Recently I have been leading a men’s discussion group studying a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas.
Bonhoeffer was a German theologian and pastor who spoke out against the political developments in his country in the 1930s. He saw grave danger in the rise of Führer cult which merged the two Nazi ideals of a militarized state and a utopian world base on the Aryan “super race”. The joining of these forces resulted in a world war with the death of millions, the Jewish holocaust, and the devastation of a continent.
In the years before the Third Reich gained ultimate power, Bonhoeffer saw the magnitude of the threat long before others. He spoke up with courage, becoming being ridiculed even amongst church colleagues. When he dared question Hitler’s assurances, he was painted an alarmist. In response he wrote, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
The eighth of May this year was the 70th year anniversary of the surrender of Germany which ended World War II in Europe. While the world has seen progress in many areas since, wars continue to rage across the world. No matter where they are, nations still engage in conflicts and remain vulnerable to rule by totalitarian administrations.
Even in Australia there is evidence of totalitarian tendencies. Read more >>>
At the Tasmanian Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast last week I took the opportunity to give a short introduction to this annual event. I thought you might like to read a transcript of my speech titled, Christians the as many attendees were very encouraged by what I said:
Tasmanian Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast | August 19, 2015
As we gather in the name and spirit of Jesus of Nazareth, we do so in the midst of great cultural turmoil. Within our community are forces at work endeavouring to overturn century-old norms and practices around key moments in life – at birth, marriage, and death. I speak, of course, about abortion, same-sex marriage and euthanasia.
In that maelstrom of competing voices and visions of the future, many find the very notion of a ‘prayer’ breakfast somewhat strange, antiquated and even dangerous.
Despite the place Christianity has played in Australia’s history, and despite its ongoing contributions, to call oneself a Christian in Australia today invites responses of curiosity, condescension and cool dismissal. Christians are often painted as intolerant, naïve, superstitious, and even backward. It is not uncommon to hear Christians put down, not only in casual conversation, but across social and mainstream media.
This caricature, I suggest, is false. It falls a long way short of many Christians who join with others to care for millions of Australians in homeless shelters, refuges, aged care facilities, disability services, soup kitchens, detox facilities etc. The contrast between them and the Christianity portrayed is quite striking.
But why? Why such a contrast?
When his disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, he began, “Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name.” That he taught his disciples to pray to Father, reminds us how Jesus constantly called God ‘Father’. In fact, he was always talking about his Father
Jesus told his disciples how his Father had sent him (John 5:36). How he had “come from the Father” and was “going back to the Father” (16:28). He remarked how he could “do nothing by himself… only what he saw his Father doing” (5:19). And in Matthew 11:27 he explained, “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” Jesus continuously explained how his coming to earth, his purpose on earth, and his leaving earth was all about revealing the Father.
But not only did Jesus call God ‘Father’, he taught his disciples to do the same. The Lord’s Prayer is perhaps the prime example. The first words are emphatic, “Our Father”.
By encouraging them to call God “our heavenly Father”, Jesus was teaching them about the loving relationship he had with Father. This profound a relationship, existing for all eternity, was now being opened for them. They were being brought into God’s family to share God’s life by God adopting them as children (Rom 8:15). This most intimate of relationships between God the Father and God the Son, a relationship of reciprocal love and respect, was now theirs to experience.
Despite the magnificence of the nature of this relationship, some Christians find . . .
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In a series of messages on revival the great Welsh preacher-teacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones turned to the end of Mark 9.
Here Jesus comes off the mountain to find the disciples unsuccessfully trying to free a boy from a demon. After a quick rebuke, Jesus heals the boy and the disciples ask why they couldn’t do it. Jesus explains how this kind is only expelled by prayer. Lloyd-Jones suggested Jesus used this incident to teach his disciples a lesson: the ordinary, business-as-usual way of doing things, no longer worked. Different times calls for different measures.
Using the story as an allegory, Lloyd-Jones suggested the boy represents contemporary Western culture; the demon is its underlying assumptions, and the disciples are the church. His conclusion was that our past methods of evangelism, while perfectly good for their time, no longer worked in today’s world. The world had changed. The old methods no longer applied. We are dealing with a different, difficult ‘spirit’.
Although the Lloyd-Jones’ message was given in 1959, it is still relevant today.
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It was the Christian German philosopher Georg Hegel (1770-1831) who wrote, “We learn from history that we do not learn from history.” It’s a brilliant paradoxical statement that contains two seemingly contradictory statements: we learn from history and we do not learn from history.
Which is true? Well, actually, both. That’s the nature of paradox. It is a statement that consists of two truths laid side by side that appear self-contradictory or even absurd. Yet the statement itself is ultimately true.
The Christian life is a life of paradox because there is much that is wonderfully mysterious about God. And a paradox is profound way of communicating that mystery.
