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Work, Witness, and the Watchmaker

Before mobile phones most of us relied on wrist watches to tell the time. 20 years ago after accidentally breaking a watchband pin, I managed to find a small kiosk that repaired watches. Through my memory is fuzzy about the precise details, I do clearly remember the small booth in which one man sat, doing nothing else other than repairing watches. It was the smallest of small businesses.

In truth, it should have been a forgettable encounter; after all, getting a new pin in your watchband is hardly a thing memories are made of. Yet this experience    was far from unremarkable, in fact I could go as far as saying that the 10 minute encounter with the ‘watchmaker’ made an indelible impression on my approach to work and the value I placed on it.

What made this encounter so profoundly memorable was simply this, that the man in question repaired my relatively worthless watch with such remarkable passion,  concern, and an uncommon devotion, that I could not help being astounded by the disparity. It was completely disarming, entirely contrary to how  the world of economic self-interest worked.

Though it was ‘just a watch’, I could have been mistaken for thinking that this man was repairing a priceless 500-year-old family heirloom. His contrarian approach to this relatively trivial matter powerfully rocked my economic rationalist mindset, where effort was only directly proportional to economic return. This man treated my ‘relatively’ worthless watch with such dignity and respect, that it made me  feel that ‘I’ was valued and loved. It was as if the watch was no longer the focus, I was!

Consequently, from that day forward, I never underestimated the power of  heartfelt devotion in the most trivial of matters. In fact, the more trivial the matter in which the devotion was rendered, the more remarkable the devotion expressed seems. Indeed, the most trivial of jobs, approached in the right manner, can have the most profound effect on other people’s lives, even if you are unaware of it at the time.

I am not sure of his motivation, but the watchmaker’s approach was entirely consistent with the Christian ethic.

Regrettably, more often than not, Christian people (including myself) follow along with the  ‘value paradigms’ presented to us in society; simply considering work as a necessary evil, or viewing it as something that exists purely to  give ‘me’ satisfaction, significance, and security.

But, I can’t help imagining how much more effective those other Christian endeavors might be, if the people performing them would do so with the uncommon devotion  the watchmaker showed. What if the Christian worker actually viewed their daily (sometimes menial) work, not as a hindrance to ‘evangelism’ or ‘ministry’, but as an effective means to it?

That is to say, if our devotion in menial matters at work expressed such an uncommon love to our colleagues and customers that it challenged the way they viewed their lives, why would Christian’s need to approach evangelism or other connected ministries in such a programmatic manner, as if the Gospel was something you had to sell?

Could it be that the most effective way of sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ is actually at our disposal every day, but we fail to notice because we approach work with the same mindset as everyone else with a ‘self-oriented’ approach to life? What would happen if every Christian person readjusted their attitude to work, especially toward the boring, trivial, and mundane dimensions of it?

I believe, the key a truly Christian approach to work actually understands the true purpose of work. Yes, work has material benefits, but the true value of work must transcend the material.

St Paul in viewing work from a divine perspective, wrote: Slaves obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.  Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Colossians 3:22-24(NIV)

The key to Paul’s ‘uncommon’ devotion to work was his divine focus. The Christian should work to please God, and as such, the matter of the work should be relatively unimportant. Rather, what matters is not what we make or achieve, but ‘how’ we make or achieve it.

Paul speaks of sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord as key motivators for work. What is important to him it seems, is that a Christian person works ‘with all their heart’, as if we are serving God who pays an eternally valid reward, not for services rendered or goods provided, but for good motives and wholeheartedness.

A ‘truly’ Christian approach to work places value on persons and not objects, and is more concerned about honoring God and loving others, than achieving a material outcome. Moreover,  work approached in this manner, gives the world a glimpse of a value system that transcends this world, it enables a vision of God’s person-oriented kingdom to shine through and opens the door for God’s life-changing truth.

Like that humble watchmaker,  God places an inordinate amount of value on those whom ‘the world’ deems as  valueless; and when this truth is embodied in the daily lives of God’s servants, though heart-felt devotion in menial tasks, it can provide a powerful metaphor for the message: that  Jesus loves you the more than you can possibly imagine, and wants to take your life as broken and as valueless as you might think it is; restore it, repair it, and reinvest it with the dignity that God invested in it before it was devalued and broken by the values of ‘this world’

If you value God’s ‘good news’ and desire to see others know Jesus, why not start by showing an uncommon devotion in trivial matters at your daily work, and be prepared to see what happens. And even if you never see the result, know for certain their is one who does see, and who will richly reward that devotion on the last day!

The Slippery Slope of Moral Decline: Fallacy or Fact?

