July 9

Our Father who art in Parliament

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

How God got into Parliament

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giving God Lip Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pray then like this

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Father and Theirs

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

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

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

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

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June 20

The Gospel According to Chris Pratt’s 9 Rules

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

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

Watch his “9 Rules” here:

Here are Chris Pratt’s 9 rules:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Silly and the Serious

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

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

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

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

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

Grace that’s free but not cheap

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

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

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

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

“Nobody is perfect”

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

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

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

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

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September 1

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

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

It is reproduced here with his permission.

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


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

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

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

 

  1. I will vote.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

‘Equal Love’.

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

 

‘Born that way’.

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

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

 

‘A Human right to marry whoever you love’.

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

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

—–

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

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

 

 

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September 23

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

 

 

(1879)

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July 21

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!

(1942)

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June 26

“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:

 

 

(1282)

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February 4

#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?

~

(1383)

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March 5

A “blogette” on Re-defining Marriage

I really want to write more on the topic of same-sex marriage. I have been formulating many thoughts on the issue and keep thinking a blog post would be way too long! I posted this comment on my facebook wall today. It seemed almost long enough to post as a short blog. Maybe it’s more of a “blogette”. Anyway, it starts the ball rolling and hopefully before the year is out I’ll write something more substantial.

Funny-definitions-marriage

The issue of same-sex marriage is really about definition. It’s not about equality or prejudice or homophobia or human rights. It’s about how you define and understand marriage.

I would say, many people define and understand “marriage” as simply a public declaration of love. With that definition, I totally understand why it seems silly or cruel to not allow ANY two people who love each other to do it. Though, if that’s all marriage is, I am curious as to why polyamorous love, or love between siblings, or love between an adult and a minor, or even love between species is looked on with such distaste and prejudice. Love is love, isn’t it? Isn’t it up to the individual to define it, if that’s all that marriage is about.

The reason why Christians who believe in the Bible find it very difficult to condone or support gay marriage is simply because we have a different definition of what marriage is about. For us, marriage is a covenant. A spiritually significant, re-defining bond that God created, honours and holds us to, even if we are not Christians. It is a big deal for God, reflecting in the spiritual and sexual union of a husband and a wife the union of the Godhead itself and the unique relationship between Christ and the Church. It is a sacred, serious, joyous and powerful covenant that is supposed to create the safe environment for new life to occur and be nurtured in. It’s not simply about love, as if “love is all you need” and then when you fall out of love you just divorce. Marriage is meant to be life-long. It is the place where the “two become one”, spiritually, relationally and sexually, until “death do us part”. This is found in the teachings of Jesus, and throughout the Old and the New Testaments.

If this is true, then if I am asked whether or not I think the definition of marriage should be changed to fit one that I believe is against God’s definition, how could I? As a Christian, I am not a free agent. I am a follower of Jesus and therefore and subject to his Word. I can understand, from a different worldview, why you would want me to change my definition, and I will not try to stop you from arguing your case and fighting for the change you want, but I can not join you.

In Australia, we most likely will one day have a legal reality in which same-sex couples express their love for each other with a term called “marriage”. It will not be a big deal if that comes to pass in my opinion. In the minds of most people, the definition of marriage has long since been about something different to God’s original intention.

But for a Christian (at least one who submits to Christ’s lordship and the authority of Scripture), marriage is and will always be something created by God, designed by God and consequently defined by God.

(2204)

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January 5

Should we pray for a car park?

 

Consider these scenarios  You’re driving around a busy shopping centre car park on the weekend before Christmas and there is not an empty spot to be found. Or maybe you’re late for an important meeting and you don’t want to have to park miles away. “Come on! Please!!” you mutter with frustration as you search for that elusive space. But then you realise there is a much more spiritual solution. You recall your Creator and turn to him in prayer. “Dear God. Please find me a park!”

