October 15

The Bible – 8 Talks by Neil Chambers

The Bible: 8 talks by Rev Neil Chambers

Ever wondered what it really means to call the bible the “Word of God”?

Can we trust that the words in the book we hold are a reliable record?

How does our understanding of the Bible shape the way we read and interpret it?

Discover answers to these and many more questions in this brilliant collection of 7 hours of Rev Neil Chambers’ insightful, scholarly and in-depth teaching on the Christian understanding of the Bible.

Presented during the 2018 Winter Teaching Series at Bundoora Presbyterian Church.

Note: Unfortunately, a few of the talks start halfway through Neil’s first sentence.


Why is it God’s Word?

Talk 1:

http://www.bpc.org.au/media/sermons/2018/BPC_20180704_0700_NC_WhyIsItGod_sWordSession1Of2.m4a

Talk 2:

http://www.bpc.org.au/media/sermons/2018/BPC_20180704_2000_NC_WhyIsItGod_sWordSession2Of2.m4a


Is My Translation Reliable?

Talk 1:

http://www.bpc.org.au/media/sermons/2018/BPC_20180711_1900_NC_TheBibleIsMyTranslationReliableSession1Of2.m4a

Talk 2:

http://www.bpc.org.au/media/sermons/2018/BPC_20180711_2000_NC_TheBibleIsMyTranslationReliableSession2Of2.m4a


How Can it Be Reliably Interpreted?

Talk 1:

http://www.bpc.org.au/media/sermons/2018/BPC_20180718_1900_NC_TheBibleHowCanItBeReliablyInterpretedSession1Of2.m4a

Talk 2:

http://www.bpc.org.au/media/sermons/2018/BPC_20180718_2000_NC_TheBibleHowCanItBeReliablyInterpretedSession2Of2.m4a

Talk 3:

http://www.bpc.org.au/media/sermons/2018/BPC_20180725_1900_NC_TheBibleHowCanItBeReliablyInterpretedSession3Of2.m4a

Talk 4:

http://www.bpc.org.au/media/sermons/2018/BPC_20180725_2000_NC_TheBibleHowCanItBeReliablyInterpretedSession4Of2.m4a

 

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October 10

Why a Pro-choicer might March for the Babies

march babies

This Saturday, several thousand people of all walks of life will attend a peaceful protest in the city of Melbourne called “March for the Babies”. At the same time, I expect a small counter march will also take place in the city. At one march will be mostly people who identify themselves as “pro-life” and at the other march will be mostly people who identify as “pro-choice”. I say “mostly” because many people don’t like the rigidity of such terms. On the complex and sensitive issue of abortion, people often have mixed emotions, views, beliefs and opinions. Sometimes a label like “pro-life” or “pro-choice” doesn’t accurately describe someone’s position on abortion.

To clarify, let me try to summarise the two positions as generously and unbiasedly as I can:

  • prolifevsprochoiceThe pro-life position focusses on the life of the unborn child arguing for its right to be protected from abortion.
  • The pro-choice position focusses on the choice of the pregnant woman, arguing for her right to have an abortion if she wants to.

When two marches like this take place, it is easy to suggest that these two positions are absolute and that there is no overlap. The sides are polarising and people feel pressured to choose which side you wholeheartedly support. I do not think this needs to be the case. Although, I personally am pro-life, I also acknowledge that there are many positions that a person may hold and I would hate for someone to feel excluded from attending the March for the Babies, simply because they felt they were not sure they were a 100% pro-lifer.

I would even suggest that a pro-choicer might feel free to join the March for the Babies. In fact, I think there are good reasons to do so.

 

5 REASONS WHY A PRO-CHOICER MIGHT JOIN THE “MARCH FOR THE BABIES”

 

1. The march is not about taking away women’s rights.

The march began back in 2009, one year after certain abortion laws were passed in Victoria. As it says of the March for the Babies website: “On October 10, 2008, the Victorian Parliament passed the Abortion Law Reform Act, one of the most extreme abortion laws in the world. This law eliminated all legal protection for Victorian children until the moment of birth.” The goal of the march is to draw attention to these laws with a hope that they will one day be repealed. Sure, many people present at the march will have strong views about all abortion. Sure, you may disagree with people you would be marching alongside. But you would agree on one point though – that the laws in Victoria are too extreme and should be changed.

 

2. The Victorian laws as they presently stand allow for abortion all the way up to birth.

late-term-double-image-fetusMany people are unsure about when a human being should be granted the right to life. At the point of conception, the human doesn’t appear to have many of the qualities of what we would call a “person”, but few people can see a late term baby in the womb with all the features of a newborn, knowing that they can feel physical pain during abortion, and that they could survive outside of the womb, and still think that they do not deserve some protection. Even if you are fine with first term abortion, march for the sake of those late term babies.

 

3. Doctors and nurses are forced to be complicit in the process of abortion.

Often the argument is put forward, “If you think that abortion is wrong, then don’t have one.” Well, Victorian doctors and nurses do not have that freedom. Even if they believes that abortion is a form of murder, or even if the child is in its final term, then by law the doctor or nurse must either perform the abortion themselves or refer the patient to someone who will. If you are pro-choice you may also believe in a medical practitioner’s right to choose. If you think that doctors and nurses should be allowed to conscientiously object to being complicit in an abortion, then join us in marching for this law to be changed.