Whenever controversial moral issues are debated such as: euthanasia, the use of torture in war, or the recent phenomenon of same-sex marriage, the argument of the slippery slope is usually employed. Also known as ‘the thin edge of the wedge’ or ‘the domino effect’, the slippery slope argument implies that a chain-reaction toward unintended moral consequences will ensue if certain ‘questionable’ actions are initiated.

But is the slippery slope a valid argument? Are all ‘questionable’ moral positions necessarily predisposed toward declining or augmenting further moral decline, or is this argument simply a fear-driven logical fallacy?

Logicians are often quick to point out that slippery slope arguments are nothing more than logical fallacies. That is, just because (A) exists it should not imply that (Z) will eventually come into existence. For example, it is fallacious, some would say even absurd, to suggest that all shoplifters will eventually and necessarily become armed bank robbers.

However, we should be aware that simply viewing the slippery slope argument as a logical fallacy happens to be drawing on Hegel’s notion that ‘the real is rational and the rational is real.’ This maxim implies that, what is reasonable (rational) is actually real, and consequently what is unreasonable is more than likely unreal (or untrue).Therefore, if  it can be shown that, any given slippery slope argument is ‘logically’ unsound, then what is being argued by using it, must also be unsound, unreal, and by extension untrue. Because, what is rational ‘is’ real, and logic, in this view, always determines life.

However, while some slippery slope arguments may be fallacious, this is not true in all cases. In fact, employing the slippery slope may be very valid if the slope in question is ‘actually’ slippery! That is to say, if it can be proven that the mechanism that causes (A) to move toward (Z) is valid, such that (Z) will follow on from (A), then the argument may be deemed as empirically or scientifically valid, even if it may appear to be illogical.

In truth, history shows that life rarely follows logic, and when it comes to mechanisms that empower moral entropy, that there is no mechanism more slippery than the slope of human morality.

Indeed, one has to go no further than the 18th century French Revolution to see this slippery slope of declining morality clearly in action.

Maximilien Robespierre, the primary leader of the revolution, was a young idealist who, among other things, spoke out: against the death penalty, for the abolition of slavery, for the equality of rights, and for the establishment of a republic. Indeed, his altruism prompted his close supporters to call him ‘The Incorruptible’.

However, although Robespierre was theoretically opposed to the death penalty, the necessity of the times ‘forced’ him to modify his views. For the sake of the revolution and the necessary removal of the ‘tyrannical’ monarchy, Robespierre compromised his once deeply held principle; a compromise which lead to the execution of the King in 1792. The death of the king then heralded a new dark era in French history, known as The Terror.

The Terror was formally instituted in a proclamation which read, ‘It is time that equality bore its scythe above all heads. It is time to horrify all the conspirators. So legislators, place Terror on the order of the day! Let us be in revolution, because everywhere counter-revolution is being woven by our enemies. The blade of the law should hover over all the guilty.’ As a consequence, almost anyone suspected of conspiracy was executed.

Racked with paranoia, Robespierre made no room for mercy in his Terror, arguing that “slowness of judgments is equal to impunity” and “uncertainty of punishment encourages all the guilty”. Furthermore, in response to the supremacy of the monarchy and its sister organization of the church, Robespierre established the ‘cult of the supreme being’ (a Deism based religion), a belief system designed to replace Christianity. However, as this ‘cult’ developed many saw Robespierre as personally adopting a God-like status, becoming that which he once despised.

So it is that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The supreme tyranny that Robespierre once opposed, now returned under his own hand; the ‘incorruptible’ had become absolutely corrupted. In the end, Robespierre’s hubris was no longer tolerated by the sensible citizens of France. He was executed at the Guillotine in 1794, ironically the last official execution by the instrument of death, he so readily wielded. As you can see, even the most virtuous of intentions, driven by the urgency of the hour and unrestrained by a substantive moral standard, can and do degenerate into the most evil of actions. In the case of the French Revolution, it was only when citizens with a strong sense of moral decency stood up and stepped in, did the decline actually slow.

Patterns of societal moral decline are evident in all civilizations, if this were not so, many once powerful empires would still be in existence.  Human moral declension will continue until it is arrested by some moral corrective. It may be  conscience, an external agent of law, or if left long enough the calamitous consequences. History consistently proves that human virtue always decline without due diligence being given to its upkeep and maintenance.

I know it seems strange, but there appears to be ‘some’ innate force in nature animating this entropy (the fundamental bias toward chaos). Consider this: Why do people age? Why does my coffee go cold? Why does a garden become weedy when not kept? Why do we become unhealthy if we don’t exercise? Why don’t you have to teach children to be bad?  Why do virtuous people become evil? In short, what is the cause of this predilection toward the undesirable?

