August 31 2021

Hitler Stands Before the Judge

It was the end of World War II and Hitler had just committed suicide. His soul flew off to the afterlife and Hitler found himself waiting in a queue to stand before the Judge with three other soldiers in the line in front of him.

The first soldier stepped forward and the Judge asked, “What was your greatest sacrificial act?” 

The soldier replied: “Well, I was flying over Germany and I’d run out of bombs, bullets and was low on petrol. I was about to land in a field when I saw a convoy of Nazi tanks and so I decided to sacrifice my life and fly my plane into the convoy, killing several Nazis including one commanding officer.”

“Well done!” the Judge said, and with an angelic sound the gates of Heaven opened and the soldier walked in.

The second soldier was a German SS Officer and the Judge asked, “What was your greatest sacrificial act?” 

The SS Officer replied, “Well, once, I torched a whole village to the ground because the mayor refused to say ‘Hail Hitler’.” 

The Judge shook his head and pulled a level, opening up a trap door underneath the Officer. He screamed and fell down to hellfire.

Hitler gulped.

Then the third soldier stepped forward and the Judge asked, “What was your greatest sacrificial act?” 

The soldier replied: “I helped smuggle seven Jewish families out of the country and when I was discovered, I was shot in the town square.”

“Well done!” the Judge said, and once again the gates of Heaven opened and the soldier walked in.

Hitler was next and he was terrified, not knowing what he was going to say to save him from Hell. Then he got an idea.

He stepped forward and the Judge asked, “What was your greatest sacrificial act?” 

He replied proudly, “I killed Hitler!”


This is a silly joke, but it does express a few things about how many people perceive the final judgment. Or at least, it’s how some people think Christians perceive it.

I once had a non-Christian work colleague say to me, “Yeah, but you HAVE to do that because you think that will make God love you.” I was baffled as to how she got that perception of how I, or indeed any Christian, thinks about their realtionship with God.

The perception that Christianity teaches that “good people go the Heaven and bad people go to Hell” is one that is still out there, both in our secular society and indeed, I expect, amongst those who might think of themselves as Christians.

But that is not the gospel.

The Bad News part of the Good News

The first part of the gospel message of Jesus Christ teaches that no one is “good enough” to go heaven. Jesus himself said the words “No one is good, but God alone” (Luke 18:19) and other passages, like this one, make it even clearer:

…Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin. As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”

Romans 3:9-12

No one can stand before the Judge of the Universe and claim innocence. We are all guilty, no matter what selfless act of sacrifice we can claim to have done. The standard that God expects from us is not that we have one really impressive thing on our resume, or even that we have done more good things than bad things.

Jesus explains the standard to a Teacher of the Law in Mark 12:28-30, when he explained the two greatest commands of God: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”

This is what it means to be a “good” person.

And so, the line “good people go to Heaven” is sort of true. The problem is that, no one fulfills this “goodness” other than Jesus and so no one deserves to go to Heaven but Jesus.

Now, the word “gospel” means “good news”, but the reality is that everyone stands guilty before God is not really good news. But it is the problem that Jesus came to solve. It is when we accept this bad news, that we see our need for a Saviour and hear the good news that he came to declare.

The Good News

The Good News is that God does not leave us to face the Judge and the Judgement without hope of forgiveness.

Jesus came to not only show us how to truly be “good”, but also to take the punishment of behalf of the “bad”.

Jesus came to call people to turn from their sin and to put their trust in him.

Jesus came to offer forgivess and freedom and eternal life and reconciliation.

And all those who would see their need and respond to his call, can stand before the Judge when they die and not pretend that they are good enough for Heaven. They can be honest about their deservedness for judgement because they know that that judgement had already been taken for them in Jesus’ death on the cross.

That is why the gospel is not “good people go to Heaven and bad people go to Hell”.

The gospel is “There are none good enough to go to Heaven. In fact, those who think their good enough end up in Hell. And bad people like you and I are offered Heaven as a free gift in Christ.”

Or to simplify it: “Good people go to Hell and bad people get to go to Heaven”.

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July 5 2021

A New Testament Tongue-Twister

Paul the apostle opposes apostasy

posting epistles appealing to pastors. 

The pastor approves the apostle’s epistles

then preaches appropriate plain application. 

The people apply the apostle’s epistles

by paying attention to pastoral preaching.

So the preachers and pastors and people all partner

in the pastoral purpose of the apostle’s epistles.

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May 25 2021

Equal and Complementary – an illustration

This picture represents Complementarianism for me.

The husband and the wife in perfect unity and balance, creating something together that is beautiful and harmonious and uplifting.

They are both completely equal partners and yet they have two distinct roles.

His leadership role is not being used to crush or dominate or to have his way or to push her down. Quite the opposite. His role is to serve and to bear the weight and to place himself underneath as the strong foundation so that she can soar.

For him to do that, her role is to respect the responsibility he has, submit to his self-sacrificial leadership and trust in him to uphold her.

He is not an ogre.

She is not a doormat.

They are both equal and complementary.

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February 17 2021

Lent is NOT a time to sacrifice

When I was a kid growing up Catholic, my family observed Lent.

For the uninitiated, Lent is a six week season leading up to Good Friday and Easter. It was supposed to be a time of contemplation, of self-denial and sacrifice, as we stepped closer and closer to the most important time in the Christian calendar.

In the spirit of this sacrificial season, every Friday during Lent (and especially on Good Friday) my parents would buy fish and chips for dinner. The idea was that we were giving up red meat on Friday and instead, having fish.