 

4. Our current laws allow for partial-birth abortion.

Partial-birth abortion, also known as Intact dilation and extraction (IDX) is a very controversial form of abortion that is banned in many places around the world. It involves killing the child on the very verge of being born, when its entire body is out of the womb except for its head. This is the sworn testimony of nurse, Brenda Shafer, who describes what happens during the procedure:

partialBirth“I stood at the doctor’s side and watched him perform a partial-birth abortion on a woman who was six months pregnant. The baby’s heartbeat was clearly visible on the ultrasound screen. The doctor delivered the baby’s body and arms, everything but his little head. The baby’s body was moving. His little fingers were clasping together. He was kicking his feet. The doctor took a pair of scissors and inserted them into the back of the baby’s head, and the baby’s arms jerked out in a flinch, a startled reaction, like a baby does when he thinks that he might fall. Then the doctor opened the scissors up. Then he stuck the high-powered suction tube into the hole and sucked the baby’s brains out. Now the baby was completely limp. I never went back to the clinic. But I am still haunted by the face of that little boy. It was the most perfect, angelic face I have ever seen.”   

Partial-birth abortion is as close to infanticide as you can get. It is killing a baby when it is almost completely out of the womb and justifying it by the fact that the babies head is not outside as well. And it is legal in Victoria.

Whether you call yourself pro-life or pro-choice, if that law turns your stomach, then join us on Saturday.

 

5. If an abortion fails, the living baby is left to die.

This may sound extreme, but it is actually true. Consider the scenario… During a late term abortion, the baby is removed but they abortionist failed in their attempt to terminate the child. Now they have on their hands a living, breathing, BORN child. What must they do? Well, in Victoria the child still has no right to life, and these unwanted babies are left to die without food or medical support.

Every year in Victoria, more than 50 babies die shortly after failed abortions. In 2010, Peter Kavanagh MLC (DLP, Western Victoria) raised a motion that these deaths should be investigated. The motion was voted down. They didn’t even want to investigate it. In a media release, Peter Kavanagh said: “My suspicion that abortionists assume the right to kill any baby after birth, whom they try but fail to kill before birth, is now confirmed, however, with the revelation that survivors of abortion are being deliberately neglected to death. One nurse even reports that she was told to drop a surviving victim of an abortion into a bucket of formaldehyde.”

Most people, even hard core pro-choice advocates, would agree that a child should be afforded basic human rights after it is out of the womb, and that if partial-birth abortions aren’t infanticide, this surely is. And yet, in Victoria, that is what the law allows.

 

If all this information about the Victorian abortion laws is new to you, then check out the following video, which explains it in a bit more detail:

 

 

There are many questions raised by the issue of abortion. There are many discussions worth having and there are many compassionate and thoughtful people on both sides of the debate.

But even if you fall more on the pro-choice side, you might still be able to stand with some pro-lifers in saying that Victoria’s abortion laws, as they currently stand, are wrong and worth protesting.

I hope to see you there.

This Saturday (13th October), meet at Treasury Gardens in Melbourne by 1pm.

Click here for the Facebook event
Click here for the “March for the Babies” Website

cat Simon march

 

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September 2

This is Father’s Day

This is Father’s Day

Waking up at 5:45
To the whimpers of your 3 year old
Crackling through the baby monitor
Finding your slippers in the dark
Because you forgot to plug in your phone
So now you have no light to guide you
Shuffling through the cold house
Sneaking into her room
Trying not to wake her
Seeing that her kid feet
Are tangled in her sheets
And her bunny is out of her reach
You peel back her doona
Untangle her feet
The brief moment of cold
Causing her to stir
You quickly tuck her in snug as a bug
And place her lost bunny
Into her empty arms
She hugs it close
Snuggles into her doona
And in the dark you hear
The sweetest sound
“Thank you daddy”
You shuffle back through the cold house
With those three words warming you
Better than slippers ever could

This is Father’s Day

 

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July 29

My Free Christmas Resource – The “Carols Pack”

 

If you don’t know, last year I wrote, designed and self-published my first children’s book, called “When Santa Learned the Gospel”. It has been a really crazy and wonderful journey resulting in 6,000 books being given away to children and a UK Publisher signing us up. This year I hope they will be able to take my book into the International market in ways that I never could.

To complement this book, I have been working on a collection of resources that churches can download and use for free this Christmas. Just in case you haven’t heard about it, I thought I’d share it on here.

Please watch this video to get an idea of what the Carols Pack is all about:

After just one week after launching this video, we already have 35 churches registered to use the resources. These churches come from Australia, the UK, the USA and Singapore. We are hoping many many more churches will get on board before the end of the year.

If this is something you think your church or a church you know might be interested in, please direct the relevant people to this link:

CarolsPack.SantaGospel.com

Also, we’ve found the best way for people to hear about it is if people share the video above on social media.

To share this video on Facebook, click: HERE

Thanks! And please be praying that God uses and speaks through these resources as churches use them to share the gospel with their community this Christmas.

 

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July 9

Our Father who art in Parliament

(Photo credit: MARK GRAHAM/AFP/Getty Images)

How God got into Parliament

Every day in Australia, the President of the Senate is required to open parliament by reciting the following words:

Almighty God, we humbly beseech Thee to vouchsafe Thy special blessing upon this Parliament, and that Thou wouldst be pleased to direct and prosper the work of Thy servants to the advancement of Thy glory, and to the true welfare of the people of Australia.

Our Father, which art in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

The inclusion of these words were added in 1903 after a petition by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of NSW, and apart from a slight amendment here and there, they have remained unchanged for 115 years.

Not that there hasn’t been opposition. The first motion for the prayer’s removal was put forward in 1997 by senator Bob Brown, the first leader of The Greens. More recently, Greens senators Richard Di Natale and Lee Rhiannon have taken up the cause.