I am sure that many can offer a scientific solution, but I want to suggest that the answer to the moral aspect actually lies in the ancient text of the Bible and its creation story.

The story of creation set out in the book of Genesis intimates that entropy was not originally a factor in the world. Only after Adam (the first human) disobeyed God’s specific instructions, do we witness decay; decay arising from a divine response to Adam’s willful rebellion: ‘Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.’ (Genesis 3:17 NIV)

From the point of humanity’s fall from grace, their plight took a further downward turn, such that the author of Genesis observes a few short chapters later: ‘The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.’ (Gen 6:5 NIV)

Despite the subsequent establishment of a rigorous religious and political system with laws specifically design to mitigate this innate bias toward immorality, the problem remained— in fact, it still remains. I wish it were not so, but human beings are predisposed toward moral decline, I only have to look at my own motives and actions to see that.

So, is the slippery slope simply a logical fallacy embraced by fear-mongering moralists, or is it a legitimate argument based on a long history of empirical verification? I would suggest that although the former may be true in some cases, the latter is true in almost every case regarding human morality. Why? Because the mechanism that causes it (human morality) is fundamentally inclined toward moral entropy.

Post-script:

Yet, as much as the Bible highlights this fallible human condition, it also offers a solution. That solution does not involve: the legislating of morality, the promotion of rigorous religious activity, or militant political action.

Rather, and somewhat surprisingly, it actually involves entering into a loving relationship with a person unrestrained by entropy—Jesus Christ. Ultimately, because the problem is personal, only a personal solution can correct it.

While I don’t have the space to discuss this in-depth now, may I suggest that if you are genuinely concerned about the slippery slope of human morality and how it affects you personally,  that you take time to closely look at the person and works of Jesus Christ—I guarantee it will revolutionize your thinking on this matter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Layers of Same Sex Marriage: An Ordinary Voter’s Guide

A blue collar worked recently said to me, ‘ Most people I speak to don’t have a clue about the Same-Sex marriage issue!’ I hate to say it, but I think he is right. With so many voices out there vying for a space to be heard, many Australians are a little confused, or have simply decided to switch off the noise. In fact, with so many arguments being advanced it has become clear that there is more than one issue involved, or more accurately, the one issue has multiple layers to it.

So, to help ordinary Australians get a grasp of what (I believe) is at stake, I’ll try and present the matter, as if we were discussing it with the metaphor of a multi-layered cake.

The Personal layer: Same-sex marriage

The top layer of the cake with its sugar coated icing, is a debate over Same-Sex Marriage and its potential inclusion in the Marriage Act. ‘Gay’ couples feel that they should be included in the institution of marriage as much as ‘Straight’ couples, because, in their understanding, the most important thing that binds two people together is the love they feel for each other.

As I understand it, a change of the Marriage Act would give ‘legal legitimization’ to a person’s homosexual identity, having the same ‘rights’ as any other person (or more accurately personal relationship) in society. Many of those advocating for this, have had a long battle for acceptance: experiencing rejection, bullying, and humiliation because the majority perceives them as ‘different’. I can imagine for these, a change of the marriage act, would be ’emotionally’ liberating.

On the other side of the issue are, for the most part, people with strong religious convictions (mostly Christian) that affirm from their interpretation of their Bible or Holy texts, that a same-sex union would be a clear contravention of God’s intended purpose for human marriage; the exclusive union of a heterosexual couple, based on the relationship of the first ‘created’ humans Adam and Eve– a view even validated by Jesus and his apostles.

Most Christians I know aren’t personally ‘against’ homosexuals or same-sex couples per se ,but feel to endorse same-sex marriage is to deny God’s standards of human relationships, and by extension deny their loyalty to God. As much as many Christians (or people with similar religious ethics) may ‘feel the plight’ of same-sex couples, they are stuck with a crisis-of-conscience that disallows them approving of a legislation that violates their fundamental beliefs.

This is why, the ‘proposed’ marriage act will (or should) make provision for a celebrant’s religious convictions, enabling them to refuse to solemnize a same-sex marriage on the grounds of conscience. However, it remains to be seen how this will affect non-professional people who hold to the traditional views.

However, it seems that same-sex marriage is not the only issue on this agenda!

The Political layer: A brave new world

It’s the middle layer(s) of the cake that represent the Socio-political domain and the implications of any proposed legislation for the Australian public that is raising the most concern. Many Australians (mostly with no religious affiliations) are concerned that embracing same-sex marriage into law represents the ‘thin edge of the wedge’; the first step toward societal change that threatens what the majority of Australians currently believe and practice.

