedom

As I’ve reflected upon the juxtaposition between Mentone and what happened inside those Indonesian Churches, I remembered one of the verses that I preached on today,

“Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.” (Acts 9:31)

This verse follows the conversion of the Apostle Paul. Previous to becoming a Christian, Paul was a renowned persecutor of Churches, killing Christians and imprisoning others. After a period of persecution, came a time of peace for these new church being planted across Judea and Samaria.

In the New Testament we learn that there can be seasons when there is relative societal peace and tolerance of Christianity, and there are also times of acute and dreadful opposition. In the book of Acts, we discover that Churches can grow and flourish in both situations.

Joining a Church in some parts of the world is potentially life threatening. On the other hand, attending Church in Australia is easy. We wake up on Sunday mornings, perhaps following a sleep in. We eat breakfast, get dressed, and drive down the road to a local church. There’s a good chance that we’re running late, and have already missed the first 10 minutes, but the temptation to spend those extra minutes at home is hard to fight against.

Making it to Sunday Church is easy in Australia, and yet how many of us find it hard, if not a burden? No one is going to enter our buildings and blow themselves up. The Government isn’t going to arrest congregation. And yet, so many of us Aussie Christians struggle to attend Church weekly. The situation has become so dire that once a month is now considered regular attendance! Imagine only eating one meal a month with your family and arguing that it is ‘regular family time’! Picture an employee informing their colleagues that turning up for 1 in 4 meetings was suffice and a demonstration of real commitment!

Of course belonging to a local church can’t be reduced to Sunday attendance, but it is the primary and central gathering of God’s people to whom you have covenanted. We meet to encourage others, just as they are meeting in order to love and grow us in Christ.

Making it to Church regularly should be easy. Unlike millions of Christians in other parts of globe, we have the freedom to meet, and we have the means: we can walk, we can drive, we can take public transport. And yet, we find it so hard. We don’t need the threat of bombs to keep us away from Church, the allure of the beach or of a coffee shop is more than equal to the task.

I once tried to calculate how many “ordinary” Sundays were in the calendar year. To begin with, there are summer holidays which take out about 6 Sundays, and then another 3 Sundays for each of the Autumn, Winter, and Spring school breaks. On top of that, in between there’s a highway of long weekends with public holidays attached to them, and we mustn’t forget Mothers Day and Fathers Day. I also assume, that like myself, other people catch winter colds and flues, and so that might mean we miss another 1-2 Sundays. If we have children, we can strike out a few more weeks with sore throats, head colds, and bouts of diarrhoea.

It is so easy to attend Church in Australia, and yet we find it so difficult. Australian society offers so much, promising our children every dream, offering us every heart desire. How hard it is to saying to our kids, we can’t play footy on Sundays because we have Church. We work so hard to climb ladders and create success and to pay extravagant mortgages, that we find ourselves with little energy for much else. We need the fishing trip and the late Sunday brunch, because we’ve exhausted ourselves in trying to drag heaven onto earth. I wonder, are we not worshiping God with his people on Sundays because we are no longer worshiping Him with our lives from Monday to Saturday?

Instead of using freedom of religion to minimise effort and commitment, should we not maximise the time we have? Are we so arrogant as to presume that freedom of religion will continue forever in Australia?

There are of course legitimate reasons for missing Church on a Sunday morning. Churches (and Pastors) should be understanding of members who are simple unable to attend every week, because of poor physical or mental health, because kids are sick or that long awaited annual vacation has come around. There are professions where workers are rostered for Sundays; after all, we can’t run hospitals or police or trains without people.

Make Church a habit

I was speaking with one of my church’s members recently. He and family are going through a difficult time, and so when they arrived late one Sunday, I said to him that I would understand if they couldn’t make it to Church on occasion. He responded with this gracious and rather memorable rebuke,

“Murray, of course we come to Church every week; it’s what we do.”