Of course, to a young kid, this was no sacrifice… It was a treat! I mean, how could you compare a pile of salty deep-fried deliciousness to the usual grilled steak and over-boiled veggies? If that’s self-denial, then give me my cross and sign me up! The true symbolism of “giving up” for Lent was lost on me and there was absolutely no sacrifice on my part.

Eventually, by God’s mercy, I came to know the gospel and over the years, though I now no longer observe Lent, I have grown to have a deeper understanding of the Good Friday that Lent was supposed to prepare me for. Now, many years later, as I reflect on my family’s fish and chips tradition, I have come to appreciate that was actually a perfect illustration of what happens in the gospel.

Good Friday is not in fact a day where we give something up. It’s a day when we receive something. It’s not a day where we make a sacrifice. It’s a day where we remember that a sacrifice was made on our behalf. Jesus took our guilt and the wrath of God that our sins deserve. And we? We are onlookers. We are called to respond to his sacrifice with trust, and repentance and dependent faith. But we do not make the sacrifice. We do not even contribute to Jesus’ sacrifice. It is all his work on our behalf. We simply receive it in gratitude and joy. Like a child being given a plate of salty deep-fried deliciousness that he did not pay for and did not earn.

So whether you observe Lent or not, I encourage you to not treat this season as a time that you have to prepare your soul for the holiness of the Easter weekend. As the old Catholic hymn that I still recall says, “Come as you are”. Or as Jesus himself said when he was asked why he ate with sinners, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: â€˜I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:12-13)

We do not prepare our soul to be acceptable to God. We do not make a sacrifice. We come to God with nothing but our empty hands and repentant hearts. And we hear those delicious words from Romans 5:8, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Lent is not a time to sacrifice. Sure, give up chocolate or smoking or Facebook if it helps you reflect on the truth on the gospel. I am making no comment or criticism of fasting in this article. I’m just saying, if you’re going to do something to reflect on the gospel as Good Friday approached, make sure you really reflect on the gospel. The gospel that declares that the great sacrifice that brings us to God has already been done for us. It is what makes Good Friday so good.

So come as you are, grab a plate and pass the chicken salt, and “taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34:8)

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February 6 2021

“An identity greater than my sexual orientation”

The following is the testimony of a Christian man I know who has experienced same-sex attraction for years and has attended the sort of support that Victoria’s new “Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020” has just declared illegal.

There are many people who do not fit the narrative of “conversion therapy survivor”. Their stories are often ignored, or even silenced. I am grateful for this man’s bravery in sharing his story, and I am proud to present it here unedited.


MY EXPERIENCE OF A VICTORIAN SUPPORT GROUP FOR SAME SEX-ATTRACTED YOUNG ADULTS

I am an evangelical Christian and I have been attracted to both men and women from age thirteen.

I was a sensitive boy, creative and kind-hearted. In Grade One there was only one girl in my class and I felt sorry for her, so I became her friend. This led to my only close friends being girls, from Grade One til the end of Grade Four when my two close friends left the school. I then had to learn how to play soccer to try and fit in with the boys.

I am one of the Digital Pioneers Generation. We did not have the internet when I was a young child, but it came into popular use while I was in Primary School. We were flexible adapters and adopted this new technology as a way of life. This also made us the first generation to have access to online pornography from our homes. Our parents had no clue what we had access to or how to deal with it. This was not their fault, but it was a huge problem.

When I was thirteen, two major things happened. Firstly, I was bullied mercilessly by one boy in my class at school and did not connect at all with other boys at school. Secondly, I discovered pornography depicting men. It was actually a TV ad that was the gateway. It aired in prime time, maybe during the news or a sitcom. It was an ad for a movie they planned to air a few days later. I don’t want to name it here, but it was a mainstream movie that featured sexualised men’s bodies in an exciting way. This made me curious, so I logged on to our family computer and started googling. I have since reflected and have theorised that the heavy-handed rejection by the boys my own age may have confounded the problem.

This sin tormented me. I was hooked on the poison, and I remember feeling highly distressed while I was trying to get to sleep, saying “I’ll never, ever tell anyone about this!” However about 6 months later the guilt got too much for me and I confessed to my parents and prayed with them that God would help me repent. 

However I was still attracted to men, in particular the athletic male form. I was also attracted to girls, and asked out a couple girls during high school. For the record, I have never had a boyfriend or any sexual encounters with men.

When I was 18, still attending church, I was often plagued with guilt and shame about my orientation.

When I was 18, still attending church, I was often plagued with guilt and shame about my orientation. I went to a friend of mine who suggested I speak to another young man who had connections with a ministry to help people like me. I was referred to a support group for same sex-attracted young adults, run by a Christian organisation that does not exist anymore. 

One of the reasons I am sharing my story is to describe what my experiences were in this support group. In light of the new Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020 becoming law in Victoria, I thought it may be helpful to share what it is like to be a Christian aiming to obey the Bible’s teaching on sexuality while having these attractions. And also to show you what this support was really like.

The group’s activities consisted of the following: sharing our testimonies, hanging out over a meal, praying for each other, Bible devotions, and using a video resource to fight the battle with porn. We also volunteered at a Christian conference on the topic of homosexuality which took place on the same weekend as a camp to support us. Part of that weekend were small group conversations. Those conversations consisted of tips on how to get support from your mates, even straight ones, and encouragement that God loved us and accepted us. 

It is sad that at least two of those young men have “come out” since then, but I am glad that I was given the opportunity to know that I was not alone in this struggle, that it is possible to live a faithful Christian life while being same sex-attracted, and that there was help available to try to change my orientation if I wanted that.

I really wanted to change it. I wanted to obey God fully and also I feared that it would hurt my future wife emotionally if I were to marry one day. 