If you’re a Christian (or even if you’re not) you’ve probably been in this situation. Praying for a car park is a perfect example of seeking a spiritual solution for a pretty petty “first-world” problem. But is it really a wrong thing to do? Is it ethical? Is it an inappropriate use of prayer? Is it theologically correct? Is it spiritually edifying? Now even spending time thinking about such questions may seem to some people the bigger waste of brain activity, but I think that it raises some interesting issues and it has been the subject of some fun debate among some godly friends of mine, so I thought I’d throw in my thoughts on the topic.

What is Prayer?

Well, I could write a whole blog on this very important question, but I thought I’d explain just briefly that from a biblical perspective, prayer is not something magical. It does not have a power in and of itself. It is not a method of manipulating God or moving or evoking spiritual power for your own ends. It is not a form of New Age positive thinking based on the “law of attraction” where your thoughts tell the Universe what you want (as popularised by such books as “The Secret”).

Prayer is pure and simply, talking to God. It doesn’t need to be long and wordy. It doesn’t need to be in a specific form of words, or in a specific spiritual space, or prayed in a specific body position (hands together, eyes closed, on your knees, etc) It is simply talking to God. It can be a request, or a confession, a word of praise or thankfulness, a declaration of truth, or it can simply be a pouring out of the heart and a sharing of the soul. Jesus himself prayed often to God the Father and, although most of the time he prayed privately (Luke 5:16), we do have a record of some of his prayers (see for example John 17). He also taught us principles about prayer and gave us what is commonly known as “The Lord’s Prayer” as an example of a prayer that uses those principles. He taught us, “when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matthew 6:7-8) So Jesus grapples with (or at least, doesn’t ignore) that question about, “if God knows everything, what’s the point of prayer?” Clearly, for Jesus, God does know everything and yet he still encourages us to pray.

One of the key reasons for this I think is that prayer is an exercise and and expression of what we believe about God. It is a display of our faith. It shows us (and others, if we pray with others present) who we are and who God is. Now, that may seem like a bit of an anti-climactic purpose for prayer, but remember, as people created in the image of God, that is what we are primarily created for – to know, enjoy and display to truth about God. Prayer, along with love of our neighbour, have got to be the two most potent ways in which we bear the image of God and express the truth about him in our life.

Now, if that was all a bit wordy for you, what I’m basically saying is… prayer reveals what we believe about God. The content, frequency and motivation of our prayer says many things. As Jesus points out in that passage above, those that “babble” when they prayer, show that “they think they will be heard because of their many words” and that they don’t really trust that God “knows what you need before you ask him”. Our view of God will inevitably effect how we pray and what we pray for, and so in the reverse, our prayers can be a great indicator of what we truly think about God.

Now, to get back to the topic, if that is true, what does it say for us to pray for a car park? What might it reveal about how we view or treat God?

1. Treating God like your Valet (serving your every convenience)

If you pray for a car park it may reveal that you treat God like your personal valet in the sky. Your prayers are mostly about making sure you don’t have to walk further than you would like, and doesn’t really take in to account the fact that God has the right to answer your prayers with a big fat “No”. Your expectation, is that because God loves you and he is kind and generous, then of course he would want to make sure you got the most convenient spot in the whole parking lot. In your mind,God is your heavenly servant and you expect nothing but health, wealth, blessing, prosperity and that perfect sweet car spot.

If that sounds a bit like you, I’d encourage you to remember that the Jesus that we worship called us to die to ourselves, take up our cross and follow him. And what are we following him into? Well, look at his life. Hardly, an example of a “convenient” life. He was rejected, mocked, tortured and murdered, and he did it all for the good of others. His way is not a path of perfect car spots and “your best life now”. He received persecution and hardship and he promised that anyone who would follow him with integrity would receive the same (See John 15:18-20Matthew 24:9, 2 Timothy 3:12 & 2 Corinthians 4:7-18).

Be wary of forgetting who is the Creator and who is the created. God may have other plans that are slightly more important than saving you a few seconds walking time. In fact, one of those plans might be making you park further away so that you have to walk and get a bit more exercise! In God’s economy, character and Christ-likeness is much more of a priority than convenience. The harder, longer, more complex, more challenging, more painful, less “fulfilling” path may just be the path that God wants to take you on for his glory and your ultimate good. Are you willing to take it? Are you willing to even pray for it?