A prime example of this is the governments ‘Safe-Schools program’. A website formed by concerned citizens, in response to this program, states, ‘ The aim [ of Safe-Schools] is to convince the government, media and the public that homophobic bullying is common and can only be dealt with by affirming, promoting and normalizing homosexual relations…’ In short, Australian parents are very concerned that heterosexual children are being encouraged or potentially coerced to consider alternatives such as transgender issues or homosexual alternatives

Whilst the program has been scrutinized by government after parental protests, an article from the Daily Telegraph on the 17th of August 2017 suggests attempts to secretly reintroduce questionable material  have occurred: ‘ Education bureaucrats have tried to sneak Safe Schools back onto the NSW curriculum in defiance of the ban on the contentious sexual and gender diversity program….Entitled the “Practical guide to love, sex and relationships”, the teaching resource includes activities for Year 7 students which require them to swap gender roles.’

Then there is the manner in which public debate has been conducted. Firstly, there is the issue of how some same-sex advocates have used their influence to bully those with an alternate views; one high-profile case being the suggestion that the Margaret Court tennis arena be renamed because of the namesakes support for ‘traditional’ marriage. Also the offices of the Australian Christian Lobby were egged, and subjected to an alleged car-bomb attack (I believe the matter is before the courts) by a so-called pro-SSM activist. This hardly inspires trust in concerned voters.

Consequently, Australians are concerned over issues of: freedom of speech in the public domain, the powers of the state, freedom of religion in the workplace and public domain, and the biased representation of facts or points of view by the media outlets. Indeed, I have even heard suggestions from some quarters that the combination of these factors point to a strong Marxist agenda being imposed on Australian society. Conspiracy theories aside, there remains just cause for concern.

In the ‘fog of war’ it is often hard to differentiate fact from fiction, but there seems to be just enough ‘fact’ out there feeding the ‘fiction’, that Australians are now genuinely concerned about the future arising from any proposed legislation. By voting in favor of same-sex marriage, will they be letting a genie out of the bottle that sets Australia on the path to an uncertain future, or will they be simply voting for a benign piece of legislation that benefits a minority with no discernible ongoing effect on the majority?

The Religious layer: No place to call home

The final layer(s) of the cake represents the declining power of the Judeo-Christian ethic and its primary advocate the Christian Church, within our democracies. The phenomenon
called Christendom (the dominion of Christian influence in society), which has, more or less, existed for over 1700 years, has gradually been eroded to the point, where an issue like same-sex marriage (at least in Australia), threatens the final vestiges of the church’s power in the public space.

Christians feel threatened, and given the long history of persecution of Christian groups ( a recent example being Syria), they cannot be blamed for being concerned about the future. The potential legalization of same-sex marriage powerfully symbolizes the destruction of their once ubiquitous influence, making them now question: What next, and where will we go now, and what will the future hold in a society that no longer favours our beliefs?

But I hear you say, ‘ I’m not a Christian, why should I care?’ Well, what are the long term consequences for Christian charities, such as the Salvation Army; charities that do the majority of the heavy lifting in public welfare ? What about quality Christian schools, nursing homes, and private hospitals, how will they (and their staff) be affected? Indeed, Australians should not underestimate the huge residual benefits it receives from Christian organizations, nor the potential negative influence any potential legislation might have on them!

Summary
:

As you can see the issue of Same-Sex marriage seems simple on the surface, but when you drill down through the layers, a more complex picture emerges.

This issue affects three interest groups: same-sex couples who want legal legitimacy, the general Australian population who are concerned about where this is all going, and Christians who are concerned about their future role in this brave new world.

As you can see, its the interests of the Australian population that is sandwiched between two other interest groups. In the end its a vote about interests and their long time effect on Australian society. So, vote wisely.

 

 

The Girl who saved a Nation

Amidst the rising sentiment in Australian society against Christian values, particularly in light of the upcoming vote proposing to change the marriage act to include same-sex couples, some conservative Christians seem to be defensively positioning themselves behind the barricades; bracing for a future of greater marginalization, diminishing rights, and allegedly  increased persecution.

Other Christians are boldly making a public stand for their beliefs, fearlessly presenting their case, and in a broader sense demonstrating they’re not ashamed of their faith. That said, a small number are approaching the process in a less than Christ-like manner; the manner outlined by St Peter: ‘ When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats.’ 1 Peter 2:23 (NIV)

What then is the discerning Christian to do in the ‘brave new world’ : Run and hide or stand up and be counted?

In light of this present challenge, is there a way to boldly stand up for the truth in a potentially hostile social environment; a way that is not only effective in its outcome but God honoring in its process? Is there a way that is not only respectful of Government authority, dignified in its treatment of adversaries, but squarely in step with a courageous Christian testimony?

I believe such a way is not only theoretically possible, but is historically validated. It is seen within the Old Testament story of a Jewish refugee; an orphan girl, who became a queen, and then saved her nation–the story of Esther.

