February 12 2019

When Google Learned the Gospel

Back around March last year, I noticed that when I asked my Google Home about Jesus, it responded like an overly polite person at a party who had just been asked about some controversial issue of theology:

“Religion can be complicated and I’m still learning.”

Yeah, right Google! Don’t give us that fake humility. You’re just afraid to nail your colours to the mast!

Who Do You Say I Am?

Well, to give Google a break, there are many different views about Jesus amongst Google’s customers. Muslims believe Jesus is a prophet but not divine. Jews believe he is a teacher but not a prophet. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe he is the Archangel Michael and some skeptics even doubt Jesus existed at all!

Even back when Jesus walked the streets of the Middle East, there were lots of views about who he was. Jesus actually asked his disciples this very question:

“And on the way [Jesus] asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”
And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.”
And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.”” 
(Mark 8:27-29)

So at least the disciples understand who Jesus was and what he came to do… Well, not exactly. Peter did initially answer the question correctly, but in the very next few verses, it all goes downhill. Jesus tells his disciples that he has come to die on the cross and that same Peter pulls Jesus aside and rebukes him for getting his mission wrong (see Mark 8:30-33)!

Fortunately, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, his disciples finally came to more fully understand who he was and what he had come to do. This is seen in the clarity of the unanimous testimony about Jesus’ identity throughout the New Testament gospels and epistles. If you want to know who Jesus is, it is shouted from every page of the New Testament.

There are many passages I could point to, but one of the boldest (and my favourite) comes from Colossians 1:15-20…

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”

Google’s Still Learning

Despite this, I do understand Google’s tentativeness in giving a definitive answer to the question “Who is Jesus?” It is an important question and much of the population of the world disagree on the answer.

Also, to cut Google even more slack, last year they made it a policy to answer “Religion can be complicated and I’m still learning”, no matter which major religious figure you asked about.

They received a lot of criticism at the time from people who suspected Google of deliberately targeting Christianity and this was Google’s official attempt at explaining their reasoning:

A New Answer

Well, that was a year ago, and gone is the answer “Religion can be complicated and I’m still learning”.  Religion may still be complicated, but Google seems to have done some learning. Or at least, whatever algorithm they had set up to side-step the taboo topic of religion, they have now opened the doors to allow Wikipedia to answer your religious questions.

I discovered this recently when I asked my Google Home the questions “Who is Jesus?” and “Who was Jesus?”, and I was rather surprised by the way it answered…

To “Who is Jesus?” Google replied:

“The Gospel of Matthew emphasizes that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s will as revealed in the Old Testament, and he is the Lord of the Church. He is the “Son of David”, a “king”, and the Messiah.”

To “Who was Jesus?” Google replied:

“Jesus (c. 4 BC – c. AD 30 / 33), also referred to as Jesus of Nazareth and Jesus Christ, was a first-century Jewish preacher and religious leader. He is the central figure of Christianity and is widely described as the most influential person in history.”

Both pretty good answers if you ask me!

In fact, after a bit of experimenting, I found a few other questions that have great answers. If you’ve got Google Assistant, try these out:

  • What is God?
  • What is the gospel?
  • What is the only rule of faith and practice?
  • What is the chief end of man?

Now as fun as it is to ask Google questions, you don’t need to own the latest voice-activated technology to ask “Who is Jesus?”. The answer is not found in the robotic voice of Google, but in the living Word of God. My hope is that if you are curious about the identity of Jesus, you might pick up a bible and read one of the gospels or New Testament epistles for yourself. Two thousand years after he asked it, Jesus’ question to his disciples still echoes to each one of us: “But who do you say I am?”

Google was right last year when it said that religion can be complicated. The answer to the important question of Jesus’ identity is neither simple nor easy. But like Google seems to have done in the last year, there is indeed much to be learned.