2. Treating God like your Superhero (solving your every problem)

Maybe you don’t pray all the time expecting God to give you every little convenience. Maybe, you rarely pray to God at all. Only on special occassions. When you’re reeeally in trouble. Like just before a big exam that you haven’t studied for, or when your looking at an increasingly cloudy sky and you’ve organised a BBQ at the park, or when you really, really need to find a car park because your late for your best mate’s wedding. Praying to God in these situations, and these situations alone, is like treating God like your personal Superhero. You ignore him pretty much all of the time, but when things are tough, or you’re in danger, or you really need some divine intervention, you send up the SOS prayer, and like the Bat signal shining up in the clouds, you expect God to swoop down and save the day.

Now, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with praying to God in times of distress or trouble. Jesus modelled this in praying to his Father in the garden of Gethsemene before he faced his arrest and crucifixion. Also, it is true that God is able to save us and has more power than the greatest of Superheroes. The problem is that, when we only pray to God in these situations we are still ultimately treating him like a servant. We chose when we want to engage with him, we relate to him on our terms, and when we are done using his very important services, like a plumber who has fixed the leak in the bathroom, we thank him and show him the door.

The idea that God wants your whole life, seems way too extreme. But that’s what Jesus says. When asked what the single most important thing God wants us to do, Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment” (Matthew 22:36-38). Not simply call him to solve all your problems, but love him with all your life. As Kyle idleman, author of the challenging book, “Not a Fan” says, “In the Gospels, Jesus never seemed too interested in fans. Is that how you define your relationship with Him? An ‘enthusiastic admirer’? Close enough to Jesus to get the benefits but not so close to require sacrifice? He was looking for followers. Not just any follower though, but a completely committed follower.”

If you find that you treat God like a Superhero or a plumber – not just in praying for a car park, but in the rest of your life as well – I’d encourage you to get a bigger and deeper picture of God. I completely treated God like this for the first 16 years of my life, partly due to my own pride and apathy, but also partly because I never knew that I could enjoy an intimate, personal, real relationship with my creator. Like Batman, he was more “symbolic” than real. It was only after I discovered that Jesus came to make that real relationship possible, that I gave my whole life to him and turned from being simply a fan, to a follower. So, next time you cry out to the heavens for help – whether it be when you can’t find a car park or your house keys or the meaning to life – use that moment to think about how you’re treating your Creator.

3. Treating God like your Puppet Master (directing your every decision)

You may not treat God like your servant or your Superhero, only calling on him when you really, really need him. You may go in the total other direction and treat God like your Puppet Master. What I mean by this, is that because we know God loves us and knows all things, we can sometimes expect God to guide and direct every single aspect of our lives. You may have a really solid conviction about God’s sovereignty – that God is not limited in his power and ability and so he is ultimately responsible for every action. That is what the Bible teaches. God rules everything. He is sovereign. And so, it may seem perfectly natural for you to ask God to open up a car park for you. He can make drivers move where he wants. If he wanted to, he could even make cars disappear to give you that perfect car spot! He’s God! Why not ask? And on top of that, God wants us to bring everything to him in prayer. As I explained above, Jesus said to love God with EVERYTHING! That means he wants us to surrender ever part of our life to his purposes and his plan. So if all that’s true, doesn’t that also mean God wants us to ask him where we should park our car? Doesn’t God know the very best place for us to park, and if he knows, why would a loving God keep us from such information??