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Around 500 BC in the ancient kingdom of Persia a capricious king summarily dismissed his queen over a public refusal to participate in a private function as a ‘trophy wife’, doubtless to invoke jealousy among his guests. King Xerxes then sought a new queen from among the 127 provinces of the  empire. Among the candidates was a Jewish orphan girl named Esther, who presented herself at the prompting of her uncle. Mordecai. Against the odds, King Xerxes favored Esther over the other candidates, appointing her the new queen of Persia.

Whilst the nation celebrated their coronation of their new queen, Mordecai, with the assistance of Esther, foiled an assassination plot against the king. Although his name was recorded in the royal records as a matter of political process, he received no recompense for this service.

Also around this same time, a wicked tyrant called Haman rose to prominence in Persia. Everyone cowered before him at the city gates, except Mordecai the Jew, who refused to bow to tyranny. Enraged by Mordecai’s insolence, Haman deceived the king into issuing a decree that would enact an edict to annihilate all the Jews from every province of the empire.

The Jewish people, greatly distressed at the prospect of their genocide, mourned, fasted, and prayed for deliverance. In light of this grave situation, Mordecai  solemnly reminded Esther that her privileged position was not simply for her benefit; it was now her time to use her talent for the good of her people.

Fearful of the king’s capricious nature, Esther asked the people to fast and pray on her behalf, while she sought the king’s favor in this matter. Again the king  favored her, and as result Esther requested that both he and Haman attend a special banquet, where she might make her request more adequately known.

Haman, being delighted by this ‘special’ privilege, shared the news with his wife and friends, who then suggested as a further affirmation of his greatness, he construct a 75 feet high gallows to hang Mordecai on, after the king approves this special request, on the morning before the banquet. He could then attend the banquet in ease.

In in a strange twist, the night before the banquet the king Xerxes had trouble sleeping on account of the foiled assassination plot; that the person who alerted him had not been duly rewarded. Waking, he immediately had the royal records read and discovered that Mordecai was the person in question. At that very moment, Haman appeared in the royal court; seizing the opportunity, the king curiously questioned Haman how he might honor a special royal subject. Inflated with narcissistic pride, and assuming ‘he’ was that special subject, Haman suggested a royal robe and a royal parade were most in order.

The king then revealed Mordecai was, in fact, that loyal subject, and that Haman should organize and lead the parade in Mordecai’s honor. To his great humiliation, Haman reluctantly followed the king’s commands. No sooner had the parade finished, the shame-faced Haman rushed to the banquet prepared by Esther.

As they feasted and drank, King Xerxes, full of admiration for Esther sought her petition,promising as much as half the kingdom! Respectfully, she asked the king to spare the lives of her people, the Jews, on account of the decree that was destined to enact processes toward their annihilation.

Enraged by this, the king asked who was responsible for this horrendous scheme. She pointed out that it was Haman. Greatly vexed, the king stormed outside. Haman fell on his knees and begged the queen for his life; just as the king returned, he saw Haman falling on the couch where Esther lay. Supposing that Haman was trying to molest her, he had him arrested and hanged on the gallows originally built for Mordecai!

And so it was, the Jewish people were delivered from the consequences of the fatal decree and came to enjoy  great favor within the Persian empire. Esther remained queen, and Mordecai was appointed second in rank only to the king. A tragic situation had been averted, and  God’s people prospered once again.

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What might we learn from Esther’s story? More than a quaint fairy-tale, this true story serves as a powerful metaphor, offering up some lessons for our time.

We are foreigners in our own land: Not dissimilar to  the Jews in ancient Persia, Christians  in 21st century Australia should acknowledge we are ‘foreigners’ and  transitory members of this our host culture. Therefore, we must be respectful of it by acting uprightly whilst engaging it. Esther and Mordecai respected the authority of the King, acting honorably within the social system. They allowed God to use them to work within the regime, not acting as mercenaries, or dare I say terrorists, against it. I believe this stands true for the Christian s as well, indeed the message of the New Testament seems to confirm it:

Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world… Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.  Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.  For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. 1 Peter 2:11-15 (NIV)

God uses secret agents too: God equips his people to face the challenges; we are not all plebeians at the mercy of the powerful elite. In fact, some of us, yes even girls like Esther, are privileged enough to  gain positions of influence within the political and/or legal systems. We must recognize that these positions are not simply platforms for personal or religious agendas, and those that have them must be discerning in the use of the associated privilege.

However, if we entrust ourselves to God, being respectful of the authority structure in which we are placed, opportunities will providentially arise (as with Esther), where  the legitimate use of our influence may be exercised for the good of God’s people–without stepping beyond the bounds of the authority structure in which we are placed. That is, influence can be exercised: respectfully, honorably, and legally, through the proper channels. In fact every Christian that votes is a person of influence!