I have since learned that God is able to change people’s sexuality if he wishes, but for me, he did not change that part of my experience. I know that Jesus is close to the brokenhearted. I know that people are broken as a result of the global problem called sin. Gay sex is a sin and so is lust. (Just like heterosexual lust and pre-marital sex are wrong.) I aim to live a celibate single life being content, or get married to a gracious Christian  woman who loves me, warts and all.

It was only in the last few years that I realised that the world would call me bisexual. I am glad I never adopted that label. God has blessed me with an identity greater than my sexual orientation, because I am a child of God, adopted into his worldwide family, the church.

God has blessed me with an identity greater than my sexual orientation because I am a child of God, adopted into his worldwide family, the church.

My experience at the support group for same sex-attracted adults was a positive one, one that was encouraging and harmless. The leaders were kindhearted people who invited us to eat at their kitchen table, volunteered copious amounts of their time and taught us from the Bible how to live God’s way. They showed us the grace and love of Jesus.

Now in my thirties, I still have these attractions. I meet weekly with a godly friend as an accountability partner and have seen great progress in becoming more like Jesus. I am a mess, but a beloved mess!

I am horrified at the idea of what my life would have looked like without the support of countless pastors and other Christians who walked with me on this journey. Let us be that support for the current generation of same-sex attracted Christians, no matter what the law says, for the law of Jesus is far greater, and it is to him that we answer to at the end of the day.


To read more testimonies of Christians who both experience same-sex attraction and seek to follow Christ, I can recommend checking out:
https://www.livingout.org/

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January 22 2021

A Bad Bill – Understanding Victoria’s “Change or Suppression Practices” Bill

The following was written by Rev Neil Chambers, Senior Pastor at Bundoora Presbyterian Church. It was originally published at bpc.org.au/updates/ . It has been reposted here with permission.


Click below to listen to Neil Chambers as you read the article:

The Change or Suppression Practices Bill

I have been asked to comment on the â€˜Change or Suppression [Conversion] Practices Bill 2020’ which is currently before Parliament and has been a cause of concern for many. The origin of the bill is the conviction that LBGTI people have been harmed and are still being harmed by the continuation of ‘Change or Suppression Practices.’ This has to be acknowledged and we should be grieved at coercive and cruel practices based in ill-informed understandings of the origin of sexual orientation, especially where people have been pressured to participate in these against their will. Nevertheless the bill raises serious concerns about, amongst other things, its conflation of issues relating to gender identity and sexual orientation, its definition of change or suppression practices, its reach into private and voluntary conversations, its criminalisation of therapy that is not in line with affirming gender transitioning, and its enshrinement of gender ideology in law.

The Problems with the Bill

The bill combines both sexual orientation and gender identity in its scope and seeks to embrace them both in its prescriptions. But these are distinct issues and have different responses. It is the inclusion of gender identity in the bill and the insistence that the only response permissible to gender dysphoria in young people is affirmation of change to the desired gender that has provoked the most concern amongst professionals. Gender re-assignment treatment has recently been described in the recent English High Court judgement in Bell vs Tavistock [1/12/2020] as experimental:

“We express that view for these reasons. First, the clinical interventions involve significant, long-term and, in part, potentially irreversible long-term physical, and psychological consequences for young persons. The treatment involved is truly life changing, going as it does to the very heart of an individual’s identity. Secondly, at present, it is right to call the treatment experimental or innovative in the sense that there are currently limited studies/evidence of the efficacy or long-term effects of the treatment.” [paragraph 152]

To preclude the exploration of other treatments of gender dysphoria, to insist that only one line of response can be pursued, would seem to go beyond the scientific evidence and potentially do harm. On professional concerns see the public letter addressed to the Victorian Attorney General by the National Association of Practicing Psychiatrists.

It is also clear that the only response that is allowed to someone revealing a same sex or bisexual orientation is affirmation and strengthening them in that identity. Doubt about whether it is fixed or might change, grief at what that might mean for them and for their family, or the distance of distaste, all human reactions, will fall far short of what the government is mandating and in the complexities of family relationship may well be used against those who express them.

In addition the definition of change or suppression practices, the behaviour that is being criminalised is intentionally both broad and ill defined.

Section 5 of the Act states:

(1) In this Act, a change or suppression practice means a practice or conduct directed towards a person, whether with or without the person’s consent—

(a)  on the basis of the person’s sexual orientation or gender identity; and

(b)  for the purpose of—

 (i)  changing or suppressing the sexual orientation or gender identity of the person; or

(ii)  inducing the person to change or suppress their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Sexual orientation is further defined to include sexual practice â€œ”sexual orientation means a person’s emotional, affectional and sexual attraction to, or intimate or sexual relations with, persons of a different gender or the same gender or more than one gender;”. [Part 5:59:3]

Thus encouraging someone who is same sex attracted to abstain from sexual activity outside of marriage of a man to a woman would be seeking to suppress someone’s sexual orientation.

Section 5:3 gives examples of prohibited practices:

(3)  For the purposes of subsection (1), a practice includes, but is not limited to the following—

(a)  providing a psychiatry or psychotherapy consultation, treatment or therapy, or any other similar consultation, treatment or therapy;

(b)  carrying out a religious practice, including but not limited to, a prayer based practice, a deliverance practice or an exorcism;

(c)  giving a person a referral for the purposes of a change or suppression practice being directed towards the person.

The Explanatory Memorandum [page 5] adds:

“These examples are illustrative only and do not narrow the definition in subclause (1) which is intended to capture a broad range of conduct, including, informal practices, such as conversations with a community leader that encourage change or suppression of sexual orientation or gender identity, and more formal practices, such as behaviour change programs and residential camps.”