Well, the danger of such a conclusion is that it’s based on really good premises of God’s love and care and sovereignty. The problem is that it develops in Christians an unhealthy immaturity and dependancy on God’s direct and daily guidance. Now, I’m not saying God can’t or doesn’t guide Christians through the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:26-29 is a great example of God doing this), but there is no instruction in Scripture to ask God about every little detail of your life. The Bible has much more to say about developing godly wisdom and making intelligent responsible decisions, whilst holding on to your plans lightly, knowing that God may have other ideas. For example:

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2-3, emphasis mine)

“Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7)

“You ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.'” (James 4:15)

Someone who gets this unhealthily wrong is John Eldredge, in his book “Walking with God”. Now, I have actually met John and enjoyed some aspects of his most famous book “Wild at Heart”, but in “Walking with God”, he suggests that Christians should be asking God for guidance about every aspect of our life. Things like, “Should I go to the ranch this weekend?” (pg. 30-32), “What passage should I read in my Bible today?” (pg. 44), “Which chapter in the gospel of John should I read?” (pg. 44), and, “Should I ride the horse today?” (pg. 80).

On that last example, he tells of the story of how he had asked God whether or not he should ride and felt God say “yes”, but along one path his horse got spooked by a pile of wood and bolted, ending in an accident which breaks his nose, one wrist and dislocates the other wrist requiring surgery. His conclusion to this tragedy is not that he heard God wrong, but that after getting a “yes” to going for a horse ride, he should have asked God exactly where he should ride. “That’s a really important part of listening to God, by the way. Ask the next question. So often we get an answer to the first part of a question but fail to ask the second half. . . Don’t just get a first impression and then blast ahead. It might have been good for us to ask, ‘Where should we ride?'” (pg. 81) (For a more in depth critique of “Walking with God”, click here)

This sort of relating does not inspire childlike humility and intimacy with God. Rather, in the end, it simply inspires immature dependancy and fear of maybe missing out on “God’s perfect plan for your life”. I used to be a lot more worried about that. I used to be afraid of stepping outside of God’s will and so missing out on what God might want for my life. I used to think God has a very specific plan for my life that I had to seek out and try to discern.

Then one day, Richard, a godly friend of mine, encouraged me by saying, “Simon! Don’t worry so much! God is your heavenly Father. You’re his child! He loves you no matter which decision you make. Even if he does have a plan and you make a wrong choice, he will use your mistakes. Just try to make the best choice you can and let God look after the rest.” It was sound and comforting advice.

The more I read the Bible, the more I see that God does not have a specific plan for every moment of our lives. He has a broad fence that he wants us to keep within, but within those guidelines he gives us a lot of freedom as to where we will live, who we will marry, what job we should do, what course we should study and even, what car spot we should park in! The question we should be asking isn’t “What is God’s plan for my life?” but, “What is God’s plan. And how can I use my life to be a part of it.” God does have a plan for this world – it’s to build his kingdom, bringing more people into it and growing those people to be more like Christ. Get that plan in your sights and then you may not stress about getting guidance from God about which car spot you should park in!

4. Treating God like your Heavenly Father (providing your every need)

Now, up until now, I may seem to be fairly down on the idea of praying for a car park. Well, I wanted to offer one more possibility of how praying for a car park may actually reflect that you have a godly and healthy relationship with God. It doesn’t need to reveal that you treat God like a Valet, or a Superhero, or a Puppet Master. It may show that you simply treat God as your Heavenly Father.

Some people think that we shouldn’t pray to God about small mundane things like a car park because God must have bigger things on his mind. This is the picture of the distant Father God who is reading the paper and couldn’t possibly have any time to spare or interest in your petty little problems. But that is not the picture the Bible gives.

Although as I pointed out earlier, God has big plans for the Universe, he is also intimately concerned about his children. Consider these wonderful passages:

“O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord…  For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:1-4, 13-16)

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6-7)

“Do not be anxious about anything,but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

“Jesus said to them, ‘When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.’ Then he said to them, ‘Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.” Then the one inside answers, “Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.” I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs. So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!'” (Luke 11:2-13)

man-with-sonThis last passage especially shows us that if you’re a Christian, then you can call God “Father” and he loves you and is concerned for you like a good father should be. Sure, like any father, he doesn’t want us to abuse the relationship we have with him or take him for granted, but when we are anxious or have a problem, he cares for us and so wants to hear our prayers. He may not take away the circumstances that are giving us anxiety, but as the passage from Philippians says, he will give us peace that will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Also, in the Luke passage, Jesus gives an example of a prayer in which he encourages us to ask God for “our daily bread”. Clearly God is not simply concerned about the big issues in the world with no time for our simple, daily needs.