Senator Lee Rhiannon initially raised her objections in 2003 on the 100 year aniversary of the prayer’s inclusion, but 15 years of trying hasn’t detered her. When she spoke to ABC Insider last year, she revealed that she was still very determined to see the prayer’s removal, saying, “It is actually insulting the way parliament is opened. Considering there’s many people who aren’t religious, there’s many people of different faiths, it is time we started having an institution that is relevant to the 21st century.”

Now, just a month or so before Rhiannon retires from politics, she is giving it one last go, and this time, The Greens might be successful. On the 27th of June 2018, Rhiannon announced:

“Today the Senate has supported a Greens motion requiring the Senate Procedure Committee to set up an inquiry into changing the Senate opening from a Christian prayer to an inclusive statement.” 

The motion proposes that this “inclusive statement” should be the following:

“Senators, let us in silence pray or reflect upon our responsibilities to all people of Australia and to future generations.”

The Green’s motion also suggests that as they consider this change they should “consult with all senators” and “invite submissions and take evidence in public session”. So, if you feel passionately either way on this issue, I encourage you to get involved in the democratic process and voice your opinion! Write to your senators. Start a petition, if you like. Remember, it was a petition from Christians that got The Lord’s Prayer into the Senate over a century ago. Maybe you can be one of the voices that helps decide whether it stays or goes.

It may surprise you though… I actually agree with The Greens on this one.

Giving God Lip Service

Now, agreeing with them on this is not easy to admit (and not simply because I rarely agree with The Greens on many topics). If I’m honest, I really like those powerful words being read every day in Parliament. They describe God as Almighty and our Heavenly Father. They call out to God for help and provision, guidance and forgiveness. They refer to politicians as servants of God whose goal is to advance God’s glory, God’s kingdom and the welfare of the Australians they represent. These are all concepts that I deeply believe. I would truly love every politician to say and believe these words as they begin every day of public service. It warms my heart that these words are spoken in Parliament, but I suspect that is probably because I am a superficial human. As 1 Samuel 16:7 says, “man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

The reality is, whilst I would love for every politician to believe the words of the prayer that opens the Senate, I know most of them don’t. Now, some would argue that forcing non-Christians (if only the Senate President) to publicly recite the Lord’s Prayer every day may inspire them to be more humble and mindful of their Creator, but I don’t see any Biblical precedent for suggesting that. In fact, I think the bible consistently teaches the opposite. The outward expression of religious affection with no inward conviction doesn’t warm God’s heart. It turns His stomach.

One of the clearest expressions of this is found in the opening chapter of the book of Isaiah the prophet, where God expresses how deeply He hates the performance of hollow religious rituals.

“’What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?’ says the Lord; ‘I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations – I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.'” (Isaiah 1:11-15)

When we read these strong words we must remember that God isn’t saying He hates the idea of the sacrificial system. He gave it to the people of Israel. No, He is saying that He hates hypocrisy. God expands this idea later in the book of Isaiah when He says:

“…this people draw near with their mouth and honour me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men.” (Isaiah 29:13)

In Matthew 15:7-9, when Jesus sees the religious hypocrisy of the Pharisees, he quotes this verse saying that Isaiah wasn’t simply talking about the people of his day, he was also prophesying about all types of religious hypocrisy.

I would argue that God’s words condemning religious lip service should also apply to the daily repetition of the Lord’s Prayer in parliament. The words are great. But that is all they are – words. In repeating this prayer, most of our politicians honour God with their lips, while their hearts are far from Him.

Now I am sure that there are politicians over the last 115 years that have prayed those words every day with an earnest humility. But I would think that any genuine Christian does not require their secular workplace (which the Senate is) to supplement their own private times of prayer. To have this prayer read at the daily opening of parliament suggests that the parliament itself believes these words. This is quite obviously not the case. At least not any more. We may have started off with a general Christian veneer over our society and parliament, but that veneer is quickly being peeled off.

I actually think that may be an important process for the West to go through. As the cultural Christianity is peeled away, the genuine church has an opportunity to shine. Like many Christians, I do feel a deep grief in admitting that many of my friends, family members, colleagues and neighbours do not love Jesus or know God as their Heavenly Father as I wish they did. I do worry for our nation as the Christian worldview becomes more and more alien. But we should not put our energy into gluing back on a Christian veneer that is cracked and peeling. We don’t help our nation become more “Christian” by forcing the daily recitation of Christian prayers by non-Christian Senate Presidents. People become followers of Christ by hearing the gospel in the mouths and seeing it in the lives of genuine Christians.

Pray then like this

The more I hear some prominent Christians present their argument for why The Lord’s Prayer should remain in parliament the less I am convinced. The Australian Christian Lobby for example, describes the Lord’s Prayer as “an important part of Australia’s cultural heritage” with the ACL managing director Lyle Sheldon suggesting “prayer in parliament recognises western cultural heritage”.

This view treats the reading of The Lord’s Prayer like an ancient religious artifact in a museum that is deserving of protection due to its historic significance. It was never meant to be treated like this.

If you go back to where Jesus actually introduced his disciple’s to the words of The Lord’s Prayer, you see that he gave it – not as a formula or words to be repeated for public religious theatre – but as an example of how his followers ought to pray in private.

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 

Pray then like this: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (Matthew 6:5-13)

You can see from this passage, these words of Jesus were possibly never meant to be used as an official prayer. Jesus wasn’t prescribing for us exactly WHAT we should pray – he was teaching us HOW we should pray. And the contrast between Jesus’ teaching and the way that his words are daily recited in parliament couldn’t be clearer.

Jesus tells his followers they must not pray like a hypocrite. They must not pray just for the outward show of a religious observance. They must not heap up empty phrases over and over as if God will be impressed by their many words. Rather, Jesus tells us that when Christians pray they should go in their room, shut the door and talk one on one with their Heavenly Father.