There is a real possibility with this wide definition that conversations with a Pastor, or a youth group leader, or an AFES worker, where the biblical teaching that same sex activity was sin was being outlined to help someone understand the cost of following Jesus, would be breaking the law, even if those conversations were taking place [as they would] voluntarily [“whether with or without the person’s consent”]. Further, prayer with someone that he or she would be strengthened to resist temptation and live a chaste and godly life would also potentially be construed as breaking the law. This is deliberate.

One of the reports that has informed the Government’s development of this law [Preventing Harm, Promoting Justice, by the Human Rights Law Centre and La Trobe University] makes it plain that it considers the teaching in faith communities of homosexual practice as a sin [or of gender to be binary] to be a harmful suppression practice which develops a culture which is unhealthy for LGBTI people. The government leaving the definition broad leaves open the possibility that this teaching itself will be banned under this legislation, despite a mention of religious freedom in the Victorian Charter of Human Rights.

Another of the disturbing features of this bill is its reach into private and voluntary conversations. This legislation will make people reluctant to talk with those who might be troubled by their same sex attraction or their discomfort at their gender if they cannot be wholly supportive, if they have doubts or reservations. Yet it is helpful to people to be able to explore their feelings and responses with those they know and trust, and helpful to families to be able to speak openly about these matters. One sided conversations do not help understanding but the fear that what is now a welcome conversation may become later a resented conversation will cause many to hold back.

Others have written about the bill and its shortcomings, and links are at the bottom of the transcript. While the prevention of harm to others is a worthy goal, and while we should not minimise the distress of gender dysphoria or the cost of living a celibate life, this is a bad bill with significant implications for our freedoms. And it is a bad bill because it is based on false beliefs.

The Beliefs Behind the Bill

One is the idea that gender identity is fixed. The letter of the National Association of Practicing Psychiatrists says:

“The Bill is premised on the idea that gender identity is fixed and unchangeable, making attempts to change or suppress it futile. The press release accompanying the legislation put out by the Department of Justice and Community Safety makes this explicit. It says: “there is no evidence that…gender identity can be changed.” This is an extraordinary proposition and is contradicted by a large body of medical and scientific evidence.”

It is an extraordinary proposition where one of the goals of the Bill is to support people making a gender transition, and where there are a growing number of de-transitioners. The letter cites some of the evidence and you can pursue the issue of gender fluidity further there.

But the more fundamental problem is the false gospel of salvation through defining your own identity that runs through the bill, which is in truth an expression of that ideology clothed in prevention of harm.

That gospel is expressed in the ‘objects’ of the Bill. 3:1[c] states one of the objects of the Bill is:

“to ensure that all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, feel welcome and valued in Victoria and are able to live authentically and with pride.”

This means it is the intention of the Parliament to:

“(b) to affirm that a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity is not broken and in need of fixing; and

(c)  to affirm that no sexual orientation or gender identity constitutes a disorder, disease, illness, deficiency or shortcoming;”,

only just falling short of declaring no sexual orientation or practice to be a sin.

The important thing is that people can live ‘authentically and with pride’ for that is the vision of life found in the secular gospel. We are to be true to ourselves, and that means finding identity and purpose in ourselves and being free to express that in fulfilling our desires, in a context where sexual identity is central to personal identity. Salvation, the life of human flourishing, is found in sexual authenticity. Any gospel therefore that calls for authority to be found outside ourselves, or says that life is found in denying yourself, is an alien gospel in our society.

Our Response to the Bill

So how should we respond to this Bill?

It is possible to respond politically â€“ to lobby politicians to ensure amendments that protect private conversations and our freedom to teach and preach the truth. There is a place for that, for the freedoms threatened by the overreach of this bill – freedom of speech, freedom of association [defining on what basis people can belong to voluntary associations], freedom of belief – are vital to the functioning of our society.

This bill will also, if it prevents the exploration of alternative treatments other than gender re-assignment for gender dysphoria, do harm to young people. Such action though must be done in love, not anger, and in humility not a spirit of offended entitlement, acknowledging the reality that some have been hurt in the past by responses to same sex attraction that have been co-ercive.

But the best way to respond to a false gospel is with the true gospel, proclaiming Jesus is Lord and life is found in denying ourselves, taking up our cross and following Him, for He is the one with authority to judge and to forgive. In love we want to be able to call people of all sexual orientations and all gender identities to follow Christ, to tell them that He is worth everything. But that means we must also tell them the cost of following Him, and the Scripture is clear that all sexual immorality, and that is all sex outside the marriage of a man and a woman, is sin, and continuing in sin is inconsistent with inheriting the kingdom of God [1 Cor. 6:9-11]. We need to show the goodness and the greatness of Jesus, and we need to be in truth a community of forgiven sinners who love one another, including believers called out of and tempted by sins we might find confronting.

To respond to the false gospel with the true gospel will now take courage. As others have observed the broad nature of the offence is meant to create a climate of fear in which we will self-censor, become less clear and bold in teaching what God has given us for our good, the sexual morality of Scripture. But our Lord Jesus has told us that we should â€˜not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul, but rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” [Matt. 10:28]. And He has warned us that He did not come to bring peace but a sword [Matt. 10:34-39] and that anyone who does not love Him more than all is not worthy of Him.