By this, he didn’t mean that Church attendance was a ritual or tired tradition. Rather, it was a helpful habit. Going to bed on Saturdays, they already knew what they were doing the next morning, because as a couple they had already settled in their hearts and decided made with their minds, Church matters. It wasn’t always easy, but they didn’t have to make the choice each Sunday because the decision was settled and the habit formed.

Consider Church a Joy

Tonight, as I pray for Indonesia and for Mentone, I want to cherish the local church and to make the most of the freedoms we have to meet each week, and even more.

May be I should be thinking, what temporary offerings can even begin to compare to the wonder of knowing God and to be part of the Church that Jesus has promised to build? Would I settle for playing football on the X-box if an AFL team called me to join their side? And yet we easily sacrifice Church, for small moments that will soon be forgotten.

According to Hebrews, a sign that our hope is directed in the right place, is that we are fight against the temptation to diminish Church. Those who draw near to God, are those who not give up on one another.

22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10)

Christmas at Mentone

We want to invite the communities around Mentone and Cheltenham to join us this Christmas.

Christmas often causes us to pause and reconsider the things that we trust and rely on for life’s meaning and happiness. We believe God is good and kind, and in his kindness he gives us many wonderful things to enjoy, and yet none can replace the greater and deeper joy that is found in Jesus Christ. This Christmas at Mentone we are revisiting this superlative joy.

On Christmas Eve we are hosting an annual community Carols. There is a family BBQ from 5pm, with activities for children. The carols service commences at 6pm.

Christmas morning service starts at 9:30am and will finish by 10:20am, leaving plenty of time to prepare for lunch.

 

Christmas at Mentone

 

2 Musical Experiences from the USA

During a recent visit to the United States I managed to get a seat at the MET in New York for a performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni.  In case you’re unfamiliar with the MET, the Metropolitan Opera is one of the most famous opera companies in the world, and conducting the performance was Placido Domingo, one of the finest classical musicians of the past 50 years. One reviewer wrote that this particular cast was one of the best ever assembled for a performance of Don Giovanni. On top of all that, no one has ever composed more exquisite and sonorous music than Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Leaving aside the fact the Opera singers have the acting talent of an Australian soap opera, the music did not disappoint. There were a few stylistic and technical quibbles, but none to write home about. This was a rare opportunity to hear one the great musicians lead a superb cast in singing some of most sublime music ever heard on earth.

A few days later I was in Washington DC, and it was during this stay in DC that I heard music that made the Metropolitan Opera almost sound trifle. I spent 3 weeks hiding away in an apartment on Capitol Hill, working on a writing project. I occasionally slipped outside to buy food and to visit an art gallery or museum, and folk at Capitol Hill Baptist Church (CHBC) were kind and generous, and constantly inviting me to various church events throughout the week (an offer very hard to refuse!). On Sundays though I wanted to be with God’s people, and at Capitol Hill Baptist everyone spends most of the day together; it was a great joy and time of personal refreshment.

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They love to sing at CHBC, as many as 10 hymns in the morning service and several more during the evening service. As someone who was once a professional musician, and once given an invitation to sing with the Melbourne Symphony, I have a particularly high view of what can and ought to be with music, and yet I can say that at over my time at CHBC I have rarely heard musical sounds that have given me more joy and encouragement, such that 10 hymns was not enough; a 1000 voices singing to God and each other with heart felt joy and delight.

The musical accompaniment was simple and bare –  an acoustic guitar and piano, and with 2-3 vocalists who were mic’d but only just enough so that they could lead the congregation through any unfamiliar passages and to keep time. The music is deliberately restrained, in order to elevate the role of the congregation sing, and hearing the people sing only encourages everyone to sing more.

I am not suggesting that this is how other churches should orchestrate music for church; I appreciate other genres of music in church and I have been part of congregations where the musical style is more contemporary, scored for a more full band, and musically more garnished, like a Mozart recitativo; such playing can encourage congregations to sing and be heard. However, in practice, the band and the way music is led from the front can inhibit and detract from congregational singing. Louder music isn’t always better. More professional music doesn’t equal improvement. More energetic (and charismatic) music leaders isn’t evidence of more godly or ‘successful’ music ministry. Not that such things are necessarily wrong, and I am proposing a false dichotomy between faithful music and professionalism, or congregational music and contemporary music, but if we cannot hear each other singing to praise God and to encourage each other with the truths of God, perhaps we should reconsider how we are doing music in church.

