Growing up in Australia, “god” was a word I heard often. At school it was commonly an expletive, at home it was never anything but revered. I’ve lived with God all my life and now into my seventh decade, God still comes easy to me. I can’t say the same for being a Christian though. That’s been tough. Most of my life I’ve been embarrassed to be a Christian, even though today I’m a pastor of a Baptist church.
I’ve always been tall and skinny. For most of my life I’ve worn clothes that haven’t fitted well. It the same with the word “Christian”. Christians come in all manner of shapes and sizes and so do people’s opinion of them. When I tell someone I’m a Christian I can almost feel the shape of their preconceptions redressing me. Suddenly, I’m no longer the person they first met, but an airbrushed caricature made in their image.
The shepherds must have been quite overwhelmed and awestruck that night when the heavenly host gathered to praise God proclaiming, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests” (Luke 2:14). A quick reflection on world events over the past 12 months reveals the world still needs peace as much now as ever. In every nation and every community there is much pain and suffering, sorrow and injustice, sickness, violence and poverty. We long for peace, and not just any peace. We long for a peace greater than just the end of hostilities, but one where justice is done and the human heart is changed. Sixty years ago, during the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955, American Baptist pastor, Martin Luther King Jr, proclaimed, “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.” This is the peace the world needs and it is the peace the angels sang about. Yet, such a peace is hard to come by. Even in my own life I find it uncomfortably easy to slip from peace to hostility. Read On >>>
Last week Karl Faase, Australian Christian communicator, media presenter, and social commentator, was in Hobart speaking at Family Voice events. The former senior pastor of Gymea Baptist, is well informed about the challenges faced by the church in Australia today. Faase suggested that the average Christian attending church regularly on a Sunday has lost confidence in what they believe. The sad result is an unwillingness, even an inability, to engage in conversations about Christianity during the week. However, he encouraged Christians not to be silenced by the media’s caricature of the irrelevancy of Christianity, its heralding of the Church’s demise and its increasing hostility both. Rather, he said, it is time to regain hope in the gospel and boldness in our proclamation. “We need to move from fearful silence to positive engagement.” Citing research by Olive Tree Media (his company) and McCrindle Research, Faase explained how Australians show significant “warmth” to Christianity contrary to what is commonly assumed. When asked, “What best describes your current beliefs and attitude towards Christianity?” 25%, who don’t consider themselves as Christians, are warm towards Christianity. This is on top of the 33% who described themselves as Christian (whether they are or not is another matter). What this shows is that nearly 60% of Australians have an open stance towards Christianity and are willing to talk about it. Read more >>>
“Frankly, there isn’t anyone you couldn’t learn to love once you’ve heard their story.”
This is a quote from an unknown US social worker. My guess the story they refer to is the real story of someone’s life, not the nice, nonthreatening one we easily share, but the other buried story hidden underneath our everyday life.
We all have another story to tell about our lives, but we don’t share it very often, if at all. Here are truths and facts that are full of shame, hurt, and confusion. Deep down we have a sense of our brokenness, a brokenness we share with the rest of humanity. Most of the time we suppress it, sometimes we face it, sometimes we blame others, yet all the while it remains. For some, the way to deal with it is to divide the world into two. On one side are the goodies, on the other the baddies. There are the righteous ones and the evil ones. And we know which side we are on. Once we draw the line we naturally end up on one side, the good side. Read More >>>
Today in Australia, across large sections of the media and most State run education institutions, the Church comes into its fair share of criticism, some of it quite dismissive, but often hostile and some abusive. However this is nothing new. Things haven’t changed much since the First Fleet landed at Sydney Cove. Here, at Australia’s beginning, the church was represented by military chaplains such as Johnson and Marsden. Sadly they were estranged from convicts, who saw them as moral policemen; and shunned by the authorities as nuisances. From the beginning the church didn’t sit comfortably in the new colony. In stark contrast, early America’s Christian leaders had a different position on the side of, not against, the general population. In Australia, rather than seeing the convicts as those who needed help, they were more often than not viewed as sinners who needed punishment. When the authorities appointed the chaplains to act as Civil Magistrates, the already strained relationships were exacerbated. The association of chaplains with the imposition of authority, punishment and discipline became entrenched such that any compassion or care shown by the chaplains was lost in translation. Read On >>>
Ten days ago nine members of the Supreme Court in the USA, in a 5-4 ruling, declared same-sex “marriage” law across America. The result is that same-sex marriage can no longer be banned by any of the States. This new state of affairs was resolved by a small panel of seven men and two women. Many see this as a severe blow to democracy given that the people were not given a choice in the matter.