Now is the time for we ourselves to remind ourselves of and build ourselves up in the truth and goodness of Jesus, to remember that what is at stake in being faithful to Him is eternal life, and that our Lord has all authority, including over governments, and will work all things for our good and for the glory of His Name. We will need to do this together, to know each other’s encouragement in a community of love as we face the hostility of a society seduced into believing a lie. The Lord Jesus is not less Lord because the Victorian Government is seeking to bring in a piece of legislation that may test our faithfulness. We must look to Him, and not expect allies either in free speech advocates or civil libertarians. And we should not be discouraged when people who claim to be Christian come out in support of affirming same sex sexual orientation as acceptable to God. In writing to the seven churches in Revelation our Lord warned his people that there were those who taught that God’s people could share in idolatry and practice sexual immorality [Rev. 2:14, 20]. His condemnation of them and those who follow them is clear, as is our Lord’s expectation that we have nothing to do with them [Rev. 2:21-24].  

And we should pray. Pray for our government, that they would encourage and reward good, and shun wickedness. Pray that in His mercy the Lord would continue to allow us to â€˜live quiet and peaceable lives, godly and dignified in every way’ [1 Tim. 2:2], where we are free to preach the gospel. Pray especially that this legislation would not be used to exclude Christian groups from campuses or chaplaincy. And pray especially for those most threatened – Christian counsellors and health professionals, Christian teachers and chaplains in schools, our own youth leaders, evangelists on our university campuses – that they would be sustained in love of the lost, in trust in the Lord to keep them, and in hope, the hope that tells them that the work of the Lord is never in vain, and worth the cost. And yes, pray for your pastors too. I do not think for the moment we are as much at risk as those others I have mentioned for we work in a more explicitly religious context, but we always need prayer for boldness in preaching the gospel.

Censoring ourselves would just embolden the opponents of the gospel. Worse, it would deny to lost people the Saviour who is seeking them, to dying people the Lord who can give them life. So hear the Saviour’s call to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him. The path of faithfulness to His Father cost Him His life but was the path of exaltation over all, and one day every knee will bow and confess Him Lord.

Resources:

Change or Suppression [Conversion] Practices Prohibition Bill 2020

RESPONSE -  National Association of Practicing Psychiatrists

RESPONSE – Human Rights Law Alliance

Helpful Blogs:

Both Murray and Stephen have a number of helpful posts on the matter. Murray has been following this issue for many months, and was writing on it well before the final bill was introduced to Parliament. In addition Stephen’s book ‘Being the Bad Guys’ [Good Book Company] is very helpful in considering the changes taking place in society and how we can helpfully respond and persevere.

Helpful Websites:

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October 5 2020

Godcast

These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

Deuteronomy 6:6-7

I am always looking for creative ways of having spiritual, theological, biblical and gospel-rich conversations with my daughter. I especially wanted to give her an open forum to ask me any question about God that she might have.

This is a difficult thing to do without the conversation feeling forced. If I just point blank asked her, “Do you have any questions about God?” she would always say no, and fair enough. Not only is that a big question for anyone to just respond to in the moment, she’s also only 5 years old!

Having said that, 5 years olds can be incredibly reflective and curious, and my daughter Dorothy is that and more! So I was so happy when I discovered a little game we play that has inspired some wonderful discussions.

Imaginitive Play

Dot started listening to a podcast on ABC Kids Listen called “Imagine This“. It’s an engaging podcast targeted at little kids, where they answer some scientific question. Now, whenever Dot is interested in some show or activity, she always wants to use imaginative play to act it out. So, I thought I’d see if she wanted to act out doing a podcast where kids ring in and ask a question about God. We called our show… Godcast.

Dot LOVED it! She could make the ringing sound of the phone and invent the name of the child who rang up. And then, she would make up a few questions. That’s where the magic happened.

At first she would ask questions that she knew the answers to, but after a few times, her questions would get deeper and more interesting. Sometimes she would ask something really poignant that philosophers have been wondering about for centuries.

To mix things up, I would also now and then take on the role of being a caller and I would ask a question I was curious to see how she might answer. It has been really insightful to learn not only what questions my daughter has, but what is her current understanding of the Christian faith.

Welcome to Godcast

A week or so ago, I asked Dot if she would like to record this little game we were playing and share it with others. She was delighted to, and so I’ve begun posting them on podbean.

At the time of writing this, we’ve done four episodes, and we’ve covered such questions as:

  • Why do we have to read the bible?
  • What’s the biggest thing God knows about?
  • Did God create himself?
  • Why do we sing about God?
  • Why do we pray?
  • How did God make the birds tweet?

And then, the other night, something even more wonderful happened. Dot asked to play “Godcast” because she had a question about God she personally wanted to ask. It touched me that she knew that I would listen to her questions, make her feel safe about asking them and help her think through the answers in a fun and easily understandable way. And for a Christian dad, that is absolute gold.

If you’re a parent, get creative and experimental in your efforts to teach them the faith. Keep working with your child’s interests and personality and don’t be afraid to be a bit silly along the way.

And as Deuteronomy 6:6-7 encourages us, integrate spiritual conversation with your kids into every part of life. Talk with them about God “when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”


Listen to “Godcast”

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June 22 2020

The Lord’s Prayer – Woke Edition

The Lord’s Prayer is Jesus’ working example of how we should pray.

But many (including those who claim to follow him as Christ and Creator of the Universe) argue that Jesus was just a product of his times, and like problematic films like Aliens and The Goonies, much of the New Testament requires a disclaimer stating that Jesus’ teaching contains: “outdated attitudes, languages and cultural depictions which may cause offence today.”

The Xenomorphs were culturally appropriated

Now, we could just cancel Jesus, doxx him on social media and force him to quit his job as Saviour of the world.