Now, I do think there is a place for public prayer (see John 11:41-42 for example), but generally, prayer is not for others to hear. It’s not even for God to hear, as Jesus teaches us that God already knows what we need. Prayer is for the fostering of intimate communion between a child of God and their Heavenly Father. It is an act of private Christian dependence, not public secular performance.

Our Father and Theirs

It does grieve me that our culture is becoming less prayerful. It does sadden me that there seems to be a push by some to remove the expression of great Christian truths from the public sphere.

But more than this, it saddens me what The Lord’s Prayer has become.

It was never meant to be used as a political tool in the culture wars. It was never meant to be treated as merely a symbol of our Christian heritage.

These precious and intimate words were given by Jesus to his disciples for so much more than to protect us from the slippery slope of secularism… So let’s not waste time fighting to save our culture by keeping The Lord’s Prayer in parliament. Rather, let us prayerfully go out into our culture and share the good news about Jesus, so that in Christ our fellow citizens can come to know that “Our Father in Heaven” can be their Heavenly Father as well.

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June 20

The Gospel According to Chris Pratt’s 9 Rules

Now I am not one to get excited whenever a celebrity starts talking about their faith or mentioning God. I think there is way too much celebrity worship and Christians seem to get sucked into it like everyone else. It’s like we feel that if we get a celebrity endorsement for Jesus then that means something. It doesn’t. So don’t take it the wrong way when I say that I was really excited when I heard Hollywood actor Chris Pratt’s acceptance speech for the “Generation” Award at the 2018 MTV Movie & TV Awards.

The guts of his speech was a presentation of what he called “9 Rules from Chris Pratt”. When I heard that title, my mind immediately went to Professor Jordan Peterson’s bestselling book, “12 Rules for Life”, which recently was a talking point amongst many Christians. In this list of “rules” though, Pratt is no professor. His speech was peppered with poop jokes and other silliness. But amongst the humour, you could see that Pratt’s primary intention was to communicate some important ideas about God, human beings and yes, even the cross of Jesus.

Watch his “9 Rules” here:

Here are Chris Pratt’s 9 rules:

1. “Breathe — If you don’t, you’ll suffocate.”

2. “You have a soul. Be careful with it.”

3. “Don’t be a t*rd. If you’re strong be a protector and if you’re smart be a humble influencer; strength and intelligence can be weapons, and do not wield them against the weak. That makes you a bully. Be bigger than that.”

4. “When giving a dog medicine, put the medicine in a little piece of hamburger, they won’t even know they’re eating medicine.”

5. “Doesn’t matter what it is, earn it. A good deed, reach out to someone in pain, be of service. It feels good and it’s good for your soul.”

6. “God is real. God loves you. God wants the best for you. Believe that. I do.”

7. “If you have to poop at a party, but you’re embarrassed because you’re gonna stink up the bathroom, do what I do: lock the door, sit down, get all the pee out first. Okay? And then, once all the pee’s done, poop, flush, boom. You minimise the amount of time the poop is touching the air, because if you poop first, it takes you longer to pee and then you’re peeing on top of it, stirring it up, the poop particles create a cloud, it goes out and then everyone in the party’ll know that you pooped. Just trust me, it’s science.”

8. “Learn to pray. It’s easy, and it’s so good for your soul.”

9. “Nobody is perfect. People are going to tell you you’re perfect just the way you are, you’re not. You are imperfect. You always will be. But there is a powerful force that designed you that way, and if you’re willing to accept that, you will have grace. And grace is a gift. And like the freedom that we enjoy in this country that grace was paid for with somebody else’s blood. Do not forget it. Don’t take it for granted.”


The Silly and the Serious

Although the occasional silly or vulgar comments grab our attention and superficially make us laugh, if you look carefully at the structure of Chris Pratt’s 9 Rules, you can see what he is actually focusing on.

Number 1 is a funny life lesson. Then 2 is a spiritual truth and 3 a deep life lesson.

Then he breaks it up with 4 which is another funny life lesson, and follows that up with another two important ones – 5 a deep life lesson and 6 a spiritual truth.

With 7 he gives one final funny life lesson, before finishing it with 2 more important ones – both of which are deep life lessons wrapped in spiritual truths. Sure the silly jokes are there, but they simply serve the purpose of breaking up the serious points he wants to make.

The ideas that stuck out to me were his proclamations about the reality of the soul, the reality of a loving God and the reality of human imperfection. I loved his call to use our strengths to serve those in need and his encouragement to learn to pray. But most of all I loved his mention of grace and the cross of Christ. Now, you might have missed that last one, but it was there right at the end of his last rule.

Grace that’s free but not cheap

In Rule #9 he begins by reminding us of the universal truth that we all know about ourselves – none of us are perfect. That’s a soft way of saying that we are all sinful and broken and in need of a Saviour. Pratt is right. As Paul writes in Romans 3:23, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”.

Pratt goes on to say the truth that God designed us and we need to accept the reality of our sinfulness. He is right again. God’s Word teaches clearly that we are uniquely created by God and accountable to God. Now, when he talks about God, he again uses softer language, calling God a “powerful force”, but we at least see from Rule #6 that he actually believes God is a personal Being that loves us and desires our good.

Finally, Pratt goes on to say that those who accept their imperfection in the light of God as our creator, will be given grace. Now, Pratt is a bit fuzzy here on the details, but he does give us some characteristics of this thing called “grace”.