Enemies are to be respected, not feared:  In matters such as the debate over same-sex marriage, those on the other side should be treated with personal dignity, not demonized, or feared. Even though Haman and his family were mortal enemies of Esther and Mordecai (and by extension every Jew),  they were still treated with relative dignity. Mordecai would not bow to Haman, his practices, or ideas; which for him was symbolic of bowing to tyranny,  though he still acted with dignity in the process. Moreover, Esther, engaged Haman with respect even though she was against his evil plan. To the best of their ability and within the bounds of decency, they personally interacted with their adversaries respectfully and fearlessly.

Indeed, for Australian Christians who wish to stand against same-sex marriage or any other issue on moral grounds, great care must be taken not to personally slander or denigrate adversaries. Stand against their ideologies or arguments by all means, but it is unseemly as a disciple of Christ to be ‘personally’ disrespectful. We should recognize that the real struggle is ultimately not against people! Moreover, God calls us not to fear people, because ultimately they have no power. There are higher powers and greater forces animating schemes beyond our natural comprehension, as St Paul says: ‘For our struggle is not against flesh and blood…’ Ephesians 6:12 (NIV)

Prayer really does have power:  The deeds of Esther would have been ineffectual and  fruitless without the prayers and petitions of the people–that is why she requested the people’s assistance. Esther’s success in this potentially hazardous environment was only possible because God granted her special favor; a favor provoked by the prayers of the multitude. God is not deaf to the genuine petitions of his people, and even the most rudimentary grasp of  Holy Scripture will reveal this. Yes, God can act without our prayers, but he chooses not to; he wants us to experience the blessing of participating in the struggle, that our thanksgiving would be heartfelt. Never forget, ‘The prayer of a righteous man [or woman] is powerful and effective.’ James 5:16 (NIV)

God is still in control: No victory is ever attained without the sovereign favor of God. As the Esther patently reminds us, the timing of the events that led to Haman’s downfall and the Jews deliverance were divinely coordinated. Indeed, even Esther, recognizing the prayers of her people and her God-ordained appointment, waited for God’s timing regarding the banquet, fully aware that, ‘The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.’ Prov 21:1 (NIV)

Ultimately, even the best resourced Christian organization cannot change legislation or indeed the course of history, without divine intervention. If we rely on political might alone and forcibly seek a result, we just might end up with an outcome that sets us at odds with God. In matters of consequence, the Christian activist is well-advised to remember, ‘Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain.’ Psalm 127:1 (NIV)

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How can we boldly stand for he truth in times like these? God is in the business of saving his people, and more often than not he employs the most unlikely characters to do it. God used an orphan girl from a refugee family to save his people in a time of great need. He can use you too. No matter who you are, where you are, what you are, do not think you don’t have a key role to play in God’s plan. Even if your role may seem insignificant to you, don’t underestimate the power of a prayer, the power of a vote, the power of a courageous stand. God loves to use those who boldly step up in faith, will you?

Friends, even if the immediate outcome of the current issue is not to our liking, know that God has a greater purpose in play, and that the tears of  disappointment are watering the seeds of a greater destiny. Indeed, history has shown, that God may even allow his own people to enter into a time of tribulation, that they might grow in resilience and if need be, reconsider their own shortcomings; and at the appropriate time of God’s choosing, be restored to a state of blessing.

The girl who saved a nation reminds us simply of this: When God’s people make a stand for God’s truth, using God’s methods, God’s power will not fail, ultimately, to secure God’s favor!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Inevitability of Same-Sex Marriage

It is not difficult to feel that the general Australian population is being worn down by the constant media coverage of the politics, opinions, ugly exchanges, and even harsh reprisals arising from discussions and views over the potential introduction of same-sex marriage into Australian legislation. In fact, many probably feel a certain sense of inevitability about the introduction of a ‘new’ view on marriage within our society, and are inclined to think, ‘Let’s just get it over with and move on—live and let live!’

In fact, based on the broad indifference I sense from the general population that I rub shoulders with on a daily basis, I gather that many Australians don’t see it as a matter of great consequence; they would rather move to other more significant issues that have a direct bearing on their personal lives, such as matters which lead to a more economically prosperous society.

But, before we too readily resign ourselves to the so-called ‘inevitable’, we should briefly consider the other potential ‘inevitability’ of what might unfold should social change occur as a result of the upcoming vote on the redefinition of marriage.

History teaches us, especially on a societal level, that giving up one thing in favor of another new thing is never without its consequences, as Social Anthropologist J.D Unwin reminds us, ‘… the smallest change in the fundamental principle of a social law will revolutionize the social tradition.’