Or, we could just update Jesus’ prayer to something less offensive…


The Lord’s Prayer – Woke Edition

Our [god, free of all gendered imagery],

Hallowed be your name [not that you care about all that stuff].

Your [democratic socialist autonomous zone] come,

[Our collective] will be done,

On earth as it is in [whatever concept of the spiritual realm sits best with you].

Give us today our daily bread [with a gluten-free option and maybe an alternative for those that are cutting down their carbs. Also could we get some butter?].

And forgive us our [<no alternative found>]

As we forgive those who [offend] us [after destroying their career].

[Let us lead ourselves] away from temptation [unless it’s sexy or chocolatey or both].

And deliver us from [ignorance and low self-esteem, because no one and nothing is truly “evil” deep down, just misunderstood].


ADDITIONAL ENDING FOR WOKE ANGLICANS:

For Thine is the [democratic socialist autonomous zone]

The Power [to the People!]

And the Glory [of each one of us living out our own truth]

Now and for [the next few years until the zeitgeist changes once again].

Amen

[also Awomen and Athosewhodontidentifybyanygender]


If you want a slightly more serious reflection of what I think about The Lord’s Prayer, check out this article I wrote for The Gospel Coalition Australia: “Our Father Who Art in Parliament”.

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June 8 2020

Why Peter isn’t the “rock” the Church is built on

It is argued by the Catholic Church that the apostle Peter is the rock that the Church is built on. This is their primary defense for the entire Papal system and indeed the authority of the Roman Catholic Church.

This argument is built on it’s own rock – this one verse in Matthew’s gospel.

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

Matthew 16:18

What is the “rock” that Jesus tells Peter he will build his church on? The Catholic Church says it’s Peter and this is a position they have held for a very long time. For example, way back in 445AD, Pope Leo I justified his papal authority with these words:

“[Christ] wished [Peter] who had been received into partnership in his undivided unity to be named what he himself was, when he said: ‘You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church’, that the building of the eternal temple might rest on Peter’s solid rock”

Pope Leo I (Letters 10:1)

And in 451AD, the Council of Chalcedon describes Peter like this:

“…The thrice blessed and all-glorious Peter the apostle, who is the rock and foundation of the Catholic Church, and the foundation of the orthodox faith.”

Council of Chalcedon (Acts of the Council, session 3)

“Peter, your name means rock, but you’re not THE rock”

Now, as you can tell from the title of this article, I disagree with the Catholic Church on this one. I was recently asked by a Catholic friend to explain my reasoning as in his mind, the words of Jesus in Matthew 16:18 seems so clear.

He also insisted that as Peter was given the “keys to the kingdom” and the other disciples weren’t, this was another sign that he was being established by Jesus as the first Pope. I disagreed on this point too, stating that whatever these “keys” meant, I believe they were given to all the disciples.

I addressed this “keys” point first, so I’ll put this below and get on to my argument about why I don’t think Peter is the “rock” the church is built on.

The keys were given to all disciples

I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

Matthew 16:19

So the text (and indeed the rest of the bible) doesn’t give any other explanation of what it means to be given “the keys of the kingdom” other than “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

So if we accept that this is what it means to be given the keys of the kingdom, then we must accept that that was something given to all the disciples, not just Peter. Why? Because this privilege (or role or responsibility) to bind and loose is mentioned in other passages.

Just two chapters on, in Matt 18:18-20, Jesus is talking to all the disciples (as is made clear at the start of the chapter), and he says:

Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.

Matthew 18:18-20

In fact, by that last line, one might be fair to extrapolate that wherever two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name, this role of binding and loosing is present. But either way, it’s clear that these “keys” are not only given to Peter, but to all the disciples.

Another passage that uses very similar language to the binding and loosing concepts in Matthew, is in John 20:23, where Jesus says to the disciples:

If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.

John 20:23

As the context of Matthew 18:18-20 shows that Jesus is talking about sin and forgiveness, I think it’s fair to say that John 20:23 is talking about the same thing.

The confession that Jesus is the Christ is the rock the church is built on

Why Peter is not the rock, Jesus is

The issue for Catholics usually rests more on the fact that they have been taught that when Jesus says “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church”, he is saying that Christ’s church will be built on Peter.

This is an incorrect reading of this passage I believe and I encourage you to, for a moment, try to read it with fresh eyes. I think it’s pretty obvious that Jesus, the disciples and definitely Peter, did not think of Peter as the foundational rock that the church was built on. The whole passage of Matthew 16:13-20, reads like this:

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

Matthew 16:13-20

So what is the focus of the story? Who is Jesus. It starts with that question and it ends with that as well.

Peter is the key person who gets who Jesus is and he makes the grand confession of Jesus’ identity: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus honour Peter for this confession and says “You are Peter and on THIS rock, I will build my church”.

What is the “THIS” that is the foundation of the church that Jesus will build? Is it Peter? No. If it were Peter Jesus would have said, “on YOU I will build my church”.


[Side note: I acknowledge that I am not addressing what to some Catholics might feel like the elephant in the room. Namely, the argument that Peter’s name means “rock”. Technically, in the original Greek the word translated as “Peter” is Πέτρος (Petros) and “rock” is πέτρα (petra) and so it’s not identical, but definitely can be considered a bit of wordplay by Jesus. The fact is though, this is not where Peter is originally given his name by Jesus. That happens early on in Jesus ministry (see John 1:42). It may indeed have been given by Jesus in anticipation of this moment in Matthew 16, but it still does not suggest that Peter IS the rock that is being referred to. Just that his name sounds similar to the word “rock”.