Grace, says Pratt, is a gift. It is free. But it is not cheap. In fact, it cost a great deal. Comparing it to “freedom” that was achieved only through the blood of those who fought to win America’s independence, Pratt suggests that the gift of grace is the same. The grace that we need was paid for, not with our good deeds or our moral effort, but “with somebody else’s blood”. This, if you hadn’t picked it up is referring to Jesus. It is his bloody death that pays for our sin and imperfection and purchases us the grace that reconciles us to God. This is the gospel. It was a bit obscured, but it was there and it was exciting to hear it proclaimed from a stage like the MTV Awards.

“Nobody is perfect”

Now, there are many things I wished Chris Pratt had said, or hadn’t said during his speech. Mostly, I wish he had mentioned the actual name of Jesus. It would have given people a direct person to go to to find grace when they follow Rule #8 and start praying to the God that is real and who loves them.

But like the commentary surrounding the recent royal wedding sermon of Bishop Michael Curry, I think it’s best to simply look at the positives and put our energy into using it as a launchpad to gospel conversations, rather than tear down the messenger or the imperfections in the message.

To be honest, after listening to the speech, I wasn’t focused on the parts Chris Pratt missed out. I was excited. And it wasn’t because these words came from the mouth of a Hollywood actor. Not at all. I was excited because his speech, mixed with comedy and crassness, also contained a few simple nuggets of spiritual truth that – if heard correctly – actually would point people to the gospel. It was exciting to hear these truths being proclaimed from a platform that will be heard by millions. Remember, just a few days earlier, Robert Deniro’s virtue signaling, self-congratulatory “F*** Trump” speech at the Tony Awards was getting headlines. Let’s hope Pratt’s speech about humility, grace and a loving God, replaces it.

Sure some who hear it will respond with mockery and many others will simply forget it in a day or so, but I pray that there may be a few who are intrigued by these declarations of unpopular spiritual realities. And most of all, I pray that someone out there will wonder what Chris Pratt meant when he spoke of a “grace [that] was paid for with somebody else’s blood”. May God guide them to find that the answer is in the grace-giving sacrifice of Jesus.

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June 18

The cross that turns life upside-down

 

When you see that shining, bright red cross in Hobart, you can’t help but notice that it is the wrong way up. Sure, you can see it is as a direct insult to Christianity. Or you can be inspired by what the stark image compels you to do. The black pole prevents the cross from being turned around and so to make the image seem right in our minds, it’s us that has to turn. We have to flip the image. We have to stand on our heads. We have to turn upside-down.

That’s what the cross of Jesus does… It turns life upside-down.

And that’s what Jesus did too. When the people expected the Messiah to arrive as a king in a palace, he came as a baby in a manger. When they expected him to claim Jerusalem riding into the city on a war-horse he came riding a donkey. When the Pharisees expected him to praise their moral efforts and good works, he condemned them as hypocrites, and when those who knew they were sinners deserving judgment expected to be turned away, Jesus ate and drank with them and offered them forgiveness. When he taught to the crowds that expected that we should only have to love our friends, Jesus flipped this expectation on its head and told them that they must love their enemies. And then, in the great climax of his ministry, he turned all their expectations upside-down.

When they expected the Messiah to crush the pagan Roman Empire and establish God’s kingdom by the death of those who oppose God, Jesus gave himself over to the Romans and let them torture and crucify him. Instead of killing those who opposed God, Jesus died in their place. Instead of pouring God’s judgment out on sinners, he willingly let it be poured out on himself, so that sinners could be set free.

So the message of Christianity is not – Good people go to Heaven and bad people go to Hell. It’s completely the opposite. It turns that false message upside-down. The truth that Jesus taught was that good people go to Hell and bad people go to Heaven. Those who think they’re good enough for God are the ones who will be disappointed in the end and those who acknowledge their need for mercy are the only ones who will find it.

And how do they find it? Well, they do so by heeding Jesus’ call to turn upside-down. Well, he doesn’t say “turn upside-down”. He uses the older word: “repent”. It literally means to “change your mind”. To do a 180. It means to recognise you’ve been treating God with indifference, contempt or outright rebellion and to turn that whole attitude to God upside-down. To come to him in humility and trust in Jesus – the one who turned the judgment of God upside-down and took it for you on the cross.

That’s what I think about when I see those crosses in Hobart.

I reflect on how back when I was only 16, Jesus flipped my expectations of what Christianity was all about and I responded to his call to repent and trust in that cross. And I reflect on how Jesus has continued for the last 24 years, to turn my life upside-down.

 

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June 12

Betty Botter’s Batter – An expansion on a classic

From Wikipedia:

Betty Botter is a tongue-twister written by Carolyn Wells. It was originally titled “The Butter Betty Bought.” By the middle of the 20th century, it had become part of the Mother Goose collection of nursery rhymes.


I used to be into tongue-twisters as a kid and my favourite was “Betty Botter”. The version I committed to memory was:

Betty Botter bought some butter. “But”, she said, “This butter’s bitter. If I put it in my batter, it’ll make my batter bitter. But if I buy a better butter, it’ll make my batter better.” So Betty Botter bought a bit of better butter and that made her batter better.

A nice tongue-twister, but not very exciting. She has a problem with some butter and she just goes out and buys a replacement.

Well, I thought I might be able to expand the Betty Botter story a little bit. Here is what I came up with…


Betty Botter’s Batter
My expanded version of a classic tongue-twister

Betty Botter bought some butter, “But”, she said, “This butter’s bitter. If I put it in my batter, it’ll make my batter bitter. But if I buy a better butter, it’ll make my batter better…

But Betty’s brother Buddy Botter said, “Why not try adding water?”

So Betty Botter blended bitter butter with a bit of water that her brother Buddy brought her. But no matter how much water, the bitter batter wasn’t better. All it was was a bit wetter.

“Wet and bitter batter isn’t better!” Betty barked, but before her brother said rebuttal, Betty’s mother butted in. “I’m sure it could be a bit better. Why not add bit of feta? Salt’ll balance out the bitter, and absorb a bit of water.”