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January 5 2019

A Goodie and a Baddie go to the Temple

To some who were too familiar with Bible stories, Jesus told this parable:

“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a tax collector and the other a Pharisee. The tax collector stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am a character in bible stories that is known for being a marginalised outcast who you’re supposed to sympathise with, not like the obvious villains in the story – the teachers of the law, the Jewish rulers, the rich, the powerful – or even like this Pharisee. I’m always the one that Jesus wants to eat with and the one that in the end, you are supposed to want to emulate.’

“But the Pharisee stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that the Pharisee, rather than the tax collector, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

(adapted from Luke 18:9-14)

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December 4 2018

A Bad Pro-Life Argument About “Life”

A Bad Pro-Life Argument About “Life”

I am passionate about being pro-life. But I am also passionate about pro-lifers (or anyone for that matter) using logically sound and robust arguments. I studied logic at University and I have always loved learning about this stuff and knowing when a seemingly strong argument is actually quite weak and full of holes. An argument like the one in the picture above, can sound compelling. It can even feel like a real “gotcha” line that clearly exposes the logical inconsistency of the other side, but as I hopefully will explain, I think it actually does the opposite.

Ok. First of all, let me acknowledge that I understand the sentiment and the argument that the sign is trying to make. Society is hypocritical in the way that it might value one form of life and not another, and if life was found on another planet it would be celebrated, but when life is found in the womb it can so easily be discarded.

But let me try to explain where this sign technically falls down.

(this is my own daughter’s heartbeat in the womb)

 

The sign asks the rhetorical question “Why would a bacteria be considered life on Mars and a heartbeat not be considered life on Earth?”. The suggestion is obviously, that some pro-choice people say that a fetus in the womb with a heartbeat is still not a “life” or not “alive”. This is very true and I have had this said to me before. But it is also true that when a pro-choicer is talking about whether a fetus is a “life”, they are not meaning in the same sense that a Martian bacteria might be called a “life”. 99 times out of 100, they are talking about a fetus not being a human person or being a life in the same sense that you or I am. They generally acknowledge that there is something alive in the womb, but they might say it is part of the mother’s body or that it’s just a “blob of tissue” or even that it is a “parasite” or a “tumor”.

In fact, despite what the sign suggests, many pro-choicers would happily say that that thing in the womb is just like bacteria. Like bacteria, they might say, it has no right to life and if you had bacteria living inside you and you didn’t want it, you would have every right to kill it.

Not Necessarily Hypocrisy

The key problem with the sign is that it suggests that pro-choicers are acknowledging that bacteria is alive but denying that a fetus is. Firstly, I don’t think that second statement is true generally, and if it is, it is usually because they are simply using the word “life” to mean different things. That’s not hypocrisy really. That’s just the complexity of the English language.

For example, would you say that a sperm cell is a “life”? Not usually I presume. That’s why, despite what we might think about the morality of masturbation, we don’t equate it with abortion. But, if a sperm cell was found on Mars, we probably would say that “life was found on Mars”, we might even say “human life was found on Mars” (if it was a human sperm cell).

The use of “life” is just different for different contexts, and we definitely don’t want to make the argument that every single thing that is “alive” should be considered a “life” in the same way that a fetus is. If we do that, we’ll be joining PETA to protest the “murder” of all animals, or we’ll be worried about every alive blade of grass that we step on.

The pro-life sign at the top of this article tries to point out the hypocrisy of the pro-choice side in how they use the word “life” and care for one living thing but not another, but it actually also exposes this same supposed hypocrisy on the pro-life side.

Josh Brahm from the US-based Equal Rights Institute (who is also my hero and mentor when it comes to discussing abortion) says that whenever the topic of “life” comes up in the abortion debate says that he always asks the following clarification question: “Do you mean biological life, or something more philosophical, like when a person with rights and value begins?”

He has a great article on this topic: CLICK HERE.

In it he concludes:
“The most important concept is that when somebody starts talking about ‘life’ in the abortion debate, don’t make another step before clarifying whether they’re talking about biological life or something more philosophical. Then you can respond to their argument without accidentally committing a straw man fallacy.”

That’s what this sign fails to do. It presumes that the two uses of the word “life” are talking about the same thing. Which in reality is almost never the case, for both pro-choicers and pro-lifers.