So when Jesus says, “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church” it is like him saying, “You are Matthew and on this mat I will wipe my feet.” I know that’s a crude analogy, but hopefully you get my point. In the bible people can be given a name that points to something other than themselves. For example, John the baptist was also specifically given that name by an angel and his name means “Yahweh is Gracious”. It doesn’t imply that he himself is Yahweh, but rather that his life and ministry should declare the grace of Yahweh. Likewise, Peter’s life and ministry should declare the “rock” which is, as I argue below, not himself, but the confession of Jesus as the Messiah.]


The rock that Jesus is referring to is the confession that Peter spoke about who Jesus is. The fact that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the living God” is the foundational rock that the church is built on. Peter is NEVER in all Scripture referred to or thought of a the foundational rock of the church. You’d think that if that’s what Jesus meant and it was so important, that it would be repeated elsewhere.

But even in the other gospel where this story is repeated (see Mark 8:27-30 & Luke 9:18-20) the whole section about the rock is not even mentioned. This seems odd, if indeed this is the key verse that establishes the entire Papal structure of the church.

No, I think the foundational rock that Jesus’ church is built on is not Peter, it is Jesus himself and the confession that he is the Messiah. And although there is no other Scriptural support for Peter being the rock, there is LOTS of support for Jesus being the rock.

Multiple times, Jesus and the epistle writers quote Psalm 118:22 which says:

The stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.

Psalm 118:22

The cornerstone was the foundational rock that the building was built on. In other places like Romans 9:33, they talk about Jesus by quoting Isaiah 8:14 which says:

See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who believes in him will never be put to shame.

Isaiah 8:14

If you’re looking for what or who Scripture says is the foundation the Church is built on, it speaks of Christ, not Peter.

For example 1 Corinthians 3:9-11:

For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building. By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.

1 Cor 3:9-11

In fact, the whole chapter of 1 Corinthians 3 is worth a read, because Paul specifically refers to Peter (or Cephas) and describes him as not one that Christians should say they follow as they are just “mere human beings” (1 Cor 3:4, 21-22).

What did Peter think Jesus meant?

Peter’s own words

The most compelling argument to me though is from the words of Peter himself. His first epistle is full of this language of foundational rocks and cornerstones, and he is always talking about Jesus and not himself. I will leave you with Peter’s words.

I want you to consider, in Peter’s mind, when Jesus said, “On this rock I will build my church”, did Peter end up thinking Jesus was talking about Peter or Jesus?

As you come to him, the living Stone – rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him – you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”

Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and, “A stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.”

1 Peter 2:4-8

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March 13 2019

Good. News. About Jesus.

Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.

Acts 8:35

Most Christians know that they should be like Philip in Acts 8:35. We should share “the good news about Jesus” whenever we have the opportunity and we should try to make as many opportunities as we can. This, of course, is challenging. We often feel like we don’t know the best thing to say, or if we do, we can easily feel nervous or even fearful about how people may respond.

In my own journey of facing these challenges, there are the three key things I try to remember as I share the good news about Jesus:

It’s good. It’s news. And it’s about Jesus.


#1. It’s about Jesus

If you want to share the heart of Christianity, your focus has to be on the Christ at its centre. The gospel isn’t the good news about you. It’s not about how your life has improved since becoming a Christian. The gospel is about Jesus – about who he is and what he has done – and we must make sure we remember that focus.

As Paul the apostle wrote:

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

1 Corinthians 2:1-2

For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord…

2 Corinthians 4:5
Do you use the “J” word?

One way I challenge myself to remember this focus is with a funny little test I call “The Three Levels of Wussiness”. If I have a face to face conversation about spiritual matters, I reflect afterwards on which words I chose to use and which I chose to avoid.

Now, if I just talked about “Christianity”, or used phrases like “As a Christian” or “my faith”, I consider that a Level 3 of being a wuss. It’s not that I said anything particularly wrong. It’s just that there is little to no risk to me or to my listeners when you keep it that vague. There’s also little to no chance that the actual gospel was communicated.

If I have a bit more courage, I may get to Level 2, which means I talked about “God”. More personal, but still nice and broad as people can often inject their own definition as to what that word means.

Level 1 is where I actually use the “J” word and talk about Jesus specifically. For me, that is clear. That is courageous. That where I might actually be sharing the gospel. Because the gospel is specifically the good news about Jesus.

You may think I’m being harsh on myself, or maybe for you, just telling people that you’re a Christian is a big step. If it is, then don’t let my “Three Levels of Wussiness” test make you feel overwhelmed. God is glorified by (and can use) any small faithful word that we say in an effort to point people to the gospel.

My goal is not to guilt-trip you or myself. To be honest, I fail heaps of the time. It’s simply easier to answer a religious question with “Well, as a Christian…” rather than “Well, Jesus teaches that…” I do these reflections with a big awareness of my weakness and need for God’s grace and help. I simply want to challenge us to not wimp out by avoiding using the “J” word. As God gives you these opportunities to share the good news, pray for courage and remember – it’s about Jesus.

#2. It’s News

The second thing I want to remember is that the good news about Jesus may involve lots of things, but fundamentally… it’s news.

When Paul tells us to remember the gospel, look at how he summarises it:

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you… For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

1 Corinthians 15:1, 3-5

The gospel – the central message of Christianity – is not a philosophy for how to live. It’s not a list of moral rules or a system of religious practices. The gospel is not even a presentation of theological truths or a creed that people need to sign up to. Of course, the New Testament does contain all of those things, and they are good to discuss. They just aren’t the gospel.