Then Betty’s father Mr Botter contributed to the banter. 

“Back when I was but a boy, my best friend Billy’s neighbour’s, barber’s brother was a brilliant baker. He always bragged he blended better with the best electric beater. Your broken, busted baby beater is why your batter isn’t better.”

Though it sounds bonkers, Betty Botter couldn’t let this batter beat her. So Betty, bartered, begged and bought a brand new, bright blue, Breville beater! Then with the best electric beater she beat the batter mixed with feta, blending water Buddy brought her in with bits of bitter butter.

And in the end this beaten blend of wetter, bitter, feta batter, was just plain bad and Betty muttered “I shoulda bought a better butter.”

Her brother Buddy smiled and bade her, “Come on Betty, don’t be bitter.  Sure we botched a basic batter, but we’re blessed with something better… You see, what matters is not batters, but bonding with our fellow Botters.”

THE END

(137)

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September 1

“Why I will vote No.” – Rev Neil Chambers

The following is a pastoral article written by Rev Neil Chambers to the congregation of Bundoora Presbyterian Church.

It is reproduced here with his permission.

Also, it is worth noting that if I, Simon Camilleri, was to write an article explaining why I will be voting no, I might use different points or articulate them in a different way. I have simply shared Neil’s article below because I feel he has articulated his position well and his biblically wise and pastoral words are worth our reflection.


“Why I will vote No.” – Rev Neil Chambers

The postal plebiscite on same sex marriage will, barring a successful High Court challenge, take place in November. The plebiscite, as far as we know, will be seeking voters to indicate whether they approve or disapprove a change to the legal definition of marriage, removing the current requirement that marriage be between a man and a woman and replacing it with a requirement that marriage be between two people. Such a change would allow a marriage to be between two men or two women, i.e. open the door to same sex marriage. Such a vote has been a possibility since the last election, and as a congregation we have been preparing for it by looking at the issues of same sex desire and same sex sexual activity when we looked at Romans 1 [March 2016], considering what the Scripture says about gender and marriage when we looked at Genesis 1 and 2, and finally thinking about our attitude to those in authority and our obligation to love our neighbours [and how the law informs that love] when we examined Romans 13.

I have called this piece ‘why I will vote no’ and not ‘why you should vote no’ very deliberately. I am sharing with you the considerations that will inform my vote to help you inform your own vote. But it is your vote, to be made in good conscience before God out of your own faith in Jesus. Other reasons than those listed here may occur to you and move you to vote differently, or you may give different weight to those listed here. You may even decide not to vote. Just make sure that what you do proceeds from faith and a good conscience, not from fear or laziness.

 

  1. I will vote.

You may not like the idea of a plebiscite, or the way it is being conducted, or the way it has shaped the conversation. In fact I hope your conversations about this focus on Jesus, and not on a vote or the very restricted options that will be presented to us.

But we do have a plebiscite which has conferred on us a democratic responsibility to cast a vote in a way that will best serve our society. Participation in the plebiscite is part of loving our neighbour as this plebiscite concerns a fundamental building block of our society which shapes both individuals and society as a whole. It will have long term repercussions for good or ill. As I think the normalization of same sex sexual activity and the eroding of the understanding of marriage, which would follow the endorsement of same sex marriage will be harmful to both individuals and society as a whole [regardless of whether they are believers or not] love requires me to vote to prevent, if I can, that harm – both to those who make up our society now and to those who will come in the future and inherit the society we have made.

Further, there are those who have exposed themselves to public abuse and ridicule by seeking to maintain what I understand to be marriage as it has been instituted by our Creator, and to give me a say on this matter of long term significance. I may not agree with all they say or do, but to fail to vote would be to fail to love them and further undermine them in public life. So I think love of neighbour tells me I should vote.

 

  1. I will vote no because I should oppose moves to normalize sin, and same sex sexual activity is sin.

Same sex marriage is the normalization and affirmation of same sex sexual activity. Decriminalisation of same sex sexual activity is one thing, but endorsement of same sex sexual activity is another. Same sex sexual activity is sin, that is, forbidden by God [Leviticus 18:22, 20:13 Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9, 1 Timothy 1:10. For more extensive treatments see Kevin DeYoung What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality; Sam Allberry Is God Antigay?; Steve Morrison Born this Way. Making sense of science, the Bible and Same-Sex Attraction, or listen to the March 6th 2016 sermon on Romans 1:24-27]. I believe God is good, and what He forbids, He forbids for the good of His creatures, to promote their flourishing, not to hinder it. I believe God rules; His standards are absolute, and sin provokes His judgment – and that is not just on believers, but on all. It is not love to normalize behaviour that will bring upon others God’s judgment. Further, laws have a role in instructing consciences. It is not helpful to others to have laws that endorse behaviour God condemns. It will further harden their hearts in their sin, make it more difficult for them to accept the Gospel’s verdict on their lives.

Same sex sexual activity is, of course, just one sin amongst many. But its promotion should not be acquiesced in where we have opportunity to resist it just because there are many other sins.

 

  1. I will vote no because incorporating same sex relationships into the definition of marriage reduces marriage to the social endorsement of love between two people.

Marriage given by God is so much more – an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman for life which becomes the context for sexual expression, the begetting and nurture of children, and the formation of a new family. The complementarity of a man and a woman, expressed in sexual union, is at the heart of the gift of marriage in Genesis 2. Family, and the transmission within families of virtues and helpful habits, is at the heart of a stable society.