God loves followers of Jesus as a father loves his children. He cares about what is causing them grief, even when it is petty or small on a cosmic scale. Think about when a child breaks their favourite toy. Does a kind father just say, “Get over it! Don’t you know there’s a war in Chechnya going on??” No, they care for them – maybe helping them see that it’s not the biggest problem in the world, but mainly comforting them and showing that daddy cares. Now, if the child is 45 and chucks a tantrum over breaking a toy, then maybe the father of that person tells them to “build a bridge”, but that’s because we rightly expect more from people as they supposedly grow in wisdom and maturity.

I think God also expects us to not be anxious about petty things and care more about important things as we grow in faith and maturity, but that’s another sign of God’s fatherly care for us – he disciplines us.  As Hebrews 12:7-11 says:

“Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

So feel free to pray for a car park if you are stressed and want to go to God with your problems. Know that he cares for you and that he has the ability to provide every need that you may have. But also know, he is in the best position to really know what your needs are.

car park

Maybe you need a perfect car spot. More likely, maybe you don’t.

Maybe some elderly man needs it more than you. Or a single mum with three screaming kids.

Maybe, like me, what you really need is to park further away so that you can walk a little bit and get some exercise so you don’t die of a heart attack before you’re 50!

Maybe, God just wants you to use your wisdom and God-given intelligence, to get the best park you can with the circumstances you have and not grumble about how terrible your lot in life is.

So, next time you are driving around madly trying to find a park and you begin to pray, “God, please find me a…” you might remember this blog and pause, wondering how you are treating God.

Maybe that contemplation itself might be the best gift a good Father can give you.

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October 3

Made in the Image of God – Part 1

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Shakespeare wrote the great line, “This above all: to thine own self be true.” But what is our true self? Who are we? What does it mean to be human?

Well, the Bible’s answer to that question is “you are made in the image of God”. The key distinction between humanity and the rest of the animal kingdom (and the plant kingdom for that matter) is that, unlike everything else God created human beings in his image. This defining truth of our identity is found right at the beginning of the Bible in the very first chapter. God has made the entire universe and has filled its emptiness with stars and planets and on earth he fills it will plants and animals, and then on the 6th day of the Creation week, the story goes like this…

“Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’ Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.” (Genesis 1:26-31)

Now, if we left it there at “you are made in God’s image”, it could leave you feeling warm and fuzzy, but it might not point you in the direction God wants you to go with this sense of identity. The idea the we are made in the image of God has been used for good and evil, for oppression and for humanitarianism, for encouraging humility and for fostering arrogance. So we should look at what God says throughout Scripture about the implications of us being made in his image. What does it say about us, about God and about how we should relate to other people?

Well, there is actually heaps you could say on this topic, but for the sake of time and simplicity, I will explore 6 points over two blogs. This blog (part 1) will cover three things that it DOESN’T mean to be made in God’s image, and then part 2 will cover three things I think it DOES mean.

You may think I shouldn’t start negatively, but I think it is just as important to understand what a biblical concept doesn’t mean as it is to understand what it does. If we are to allow this amazing idea to shape our view of every human on the planet, then we must avoid the temptation to define it however we choose. I’d even say, to have a false idea of what it means to be made in God’s image is probably more dangerous than to not believe it at all. So that’s where we’ll begin…

WHAT IT DOESN’T MEAN

1. Being made in God’s image doesn’t mean you look like God and it doesn’t mean God looks like you.

I thought this one was obvious, but a friend pointed out to me that he knew of many people (most of them from Texas he informs me) that believe this exact thing, and it is true that Mormons teach that “[God] the Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s” (Doctrine & Covenants: Section 130:22). This is not the Bible’s teaching at all.