The gospel literally means “good news”. It is a declaration of something that has happened in history – centred around the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. So, even if you’re using the “J” word but you’re not sharing the news about Jesus, then you probably aren’t sharing the gospel.

Why is that an important distinction to get right? Because it’s only the good news that is “the power of God for salvation” (Romans 1:16). It is coming to hear and believe this news that is the primary method God uses to save people. Ethical philosophy, social commentary and systematic theology are great topics of conversation, but more than anything else, people need to hear the simple news about who Jesus is and what he has done.

This also implies something else important – you can’t just use your good works to share the gospel.

I’m sure you have heard the popular saying:

Preach the Gospel at all times.

When necessary, use words.

This quote is wrongly attributed to St. Francis of Assisi (there’s actually no evidence he ever said this), but whoever said it, the way these words are often used is to argue that you don’t really have to use words to spread the gospel to the world. You just live it out.

Although, the New Testament does commend living “in step with the truth of the gospel” (Galatians 2:14), it never suggests that sharing the gospel could ever be done silently. If the gospel is actual news that people need to be informed about and respond to, then actions alone will never suffice. Like any sort of news, both the spoken and written word will need to be the primary way that it will be communicated.

Now, I say “primary” because I do think there is a place for visual mediums such as illustration, painting, theatre and cinema. I have used lots of these creative tools over my life and know that can be very effective at communicating the gospel. But no matter what tool you use, if your goal is to share the good news, then you must remember that it is news.

Like an approaching bushfire, the gospel is important news that needs to be responded to.

Consider this illustration: A bushfire is sweeping across the countryside, approaching a nearby town. That is the news and all in the town need to hear it and respond to it. Now, you could communicate this news through phone calls, text message, sirens and visual alerts popping up on people’s phones. There are many ways that you can tell people the news that a bushfire is coming.

It’s also true that if you believe this news, then you will act in such a way that demonstrates that – hosing down your house or packing your bags and evacuating the area. In fact, if you weren’t acting like that, then even if you did tell people about the bushfire, why would anyone believe it was true. So our actions definitely do back up our words, but they can not replace them.

Like an approaching bushfire, the gospel is important news that needs to be responded to. We must live lives that show that we believe the gospel, but we must not rely on just our lives to communicate it. As the first part of that saying says, “Preach the Gospel at all times”. Just remember that words will almost always be necessary.

#3. It’s Good

Sharing the gospel is not easy. The news about Jesus is challenging and for some, offensive. There is also an increasing movement in the West to simply write off the gospels as fairy tales with no historical value that requires a response. If that wasn’t discouraging enough, the bible tells us that the human heart is naturally blind to the light of the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:4) and that no one is able to respond to the gospel unless God enables them (John 6:65).

Turning hearts to respond in faith to the news about Jesus is literally an impossible task – conversion is God’s work, not ours. In that context, it almost seems futile to share the gospel. If the expectation is that, unless God acts, the message (and maybe the messenger) will be ignored, rejected, mocked and opposed, why would anyone share it? Why put yourself through that?

I used to answer that question with “Because it is true.” But I am more and more convinced that even believing in the truth of the gospel will not actually get us sharing it. More than knowing that the news about Jesus is true, we need to know deep in our soul that the news is good.

So, the third thing I need to remember in order to share the “good news” is that it is indeed good news! The gospel is the hope for the world, the light in the darkness, the solution to the problem of the human condition. It is epic enough to fix the brokenness of the entire universe and intimate enough to reconcile an individual soul to their Creator.

God the Son truly did come to earth 2,000 years ago. He truly walked the dusty roads of Jerusalem, performed miracles, taught the truth about God’s kingdom and loved people as we never could. He truly did take our sins and die in our place on the cross and on Easter morning he truly was raised from the dead and now rules the Universe! And all people, no matter who they are or what they have done are called to abandon their sin, turn to Jesus and take this free gift of forgiveness, reconciliation and eternal life. This is the good news and it is truly good!

But do we really believe that? Do we honestly believe that your friends and family will be better off if they embrace the gospel? If we do believe it is good news, then why aren’t we sharing it?

When someone has discovered a new crazy diet that has changed their life, or has started watching a show on Netflix that is blowing them away, or has just won TattsLotto, or is going to get married and everyone’s invited, they have no problem telling people about it. It is natural to share good news, especially when others can join in on it too.

But is that how you think about the news about Jesus? Or do you think about it as simply a weird set of beliefs that we Christians ascribe to, but you wouldn’t want to burden anyone else with? If that’s the case, then you will never share Jesus with anyone, or if you do, it will only be out of some begrudging sense of duty.

If you want to joyfully and naturally introduce people to Jesus, you have to be convinced, as Paul was, of “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8).

Consider these poetic words of King David:

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.

Psalm 63:1-3

His lips can’t help but speak about God because he knows that God’s steadfast love is better than life. We need to remember that too. We are such distracted and forgetful creatures. We need to daily remind ourselves and each other of the goodness of the good news.

In this “dry and weary land”, we need to spend time in God’s Word, drinking deep from the gospel and letting it overflow onto our lips in words of praise and gospel sharing. Then we will join with King David as he calls to people in another great psalm:

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!
Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!

Psalm 34:8

I hope this article challenges and encourages you. I hope for some it convicts and humbles you. But really, this article is for me. Even in the process of writing it, I have become more aware of the words I use and the opportunities I have to talk about Jesus.

Most importantly, I have become more aware of my need to continuously thirst for God and be reminded every day of the goodness of the good news. May we all spur each other on as we try to share the good news about Jesus with prayerful dependence and godly courage.

And as you do, remember these three things – the gospel is so good, it’s wonderful news and it’s all about Jesus.

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