While not all male-female marriages produce children all are in principle open to that. This move is a further step in the erosion of the significance of gender distinction, a further step in the separation of sexual activity from procreation [one of the attendant blessings of sexual activity as God has ordained it, and one of the purposes of marriage], and the separation of sexual activity from marriage. This may seem paradoxical where more are seeking to enter marriage [i.e. have their unions recognized publicly as lifelong commitments], but that recognition is independent of exclusive sexual union. It is an endorsement of love, a love which by its nature is not open to the begetting of children which are the product of that union. Reducing marriage to an endorsement of love, rather than strengthen the institution of marriage, as some claim, will weaken it and further destabilise marriages for human love waxes and wanes.

 

  1. I will vote no because we should not put instruments into the hands of those who may want to further restrict Christian freedom to teach the Scriptures and bring up our children in the faith.

We have not seen the bill, we have not seen the protections of freedom of speech, we have not seen the safeguards to our freedom to bring up children in the discipline and instruction of the faith. Despite the demands of some that we should just focus on whether we want same sex marriage or not, our current experience of the use of anti-discrimination laws to harass those teaching Christian doctrine [e.g. in Tasmania], and the experience of Christians in jurisdictions overseas where same sex marriage has been endorsed, suggest that such a change will further expose Christians teaching Chris-tian doctrine or maintaining it in public debate to harassment through anti-discrimination laws. It is not enough that ministers be protected from being compelled to participate in solemnizing same sex marriages, or that church buildings can be prevented from being used in same sex marriages. There needs to be protection for Christian schools in their employment and teaching, Christian adoption agencies, Christian hospitals, Christian groups on campus, protections that allow them to operate as Christian institutions and organizations in accord with Christian teaching. We must be able to continue a distinctively Christian corporate witness. A large no vote will encourage politicians to engage with the need for those protections.

 

  1. I will vote no because these changes, unless they are wedded to further measures, will not achieve their goal and I want to prevent those further measures.

The change to the marriage law is not designed to achieve a freedom, but an endorsement and acceptance. Same sex couples are already free to live together, free to adopt children, free to be acknowledged in wills. They have equality in civil law. This change is about same sex couples being accepted as equals with male-female marriages. But a change in the law will not achieve that as it does not address the reasons people reject same sex couples as equivalent to male-female marriages. Those reasons are not only religious. Some have a deep commitment to family and to children without any religious motivation. Others have a respect for the wisdom of past centuries. None of these reasons are addressed in a change in the definition of marriage. And some, like me, will still consider same sex sexual activity as sin, and therefore relationships, however longstanding, that are built on same sex sexual activity as sinful. A change in the legal definition will not address that. And so for acceptance to be achieved, and that is the goal, it is logical that this change will be accompanied by restrictions on the expression of disapproval, and an attempt to prevent the transmission of world views that do not endorse same sex sexual activity [or a demand to be able to teach our children the alternate view with-out any input from of notification of parents]. Already the justifications for such moves are being developed – e.g. presenting the change in the definition as a preventative health measure. This lends further weight to the concern expressed in 4 above.

 

  1. I will vote no because I should not support the promotion of sub optimal parenting contexts.

While I believe most same sex couples with children will be conscientious and loving parents, I also believe what David Popenoe [a sociologist] has written “Few propositions have more empirical support in the social sciences than this one: compared to all other family forms, families headed by married, biological parents are best for children.” [Quoted in a “Medical Critique of the AMA Position Statement on Marriage Equality, July 2017]. The fact that already many children are being brought up with varying degrees of success in families that are not headed by married biological parents [e.g. a mother and father] is not a reason for the government to support the establishment of another sub optimal context for the nurture of children to satisfy adult desires. It is still less of a reason to suggest same sex families are equivalent to the optimal context – children living in families headed by their biological parents [father and mother] in a stable, low conflict, permanent relationship.

 

  1. I will vote no because I should not endorse false arguments.

I have found many of the arguments given to support same sex marriage unconvincing at best. It is not good for society to be swayed by arguments that are specious. Here are a few:

 

‘Equal Love’.

In what sense equal? While I understand the longing for faithful love, you cannot make unequal things equal by changing definitions. You can redefine a circle to include triangles, but a circle and a triangle will still be different. A relationship between two men or two women will never be the equivalent of a relationship between a man and a woman. This drive for victory by redefinition is the outcome of the feminist view that language shapes reality. That is only a half truth, for some aspects of reality are intractable to our linguistic shaping, and further blinding ourselves to the differences will not help us live together as men and women.

 

‘Born that way’.

Much of the sympathy for same sex marriage as a human right has been created by the assertion that people who are same sex attracted are born that way and therefore can only find satisfaction in same sex sexual relationships, and to deny them that is to deny them their humanity. This is an oversimplification at best. There is a genetic component to most human behaviour, but it is only one factor amongst many. Your genes do not fully explain same sex sexual attraction. Further, desire does not need to find expression, and our humanity is not defined by our sexual activity. Sometimes our humanity is more fully expressed by resisting desire.

At worst, born that way is a trap, a form of biological determinism that robs people of volition and the possibility of finding satisfying relationships outside of same sex sexual activity. It may in itself be a cause for despair.

 

‘A Human right to marry whoever you love’.

There is no internationally recognized human right to same sex marriage. Further, there have always been boundaries on whom you can marry – e.g. certain close relatives, and in our society age boundaries, and a restriction on marrying more than one person at a time. Love alone does not establish a right to marry.