And, if the social tradition pertaining to the current view on marriage is changed by law, what then will be the social consequences of this particular revolution?

Interestingly, the aforementioned author, J.D Unwin,  devoted a significant amount of energy in conducting a in-depth study examining the impact of social views on sexuality, marriage, and relationships on any given culture’s ‘energy’ capacity for expansiveness and productiveness. His views, published as the book Sex and Culture in 1934, examined 80 primitive tribes and 6 well-known civilizations (ancient and modern) considering the relationship between their rise and/or fall and their ideals pertaining to marriage and sexual liberty.

Unwin found that no matter what culture, race, and religious orientation, the following factors were consistently true: 1) The reduction of liberal sexual opportunity by the adoption of absolute [heterosexual] monogamy resulted in the greatest social energy, 2) Society was dominated by the group that displayed the greatest relative energy, 3) As soon as sexual opportunity of the society was extended beyond this absolute monogamy, the energy of the society or group declined and then disappeared, 4) No matter what the culture, the manner in which absolute monogamy was modified was the same in every case.

The author provides numerous examples in support of his observations, a case in point being the ancient Athenians, of whom he writes, ‘By the end of the fifth century, however, the old customs had disappeared, the sexual opportunity of both sexes being extended. There was no compulsory continence; sexual desires could be satisfied in a direct manner. Divorce became easy and common; pederasty appeared; the men possessed mistresses as well as wives; the women broke bounds, consoling themselves with both wine and clandestine love-affairs. The energy of the Athenians declined. Three generations later the once vigorous city, torn by dissension, was subject to a foreign master. (Sex and Culture, 390)

Incredulous about the monotony of how sexual/marital practices consistently modified societies in the same ways, Unwin states, ‘In every case the same situations arose; the same sentiments were expressed; the same changes were made; the same results ensued. The history of these societies consists of a series of monotonous repetitions; and it is difficult to decide which aspect of the story is the more significant: the lamentable lack of original thought which in each case the reformers displayed, or the amazing alacrity with which, after a period of intense compulsory continence, the human organism seizes the earliest opportunity to satisfy its innate desires in a direct or perverted manner.’ (Sex and Culture, 412) It seems that history teaches us, that people just don’t learn from history!

At the conclusion of the book, the author offers this summary: ‘… if any society should desire to control its cultural destiny, it may do so by decreasing or increasing the amount of its energy. Such decrease or increase will appear in the third generation after the sexual opportunity has been extended or reduced.’ (Sex and Culture, 432) By this statement, the author affirms that inevitable social decline or advance will occur after energy is dissipated or concentrated by social views on sexuality and marriage, and that it the consequences won’t be immediately obvious.

Therefore, changes in social views and practices vis-à-vis sexuality and marriage have a significant role to play in any people group’s rise or fall, even their economic rise or fall, but at the time of change these people don’t fully realize the gravity of what they have undertaken.

I am sure that there are those on both sides of the same sex marriage debate in Australia that could seize upon Unwin’s research and employ it for their own cause, as Unwin also has views on gender equality. But, it is not my purpose to offer extended commentary on this work, or argue strongly for or against what is proposed in the upcoming Australian vote (there are already enough people doing that); though I do have my own opinions which will be conscientiously expressed as a concerned voting citizen.

My chief goal within the charter of this brief article, is merely to provoke into thoughtful action those who are indifferent or those surrounded by a culture of indifference, who might consider the change of marriage definition inevitable and of little consequence. It seems the record of history teaches us that there is more than one potential inevitability at play where matters of sexuality and culture are concerned, and as J.D Unwin’s research suggests, when  major societal change in views on sex and marriage are proposed and enacted, the consequences are never minor.

If J.D Unwin is right, and I have read him rightly, it seems certain that when any given society’s views and practices on sexuality and relationships shift toward liberal expressions away from absolute monogamy—which allegedly diverts social energy away from more productive goals—that society is predisposed toward steady decline and hence open to be overthrown by others with more expansive and productive energy; others who do have strong views on heterosexual monogamy (and I’ll leave it to your imagination who that might be in our context).

So it seems that in the case of the matter before us, that inevitability is a doubled-edged sword. Being indifferent to any upcoming vote on the legal definition of marriage, simply assuming its outcome is  inevitable, may result in a greater inevitability coming into play— an inevitability, if not practically felt by  you, then the generations for whom you have a responsibility to bequeath a future.  No matter which view you support, make sure you consider its potential consequences before you vote on it; because, as we have seen, the consequences in a case like this are great indeed!