Brainstorming a Better Sign

Now, it’s easy to simply poke holes in a bad sign and a bad argument. But what would be a better sign that points out a legitimate area of pro-choice hypocrisy on the issue of “life”?

I’ve had a bit of a brainstorm and here’s a couple I came up with:

They’re not perfect, but I feel they maybe have less logical holes than the original.

Tell me what you think in the comments below, and maybe post your own suggestions!

 

 

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July 9 2018

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 2018

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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September 1 2017

“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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September 23 2016

FACTCHECK: Howard’s 2004 marriage definition

fact-check-howard

 

FACTCHECK – Did John Howard make marriage as only being for a man and a woman back in 2004?

“Now you’ve probably heard that this definition of marriage was inserted into the legislation by John Howard in 2004. And it’s true—Howard’s government did insert this definition into the Marriage Act. But the same definition of marriage dates all the way back to an English court case from 1866, which Australian courts have repeatedly endorsed, including the High Court, which endorsed that same definition in 1991. So this has been the explicit common-law definition of Marriage, basically since 1866.

But not only have our courts defined marriage in this way for almost one and a half centuries, this very same definition of marriage was already in the Marriage Act before the Howard government’s amendments. It just wasn’t in the official “definitions” section–it was hidden away in section 46.

So just to be absolutely clear, John Howard didn’t invent this definition–all he and his government did in 2004 was to take a long-standing common-law definition of marriage–a definition that already appeared in the Marriage Act–and place it into the definitions section of the same Act.

So it’s not a definition that John Howard came up with suddenly in 2004; the Australian courts had already formulated this definition well before that, and it was also already in the Marriage Act, but just in another part.”

– Tim Cannon

 

 

(1896)

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July 21 2016

Not an atheist? Feel free to mark “Other”

not an atheist

 

The “mark no religion” campaign is a targeted and determined movement run by a few atheist lobby groups with the goal of representing Australia to be more atheistic than it is.

It is very true that some people tick a particular religion on the census form for pretty shallow reasons, and dedicated adherents of those religions may think that their religion should be taken more seriously. But the census form is not asking you to express the level of dedication you hold towards your religion. The question on the form is simply: “What is the person’s religion?”

The Atheist Foundation of Australia is trying to instruct you as to how you should answer that question. But that is a question for you to answer without having to justify your answer or prove whether you meet their standards for identifying with a particular religion.

For example, on their website, they state: “The position of the Atheist Foundation of Australia is that no one should consider themselves Christian if they do not accept the basic tenets of the Nicene Creed – or at the very least, they should reflect upon whether there are good enough reasons as to why they consider themselves Christian.” As good as the Nicene Creed is as a basic foundation of Christian beliefs, is should not be treated as a qualification test for whether or not one chooses to be a Christ follower. Many youth or new Christians may still be getting their head around some of the ideas contained in the Nicene Creed and yet are still Christians. Why would you let the position of an atheist organisation instruct you as to what you should or should not consider yourself?

Not only this, but they also tell you how your children should identify themselves as well! Their website says that all young or adolescent children should be categorised as “no religion” suggesting “Richard Dawkins and other prominent authors have pointed out that no one should consider children Muslims, Hindus, or Christians.” It is clear that they are really pushing that particular agenda.

Their main tagline is “Not religious anymore? Mark ‘no religion’ on the 2016 census”. But just because you do not consider yourself “religious anymore” does not mean that you do not have any form of spirituality or beliefs about spiritual matters. It is a false dichotomy to tell people that if they do not identify as being “religious” then they must identify with having “no religion”. They are deliberately discouraging people from the fact that they are very free to describe their spirituality in the section marked as “other”. In fact, after determined lobbying, they have been able to get “no religion” as the top pick on the list, giving a false impression of its importance in the hope that people will tick that and not bother considering the “other” category at the bottom of the list.

Now, I am not informing you of this because I want you to tick any particular box. Quite the opposite. I want you to feel free to tick whatever box you like. If you want identify as a Christian or a Buddhist or a Hindu, tick that box. If you identify as having “no religion” then tick that box. If you identify as something else, then tick the “other” box and tell the Government what that is so that you can be better represented.