More important than how the music was arranged, it was clear that people believed what they were singing, and it was this belief in the words being sung that spawned such wonderful singing. Choose songs with superficial or bland lyrics, and we shouldn’t be surprised if the results follow suit. The words of every song were theologically rich and deep, and Gospel-centred, and chosen with care in order to assist the congregation prepare for and respond to God’s word. Unlike most churches today, there is no screen up front displaying the lyrics. Instead, everyone is given copies of the words and music in the bulletin on the way into church. Perhaps because I’m not used to paper anymore or maybe there is some didactic phenomena that I’m unaware of, but I found that in reading the word in front of me I was considering their meaning more carefully than when I follow words projected on a white screen.

The reason for sharing this experience is mostly because I loved the CHBC’s singing so much, and we should share stories and experiences that have encouraged us. At a time when so many negative and troubling news stories are coming out of Washington DC and Capitol Hill, just around the corner, in view of that famous dome, is a 1000 people, mostly 25 years old, whose voices are reaching heaven.

How are we encouraging our congregations to sing, not the band but the people to sing and be heard and encouraging one another with the truths of God and his Gospel?

“Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” (Colossians 3:16)

Matthew Merker is one of the Pastoral Assistants at CHBC and over the weeks we sang one of his hymns, ‘He will hold me fast’. I’m looking forward to introducing it to Mentone Baptist in the near future:

“When I fear my faith will fail

Christ will hold me fast

When the tempter would prevail

He will hold me fast

I could never keep my hold

Through life’s fearful path

For my love is often cold

He must hold me fast

Chorus:

He will hold me fast

He will hold me fast

For my Savior loves me so

He will hold me fast

Those He saves are His delight

Christ will hold me fast

Precious in His holy sight

He will hold me fast

He’ll not let my soul be lost

His promises shall last

Bought by Him at such a cost

He will hold me fast

CHORUS

For my life He bled and died

Christ will hold me fast

Justice has been satisfied

He will hold me fast

Raised with Him to endless life

He will hold me fast

Till our faith is turned to sight

When he comes at last

(Getty Music)

Is my local Church my joy and crown?

This morning in my Bible reading I was stopped by this verse from Paul’s letter to the Philippian Church,

‘Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!’ (4:1)

I was struck by Paul’s affection for the local church in Philippi. He not only loves the people and wants to be with them, he speaks of them as being his joy and crown. This made me pause and ask myself, what words do I use to describe Mentone Baptist Church? How do I view this family to whom I belong in Christ?

Joy is one of the main themes that threads through the entire letter; it speaks of a deep wonderment and excitement of knowing these people are God’s and were partnering alongside Paul in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Crown refers to the wreath awarded to an athlete who had trained hard and seen success. As Paul surveys his life and ministry, his prized achievement and great happiness is a local church, and this accomplishment is all God’s doing. From what we know of the Philippian Church there was nothing remarkable about them, but in their ordinariness they lived the Gospel of Christ. Paul’s joy was not rooted in the Church’s power ministries, or in some captured à la mode vibe, but in the genuineness of their Gospel partnership.

We will better understand Paul’s affection for the Church by  reading what he says prior to and following 4:1:

In the latter part of chapter 3 Paul has exposed a group of people, who though probably connected to the Church, were not genuine believers. He refers to their appetite for ‘earthly things’. These people lived for now and the pleasures that can be had in the present, whilst ignoring greater and more important realities. In contrast, Paul reminds us of  an identity and home that is in heaven, and we set our minds on this hope.

‘Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. 18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

Immediately following 4:1, Paul mentions an argument that is occurring within the church between two godly and Gospel-centred women, Euodia and Syntche.

‘I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord.  Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.’