Perhaps the most dangerous argument is the one that seeks to make society, and especially those who oppose same sex marriage, responsible for the mental health of same sex attracted youth. This acknowledges that there is a greater psychological disease burden amongst the same sex attracted population, but seeks to anchor responsibility for this not in the conflicted heart of the individual or in the activity, but in society’s attitudes. We should all speak kindly to all and never have anything to do with bullying – in fact we should be kind people with whom the other feels safe, but it is a dangerous and unfair step to make people responsible for something they cannot control – the inner workings of the mind of another, and to suggest to individuals they are not responsible for the one thing they alone can control – their own reactions to the words of others. It also leaves other causes of the psychological distress unexamined. It is hard for others to remove the shame of something someone feels is intrinsically shameful, and there may well be a perceived unnaturalness to same sex attraction [because of our bodies] that unsettles those who feel it whatever the views of others. Further the evidence is that many teens who experience same sex attraction will not go on to practice same sex sexual activity. It is therefore debatable whether moving rapidly to endorse or normalize same sex attraction in a teen will be helpful to them in the long run.

—–

These are all the reasons why I will vote, and why I will vote no to same sex marriage. In the end, I do not believe it is love of neighbour to endorse and normalize a practice [same sex sexual activity] God calls sin. But these reasons will not be the substance of my conversations. The root problem is idolatry, in this case the idolatrous claim to be able to remake humanity in our own wisdom while we reject the Creator, the worship of our autonomy. The conversation I want to have is about Jesus – that He is Lord, that He loves us and can be trusted to tell us what is best for us, and that He will be our judge at the last day.

So, when you are talking to others don’t get lost in having arguments about the consequences of the change, or about the fears you may have about the change. Be honest – tell them that you think Jesus can be trusted and the life of human flourishing is found in following Him. Our goal is not to win an argument, but to commend a Saviour. And He will be Lord whatever way the vote goes, in the plebiscite and in parliament.

 

 

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April 13

“When Santa Shared the Gospel” – a sequel

“When Santa Shared the Gospel”

A sequel to “When Santa Learned the Gospel”.


When Santa shared the gospel, he went first to Easter Bunny.

He wasn’t sure how he’d respond – if he would find it funny.

He wasn’t sure if he would scoff, or if he’d turn his back.

In truth, he had just no idea how Bunny might react.

But Bunny was a friend of his and so what could he do?

The gospel had transformed his life. It could bless Bunny too.

The gospel had led him to Christ and he’d been born again.

So Santa knew he couldn’t keep this good news from his friend.

He loved his friend and had to share he was a new believer,

But he didn’t want to jeopardize their solid friendship either.

And so when Santa knocked upon the Easter Bunny’s door,

His heart was filled with hope and fear (but fear a little more).

The Easter Bunny greeted Santa with a smile of joy

“What brings you ‘round?” He laughed, “Or have I been a ‘naughty boy’?”

“Well funny you should say that.” Santa said as he sat down,

“I’ve actually had that whole system of thinking flipped around!”

“I’ve got something to tell you. I feel awkward. A bit scared.

I know I don’t know all that much, but what I know, I’ll share.”

So Santa shared the gospel. It was simple. It was short.

And when he stopped he couldn’t tell at all what Bunny thought.

He worried he had caused offense. Was their long friendship wrecked?

But then his friend said something Santa didn’t quite expect…

“That’s great.” smiled Easter Bunny. “Yeah, I’m really glad for you.

You probably didn’t know, but guess what? I’m a Christian too!”

“What news!” cried Santa joyfully, “This must be brand new, is it?

How’d you learn about the gospel? Did my elf friend pay a visit?”

The Easter Bunny laughed, “Nah, my folks are Christians too!

I was brought up with the gospel. I’ve always known it’s true.

I attend my local church each week, and mid-week Bible Study.

Hey! Now that you’re a Christian, we can be church-going buddies!”

At this Santa was puzzled. He’d known Bunny now for ages.

He’d never seen him go to church or turning bible pages.

He’d never heard him talk of Christ or sharing the good news.

And Bunny said, “Look Santa, I can see you’re quite confused.”

“See, I’m not much of a talker. Definitely no evangelist!

I’ll answer questions if I’m asked, but if not, I won’t insist.

My philosophy is simple. It’s a saying I once heard:

Preach the Gospel at all times. And if needed then use words.’”

“I like that motto. Words are hard! I’d rather preach through deeds.

And so instead of talking I’ve been sowing subtle seeds.”

“Like, you know how every Easter I make you a hot cross bun?

Well, I hoped that cross might vaguely point you the ‘Jesus’ one.

And the eggs I paint each year are symbols of the resurrection.

I guess I hoped you’d see the subtle gospel-rich connection.”

“Why didn’t you just tell me?” Santa asked, shaking his head.

“Well, I didn’t want to force my faith upon you.” Bunny said.

“I had really hoped to ask you if you’d come to church with me.

But for years I’ve just been waiting for the opportunity.”

“Oh Bunny”, Santa sighed, “I’m sorry that you felt that way.

I understand you feeling awkward but there was no need for delay.

The gospel has the power to save, you shouldn’t feel ashamed!

You’re the Easter Bunny after all. The gospel’s in your name!”

“When I first learned the gospel, I was told it by an elf.

Her example showed me all you need to do is be yourself.

There’s no need to be clever. Don’t have to try to sell it.

You don’t have to be subtle. All you have to do… is tell it.”

“Look, I’m all pretty new to this, so don’t think I’m comparing,

But if Jesus is alive, my friend, that’s good news that’s worth sharing!”

“You’re right,” said Bunny sheepishly, “I’ve wasted time I know.

I could have shared the gospel with you years and years ago.

“Well, no regrets!” smiled Santa, “Let’s go out and celebrate!”

The Easter Bunny grinned and said, “You know what? That sounds great!”

His bunny eyes were twinkling as fresh joy brightened his face,

“And while we’re out how ‘bout we go swing past Tooth Fairy’s place?”

(1338)

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