It is the “mark no religion” campaign that is trying to persuade people to tick one box over another. A census is about your information, not their political agenda. Don’t be fooled or pressured by the Atheist Foundation of Australia to tick your census form for their ends.

Please share and pass this on!

(1958)

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June 26 2016

“What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?” – Book Review

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I recently finished listening to the audiobook of Kevin DeYoung’s book, “What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?”.

I found it to be a compelling and clear defence for the bible’s teaching on the issue of homosexual practise, in light of the revisionist arguments that have gone around in the last decade or so.

DeYoung systematically goes through the commonly used and critiqued passages with sufficient depth and biblical knowledge, never descending into philosophical or emotional arguments. He also covers some of the common questions and objections that people raise and I feel he answers them with not only biblical faithfulness but also some pastoral sensitivity.

There are a couple of things worth noting about the book:

Firstly, despite the title suggesting that the book will cover “homosexuality” as a phenomenon or an experience, the book is completely focused on one issue – homosexual activity. Fortunately, DeYoung is very upfront about this in his introduction, but I wish he had made that more clear in the book’s title. He does cover the experience of same sex attraction in an appendix, but the guts of the book is about whether or not the bible teaches that same sex sexual behaviour is sexual immorality. The reason why he has this focus is because that is the bible’s focus on this topic. The bible doesn’t really tackle the idea of sexual orientation or same sex attraction. The bible doesn’t explicitly talk about how this originates and whether or not it can be changed. DeYong’s goal is to defend the bible and so, he puts his energy into being very focused on that goal. The good side of this is that he argues his case very robustly and covers each passage with the attention they deserve.

Secondly, this book will mean very little to someone who doesn’t care about the authority of bible. Although he acknowledges that many types of people might be reading the book, he starts with the premise that the bible is God’s Word and should be followed. He doesn’t argue for the bible’s authority. The purpose of the book is to defend what the bible actually teaches on this topic. Whether you actually believe the bible is true, is secondary to DeYoung’s purpose.

The reason why this is such an important book is because of people like Matthew Vines, the young “Christian” man who has been going around in the last few years arguing that the church has just been reading the bible all wrong and in actual fact, it doesn’t condemn same sex sexual behaviour at all. Vines seems to agree with the idea that the bible is the authoritative Word of God, but he just suggests that it is our interpretation that we have been getting wrong. DeYoung’s book is a powerful rebuttal to the weakness of Vine’s arguments.

The perfect audience of DeYoung’s book would be a Christian, who wants to understand God’s Word, but has been rattled by some of the arguments they have heard being passed around the internet. If that’s you or you’re just a Christian who wants to be greater equipped to answer people’s objections, then I can highly recommend this book.

It is fairly short, pretty cheap (around $15) and an important resource in these times when “people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Timothy 4:3).

If you are interested in buying the audiobook, you can get it HERE.

Or check out your local Christian Bookstore.

If you’re more into videos, here is Kevin DeYoung going through the material. It’s not as detailed as the book, but it’s at least an overview:

 

 

(1316)

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February 4 2016

#LETTHEMSTAY – a poem

letthemstay


#LETTHEMSTAY

~

Through dark and watery passage they arrive

With empty hands, for all that they possess

Is the desperate desire to survive

And the beating heart within their chest.

~

They have not come because they had a choice.

Where else on earth are they supposed to flee?

They have no power, no freedom, no voice.

They come to us like an innocent refugee.

~

But will they find upon their journey’s end

A welcome home? A door open or closed?

Will they meet an enemy or a friend

When our shared humanity is then exposed?

~

Sure, this is our home, and this is our life,

And they have arrived uninvited,

But how can we turn our backs to their strife?

We can’t close our eyes once they are sighted.

~

Will we insist on our right to turn them away,

Condemning them unto a watery tomb?

Or will we hashtag “let them stay”

For those tiny refugees in the womb?

~

(1407)

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