Paul can both speak wonderfully of this Church and also recognise there are issues needing to be addressed.

The two women whom Paul is talking about are not enemies of the Gospel, they are mature and faithful workers who have found themselves clashing. We don’t know the nature of their disagreement, but it is clear the issue needs resolving. In verses 2-3 we see that Paul is not harsh with them, he does not tell them to leave or remove them from ministry, but rather he organises counselling for them in order to restore the relationship.

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As I meditated on God’s words today, these 3 points came to mind:

Firstly, Philippians 4:1-3 encourages me because even healthy churches have disagreements. It is inevitable but it need not diminish our affection for one another; indeed we can and ought to work through these quarrels and arguments because of our Gospel partnership.

Secondly, an appetite for ‘earthly things’ is a constant danger and is a destroyer of genuine Christian fellowship and joy. If our affection for the local church diminishes, it is worth asking ourselves the question, what are we hungry for? What are we filling up on in order to feel satisfied?

Third and foremost, when we sense our passion and love for our local church dissipating, return to the Scriptures and listen afresh to how God describes these communities of brothers and sisters in Christ.  The Bible is a great antidote to our modern individualism and sense of autonomous living, which sadly impacts the growth of so many of our Churches.

I confess, there are moments when my own Church doesn’t feel like it’s my joy and crown, and I suspect the sentiment is at times reciprocated! That is a great reason for reading Philippians 4:1 and many other passages like it. We often forget how extraordinary the local church is in the sight of God, and how wonderful it is to be called by God to belong to a local gathering of his people.

Is our local Church a people whom we love and long to spend time with? Do we see the local church to whom we belong as our joy and crown?

‘Vive La Australia’: Freedom of Speech in Australia

Last night while Melbourne suffered through the Great Snowstorm of 2016 and the rest of the world chased Pokemons, Mentone gathered for quite an extraordinary evening.

FreedomofSpeech

The topic of conversation was ‘Freedom of Speech in Australia’, and we were privileged to have speaking, Mr Tim Wilson MHR, and Rev Dr Michael Bird. Present in the audience were members of various political parties (and of none), and people reflecting a variety of religious and non-religious world views, including of course members from Mentone Baptist Church.

The first thing I learnt last night is that the Federal seat of Goldstein, whom Tim Wilson now represents, is not pronounced Goldstein but rather, Goldstein! In other words, the ein is pronounced as mine, not bean. Apologies to everyone living in Beaumaris, Hampton, Brighton, and so on!

Electoral names aside, both Wilson and Bird presented a case for free speech in Australia that was erudite, thoughtful, and engaging. And this was followed by a time of QandA with the audience.

Tim Wilson spoke first. He offered an historical overview of Australia’s anti-discrimination laws, and articulated how ‘good law’, that which related to work place harassment, has been abused by being applied universally to public speech. A case in point is the now infamous and inexplicable Section 17 of the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act.

In a defence of free speech, Wilson asked, “is it really right, just, that to exercise our most basic right we have to question whether we are going to be held in contempt of the law and then going have to pay significant legal bills to defend ourselves”

While not the topic at hand, it is difficult to speak on Freedom of Speech in 2016 without commenting on the current marriage debate. Wilson shared some of his own experiences growing up as a homosexual and of him favouring changes to the Marriage Act. Most importantly, in light of his views on marriage, Wilson said,

“I don’t think we can have a constructive conversation around the marriage of same-sex couples until both sides can say what they truly think.”

He then pushed further, pointing out, “the hypocritical nature of so many people today, when they don’t want to hear a particular argument, they declare it to be bigoted or hate speech.” Wilson then referred to Bill Shorten and Penny Wong, noting that only a few short years ago they spoke against changes to the Marriage Act, but now they can’t desist from calling opponents of same-sex marriage, bigots and hate filled.

At the other end of the spectrum, Tim Wilson offered a timely admonition to religious organisations, who though themselves call for a higher standard of morality, they have been exposed, especially in the area of sexual abuse.