Jesus said, “All those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11) Paul wrote, “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). Now, how can you be humbled and exalted at the same time? And how can Paul be weak and strong at the same time? Don’t they cancel each other out?
It’s the nature of paradoxes that when two true statements that contradict each other are combined the result is not a contradiction. Rather, in putting them together an even deeper truth is revealed. As physicist Neils Bohr affirmed, “The opposite of a true statement is a false statement, but the opposite of a profound truth can be another profound truth.”
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Did you know Christians were branded as atheists in ancient Rome? Whereas today an atheist is one who doesn’t believe in the existence of a god or gods, in those days an atheist was someone who did not participate in the public worship of the gods.
In Rome, religion worship was a public affair; something akin to supernatural insurance. People believed religious activities placated the gods, not only to protect your against their wrath, but more importantly protected the empire. Those who did not participate were therefore a threat to the well-being of the community and to the Roman Republic. As a result they were ostracised, at times persecuted and widely known as atheists.
Christians were among them. Refusing to join the public worship of the gods and choosing to exclusively worship their own God, Christians were misfits and rebels, and treated accordingly.
It would seem strange to call a Christian an atheist in Australia today, and certainly Christians would be somewhat bemused. But in profound ways we are not too different from our brothers and sisters in the early church.
Despite their protests, the worldview of today’s secularist is a strong faith/hope foundation very much akin to the religious views they ridicule.
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There are many implications for Christians in the increasingly secular and Christophobic Australian culture. The decline in comprehensive, considered and constructive religious reporting in our media is but one of those.
In accepting the Ridley Marketplace Institute and ETHOS Faith and Work Awards earlier this year, recently retired Age journalist, Barney Zwartz, lamented that the time is fast approaching when religion “will mostly be ignored in the news columns… and that will accelerate wider society’s dissociation and ignorance.”
In many ways his insights reflect an ignorance already at work in our community. Most Australians think of Christianity as outmoded and irrelevant to modern society, yet despite this 60% of them still tick the “Christian” box on Census night. Strangely they are willing to criticise Christianity while at the same time continue to label themselves Christian.
Such an ironic contradiction illustrates just how ignorant Australians are of what it means to be a Christian and to follow Christ.
The typical stereotyping of Christianity as a white, male, European, English speaking religion also adds to the misunderstanding. The reality is quite different.
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We are getting to the shortest day of the year when the sun sets early and rises late. The nights are long and there is little sun. While scientists admit it is still a mystery, they do agree that some people do suffer from a winter depression.
There are all types of depressions that afflict people and it is not uncommon for Christians to experience a spiritual darkness far deeper than the passing of winter. John of the Cross, a fifteenth-century Christian writer, called it ‘la noche oscura’ or dark night.
Martin Luther was so afflicted by melancholy that it threatened to destroy him; CS Lewis suffered following the death of his wife; Mother Teresa struggled from the founding of her Missionaries of Charity for the rest of her life; and Charles Spurgeon spoke of how he was “almost completely crushed in spirit” and experienced “deep spiritual depression”.
They are not alone . . .
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Throughout the centuries Christians have constantly wrestled with what it means to live as Christ’s followers in societies and communities that are morally and culturally challenging to their faith.
Even at the beginning, when small, fledgling churches were first established across the Roman world, Christians were surrounded by a pagan culture filled with mystery cults, mysticism, philosophical debate and speculation. The New Testament is full of letters to these churches, letters aimed at helping these Christian communities navigate how they are to follow Christ each in their particular context. The question of how the church relates to the surrounding culture and how the surrounding culture affects the church was ever before them.
These questions remain with us today. In our (post) modern culture we are surrounded with tsunami-like changes spanning across a wide range of religious, secular and scientific thought. Our faith is constantly being challenged and we are prompted to wonder just how we are to live in and relate to the culture in which we live.
Historically the church’s response has swung between two extremes: on the one hand capitulation/accommodation and on the other, separation. Neither of them is biblical. Read on >>>
Our Easter celebrations have come and gone so quickly!
We stopped to celebrate the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ only a week ago, yet we are back into our normal routines before we know it. Yet, the resurrection is so profound its truths transform every part of our lives, and in a very real way Easter lives with us every day.
In his first letter to the believers living in Corinth Paul writes how “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, [and] that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). While his death dealt with our sins, God vindicated Jesus by raising him to life again. His resurrection changed everything.
It transformed Peter from a mistake-prone bungler who denied and disassociated himself from Jesus, into a bold provocative advocate who stood in front of thousands of people on the day of Pentecost and called them to repent. What changed Peter? He later wrote, “In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). The resurrection radically changed Peter for ever.
Peter’s life demonstrates a powerful insight, that the resurrection is more than a victory to be celebrated it is a reality to be lived.
It’s not by chance that the early church began meeting on Sundays, the day after the Jewish Sabbath. Read More >>>