The picture on the right is from an atheist website that is trying to mock Christianity for exactly this reason. But the picture has got one thing right – God is invisible. This is clearly taught in Colossians 1:15, 1 Timothy 1:17 & Hebrews 11:27. The Bible also says this another way, by describing God as “Spirit”. This is most clearly taught by Jesus in John 4:24 and Jesus defines what it means to be a spirit as “not having flesh and bones” in Luke 24:39. Isaiah 31:3 makes the same point as well.

Basically the idea is that God is not restricted to a finite physical form. This allows God to be omnipresent and able to manifest his presence in any place he chooses in any way he chooses (burning bush, pillar of fire, Angel of the Lord, presence in the Holy of Holies in the Temple, etc.). God is often described with use of human-like actions like in Luke 1:51, “He has performed mighty deeds with his arm.” but this is clearly metaphorical or analogous, like in Psalm 91:4 that says, “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge.” Now we don’t think God looks like a chicken because of descriptive language like this.

So, if God is an invisible, eternal Spirit, with no fleshly physical body, then being made in his image can not mean that we physically look like God and it definitely doesn’t mean that God looks like us. This is wonderful news because it means that no one human looks more like God than another. In Mormonism, because they believe God looks like a man with a physical male body, then women can never really be “made in God’s image”, or at least men are a closer image to God than women. This is not true in Judeo-Christianity. The Bible’s message is ALL people, no matter what you look like, no matter whether you are old or young, fat or skinny, male or female, able-bodied or severely disabled – you are made in God’s image.

2. Being made in God’s image does not mean you are equal to God.

The fact that we are made in the image of God should not give us a sense of superiority or arrogance over the rest of creation. It does not mean we are demi-gods or divine beings that deserve glory and honour and the submission of all animals and plants. In fact, it should inspire in us exactly the opposite feeling. Think about it. What’s the point of an “image”? The image of the Queen on an Australian coin, or the photographic image of your grandma in that photo frame on your wall. Or even the image of yourself in the mirror. The purpose of an “image” is to point to something other than itself. As John Piper says in his sermon entitled ‘Why Did God Create the World?’:

“The point of an image is to image. Images are erected to display the original. Point to the original. Glorify the original. God made humans in his image so that the world would be filled with reflectors of God. Images of God. Six billion statues of God. So that nobody would miss the point of creation. Nobody (unless they were stone blind) could miss the point of humanity, namely… God. Knowing, loving, showing God.”

Being made in the image of God does not make you a God. It does not make you equal to God. It should never inspire arrogance or a sense of privilege or superiority. It should never justify selfishness or self-glorification. It should never be used, as it sadly has been, as an excuse to kill animals however we want, destroy the environment however we want and use the world’s resources however we want. By it’s very definition, to be made in GOD’s image actually tells us that life is not about us. It’s about God. It puts us under God and shows that we are made for God’s glory, not for our own.

In fact, the very first people who were created in the image of God, Adam and Eve, got it wrong in exactly this way. The temptation of eating the forbidden fruit, was the temptation to disregard God’s authority over them and claim independence from God to choose right and wrong for themselves. This is what the “Tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil” was all about. As the serpent falsely promises them in Genesis 3:5, “when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” The great temptation in the Garden of Eden wasn’t to just do something naughty, it was to become like God. They were not satisfied in being made in God’s image, they wanted to be the original. They wanted to be God.

This is the great heart of all sin and the great problem with all humanity. It is especially tragic when the very concept of being made “in God’s image” is so grossly misused to perpetuate the arrogant idea that we are equal to God – when in fact, it means exactly the opposite.

3. Being made in God’s image does not mean you are a child of God.

Now this point might be the hardest one to accept. I’m sure you can see how the first two false ideas of being made “in God’s image” might be used to oppress or harm, but what could be wrong with saying that everyone is a child of God? Doesn’t that also express the unity of all mankind and the intimate relationship we all have with our Creator? Well that sounds all nice, but the issue is that it’s simply not what the Bible teaches. The Bible does teach that every person, no matter what gender, age, race or religion is created in the image of God, and this is a wonderful, awe-inspiring thing (as I will explain in part 2 of this blog series), but the Bible does not teach that every one is a child of God.