As a Christian leader I affirm his rebuke, and would add that men (or women) who commit abhorrent acts on children behind clerical vestments and institutions are not representative of the Christ whom they claim to worship, but are the very manifestation of anti-Christ, for the deny him by their deeds. And yet, we need to understand that the public do not also differentiate between authentic Christians and dress-up Christians. Tim Wilson was spot on to call out Christian leaders to work harder on this.

Mike Bird employed his familiar array of jocose analogies and allusions, while driving home some pertinent truths for Australian society, as well as for Churches.

‘The future is French’, Mike asserted, in relation to where Australian religion and politics is heading. Either we will take the path of Vive la différence or that of the less desirable, Laïcité.

“I like to think our Constitution is robust enough to protect basic freedoms, and our political parties will seek to do right by all. However, people of faith can expect to receive a hard time from progressive activists and parties in the forseeable future. Religion may be sanitised from the public square.”

How should Churches respond to this paradigm cultural and political shift? Bird proposed that the future will either be Swedish or Chinese!

The reproach was overlooked by many last night, but Bird was calling out ‘liberal’ churches, suggesting they suffered from Stockholm syndrome. That is, they have lost their identity by tinkering with the tenets of the Christian faith in order to ensure religion is palatable to the powers that be.

Instead, Bird exhorted Christians to learn from Christianity in China, where it exists on the margins of society. Yet despite the oppression of Christians in China for many decades,  it has witnessed exponential growth, and all without the privileges of political and public freedoms, which we currently enjoy in this country.

Michael Bird also lauded Tim Wilson’s work last year in organising the Religious Freedom Roundtable, and he suggested that we need more forums such like that.

If I were to offer any criticisms, they would be minor:

At one point Tim spoke of certain religious groups who have tried to impose their morality onto other minorities. I do not disagree that historically there have been religious groups who’ve behaved as such, but the key word here is ‘impose’. There is an essential difference between imposition and influence, or pressure and persuasion. Mike said it well, when he exhorted Christians to “persuasive and compassionate discourse.”

In a crescendo of rhetoric Mike declared that, ’Christendom is over’. I would push back on this point and argue that Christendom in Australia never was. There is no doubt that Christianity has significantly influenced Australian culture and life, but it has been tolerated rather than happily embraced, sitting there in a position of begrudged prominence.

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The content of each presentation was winsome and helpful, but for me the highlight of the evening was the manner in which the conversation was conducted, including  participation from the audience. The tone was respectful but not innocuous; certain hypocrisies were called out, and serious challenges were proposed, but all without the immature name-calling and shout downs that are becoming all to common in the public square.

Last night demythologised the rhetoric of some social progressives, that civil dialogue can’t be had on issues relating to sexuality and marriage. Can an heterosexual Evangelical Anglican clergyman discuss issues of national importance with an agnostic gay politician? The answer is, yes. Indeed, despite obvious differences, they shared much in common. And can a room full of people, representing a spectrum of political and religious ideologies, enjoy a robust night of conversation? Yes, and in fact, people stayed and talked so late into the evening I was tempted to begin turning off the lights.

Finally, as a poignant way to close the evening, while answering a question on how to raise children to preserve and properly practice free speech, Mike Bird responded, ‘Love God, love your neighbour.’

Of course, these words comes from the lips of Jesus, who in turn was affirming the Old Testament Scriptures, and they remain the model for how Christians relate to others in society. I cannot speak for those of other world views, but this is how Christians must participate in both public and private. This Golden Rule does not build a staircase to Heaven as is sometimes believed, but rather, it is the life response of a person who has been captivated by the grace and mercy of God in Christ Jesus. It was fitting way to end such a rewarding night, “Love your neighbour as yourself”.

The talks an be downloaded here and the QandA here

Freedom of Speech

The topic of ‘Freedom of Speech’ grabbed national attention in last week’s Federal election.

Newly elected member of Goldstein, Tim Wilson, and Dr Michael Bird (of Ridley College) will be speaking at the public event.

Just one week to go.  Reserve you tickets here

freedom of speech