Although their decision does not change the biblical view of marriage, nor the view of millions of Christians across America, it nevertheless has significant implications for those who continue to hold the alternative, more traditional view. The result continues the marginalisation of Christians in the Western world. The repercussions have already hit us. The calls for Australia to follow suit are growing louder and more strident. It seems only a matter of time before we fall into line. Then we, along with our American brothers and sisters, will need to work out our Christian response. Read On >>>
The recent massacre of Christian students in Kenya by Islamic militants was another gruesome reminder of the increasing persecution of Christians around the world. According to Open Doors USA, “2014 will go down in history for having the highest level of global persecution of Christians in the modern era.” Open Door predicts it will only get worse. In its annual World Watch List, Open Doors identifies the top 50 countries where Christians face intense persecution. It takes many forms including torture, imprisonment, loss of home or assets, rape and death. Each month, on average 322 Christians are killed for their faith, 214 properties (churches or Christian homes) are destroyed and 722 acts of violence are committed. Estimates are that over 100 million Christians are persecuted worldwide, making us the most persecuted religious group in the world, with Islamic extremism being the main source in 40 of the 50 countries on the list. Last week, on April 14, it was one-year since the kidnapping of 276 girls from Chibok, Nigeria. They remain in rebel custody and little is known about their whereabouts or their circumstances. A small number who managed to escape from the Boko Haram camp reported being raped almost daily and that some have been killed because they refused to renounce their Christian faith. Dr. Stephen Davis, an Australian negotiating to secure their release, says, “I have visited many villages and towns attacked by Boko Haram. I have seen firsthand the devastation and talked to families in the attacks. These are tragic stories of loss of life, slaughter, rape and the worst abuses of human life one can imagine.” Read More >>>
As Christians we are perhaps more familiar than most with the slow and painful execution by crucifixion. Invented by the Persians around 300 BC and perfected by the Romans by 100 BC, crucifixion describes the process where a convicted criminal is tied or nailed to a large wooden cross and left to hang until dead. Did you know that the word ‘excruciating’ comes from the Latin, ‘to crucify’? It means pain like the pain of crucifixion, which is variously described as unbearable, severe and excessive mental and physical pain. It is believed to be the most painful death ever invented. Shockingly, it is used by ISIS in the Middle East today. In Roman days, the condemned were usually stripped naked, nails were then driven through the wrists and just below the ankles, ropes provided reinforcement to tie the arms to the crossbeam, and then they are raised on the cross to hang. Although this process alone would cause severe pain and blood loss, it was not normally be the cause of death. With crucifixion, people die by suffocation. Read more >>>
In his longest recorded prayer in John 17, Jesus prays for his disciples and notes how we are “not of the world” but are “sent into the world” (John 17:15-16). His expectation is that we will continue his mission by remaining in the world although we will live differently from the world and be his transforming agents within it. Ever since that prayer, Jesus’ followers have struggled to maintain the tension of living ‘in’ the world yet not being ‘of’ the world. It is not as easy as it sounds and so Paul reminds us, “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould” (Romans 12:2 Phillips), suggesting we need to be on guard or else it will happen.
This is perhaps never as true as with Christmas. For most of our community Christmas is little more than time off work and an opportunity to over-spend, over-eat, and over-celebrate. It’s a time to party with colleagues and mates and for the vast majority a time to catch up with their birth family. Read more >>>
It’s my belief that it is getting more difficult for Christians to live in our community which is founded on Christian values yet increasingly rejects the God of Christianity. We have much to learn about living in such an environment. While on holidays recently, walking around Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Hiroshima, Jenny and I became increasingly aware of the yellow tiles with raised patterns, about 30cm square, running along almost all footpaths. In shopping malls and railway stations, on footpaths above and underground arcades below, there they were again. We’ve seen them in Hobart, but not in such abundance. They tiles are for the blind so they can find their way. Using their stick to run across the patterns,they can navigate their way around. It’s perhaps one thing our world should be commended for – giving attention and care to the disadvantaged in our community, in this instance the blind. Yet, while it should be applauded most people are totally unaware that this valuing of all people is part of our community because of its Christian heritage. Read More >>>