The song, “God Help the Outcasts” that the character Esmerelda sings in the Disney cartoon, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” includes the final line, “I thought we all were the children of God”. Well, a lot of people think this. The idea that everyone is one of God’s children has just become part of our modern quasi-spiritual vocabulary and is seen as pretty much the same thing as the idea that everyone is made in God’s image, but the two are very distinct concepts and it is actually vitally important to see the difference.

As mentioned in the previous point, sin is a problem in our lives. Although God is our Creator, we want to be more than simply his image – we want to be God, choosing our own good and bad and wearing the crown in our life rather than letting God rule as he deserves to. This rejection of God, whether it be conscious or not, creates a fracture between us and God. We go from being friends to strangers – or even enemies. This is symbolised in the Adam & Eve story by them having to leave the Garden of Eden. No longer could they commune with God. God became distant and humanity experienced the great consequences of this distance – confusion of identity, inability to conquer sin, fractured human relationships, a fallen creation and in the end, physical death.

This is the world we still live in today. Most people believe that some sort of God exists (that may be due to our being “images of God”), but everyone feels distant from God and endures the pain and confusion of this fallen world. It may even lead people to think that God doesn’t even exist! But the reality is that we are outside of God’s family. We are lost and need to be found. We need to be adopted.

It may sound offensive to suggest that you are not naturally one of God’s “children”, but hopefully it rings true to your experience. If you feel distant from God or maybe you don’t even know if he exists, then don’t try to comfort yourself by warm and fuzzy bumper stickers trying to convince you that you are God’s child and God is your Heavenly Father. Maybe he’s not! Calling God your “Father in Heaven” (as the Lord’s Prayer instructs us to) is a privilege only for those who have been adopted into God’s family. Read the following passages to see where I get this idea from Scripture:

“He [Jesus] was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent,nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John 1:10-13)

“Jesus replied, ‘The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection.'” (Luke 20:34-36)

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death…You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ… because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption as sons.And by him we cry, “Abba,Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” (Romans 8:1-2, 9, 14-17)

“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears,we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:1-2)

To be a “child of God” reflect a unique relationship with God. A child of God is an adopted part of God’s family and as these passages show, this is what Jesus came to do. Jesus’ death on the cross has paid the penalty for the sin that kept us estranged from God. Jesus has made it possible for that relationship to be restored. Through trusting and believing in him, we can find forgiveness and reconciliation with God, making it possible for the Father/child relationship to begin.

It may at first offend you to think that although all people are made in God’s image, only followers of Jesus can be called “children of God”, but this offer of welcome and reconciliation is open to all. No matter how bad you think you are and no matter how distant you feel from God, the offer of adoption is open to you.

The reason it is vitally important that we distinguish between the concepts “made in God’s image” and “one of God’s children”, is because if you are taught that you are in God’s family and God is your Heavenly Father, simply on the basis that you were born, you will never see your need to be born again. Eventually you will become disillusioned with the whole concept of God, as on one hand you are told you are as close to God as a child is to their father, and yet your reality is that you feel very distant.

My hope in clarifying this difference is to point you to the great hope that thanks to Jesus, becoming a “child of God” is possible for you. You do not need to be distant from God. You can know his presence, his forgiveness and his Fatherly love, both now in this life and beyond death.

So there we go. That’s a few things that it DOESN’T mean to be made in God’s image.

It doesn’t mean that we look like God, are equal to God, or that we’re his children. It doesn’t mean that God has a body, is equal to us, or that he’s naturally our Heavenly Father.

So, now that we’ve gotten some of the false ideas out of the way, what exactly does it mean?

Well, if this blog has left you feeling like whatever it means, it can’t be all that good, then stick around. Part 2 will be coming in a week or so.

And in part 2 I will explain what it does mean to be made in God’s image and what a wonderful, life-changing concept it is! Getting your head around it and embracing it will completely shape your sense of the identity, purpose and dignity of the entire human race.

So stay tuned!

If you have any comments, please leve them below,
or if you’d like to ask me anything directly, feel free to email me at
simon@thebackyardbard.com

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