 

The Christ-Centred Myth

I have lost count of the times I have heard the phrase Christ-centred  affirming the veracity of an allegedly indisputable theological maxim relating to the gospel.  Indeed, when  you think about it, how often do you hear people making theological assertions about something  being ‘….-centred’? I wager that scarcely a religious conference would pass without the ‘centre’ word being forcefully attached to a confident assertion about some theological truth or another.

I must confess, I not only find the notion of  something being  logically ‘central’ as being incredibly unhelpful, in as much as what it implicitly denies, but more importantly conceptually inaccurate in what it explicitly affirms!  I consider the concept of centricity to be a one-dimensional spatio-geometrical notion, and  as such is ill-fitted for theological reflection. Indeed, to affirm a theological notion as central, is to imply that it necessarily has greater theological value relative to ‘all’ other weighty doctrines that potentially lie outside the exclusive geometrical centre.

So let’s consider just how conceptually fallacious it is to affirm a specific truth as ‘central’. To do this, I shall consider  basic Christology in relation to  basic Pneumatology, seeking to show that making one central at the expense of the other, simply leads to a contradiction.

I am assuming, if you are even vaguely associated in Christian circles, you would have heard the phrase Christ-centred. It is usually proclaimed by those well-meaning and zealous proponents of Evangelical orthodoxy, who love to assert that the person and work of Jesus Christ must remain absolutely prominent, via the notion of centricity, otherwise ‘less important’  maxims such as the person an work of the Holy Spirit, might overwhelm and compromise the pure or primary Jesus focus of the gospel.

Indeed, for most conservative Christians, the notion of ‘Christ-centeredness’  has become a sine qua non truth; a maxim to be regularly cited in order to  challenge wavering believers toward  true orthodoxy. Alright then, let’s just see how far we can get with the ‘centrality’ of Christ, without affirming the alleged ‘centrality’ of the Holy Spirit?

There is no denying that Jesus Christ is a primary figure in Christianity. It is not difficult to see from Old Testament prophecy that Jesus was the predicted Messiah. Of course, without his life, ministry, death, and resurrection there would be no Christianity. Not only so his ongoing influence his continued to drive the growth of Christianity for over 2000 years, and will continue to do so. Jesus is indispensable to Christianity, but is he more central than the Holy Spirit?

Without the Holy Spirit there would be no definable ‘form’ to the world; no created world or humans for than matter–nothing for Jesus to actually come to (Gen 1:2). Without the Holy Spirit there would have been no temple to represent the flawed relationship between God and humanity, demonstrating the necessity for a savior (Ex 31:3). Without the Holy Spirit there would be no Prophets, Priests, or Kings; the people who foreshadowed  and became types of Jesus ( 1 Sam 10:6). Without the Holy Spirit there would have been on prophecy to reveal the advent of Jesus ( 1 Peter 1:11,12).

Furthermore, without the Spirit there would be no incarnation (Matt 1:18), no anointing (Matt 3:16) , no overcoming temptation (Matt 4:1), no miracles (Matt 12:28), no powerful preaching (Luke 4:18). Without the Spirit there would be no: death, resurrection, ascension, Pentecost and the ongoing empowerment of the Church. Moreover, without the Holy Spirit there would be no way to actually relate to identify with Jesus: no faith, no union with Christ, no abiding presence, no ethical empowerment, no body of Christ in which the spiritual gifts might be exercised. The list just goes on, and on.

The fact is, without the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ would have no world to inhabit, no people to save, no basis for coming, no capacity to come into human existence, no capacity to exercise his ministry, either historically or in any ongoing sense. Indeed, without the Holy Spirit, not only does the effective idea of Jesus the savior collapse, but the very fact! So is Jesus more central than the Spirit or the Spirit more central than Jesus?

As you can see, the problem is not Jesus or the Spirit, but the very notion of relating them via the concept of centricity. Simply put, centricity implies a kind of theological dart-board where the higher value targets exist in the centre, the further you go out to the periphery the less value the target truths have. Placing perceived important truths in the centre then gives them greater value than those outside the ‘bulls-eye’, which necessarily become lesser. I then practically enables the thinker to play them off against each other–one ‘must’ be  more important than the other. Which, as we have shown by comparing Jesus and the Spirit, can result in a logical contradiction.

Whilst I applaud the noble intent of those seeking to exalt Christ, as should be the goal of every Christian, to simply cite this or any other truth as being central (unless the subject matter is geometrical)–although it may appear to be a quick and convenient way of emphasizing the importance of this theological truth– is nevertheless a rather simplistic, inaccurate, unhelpful and potentially destructive way ( if misunderstood) of expressing truths that are vital to the understanding and practise of the Christian faith.

How then, could we stress the importance of key truths, such as the exalted value of the person and work of Jesus Christ mentioned, in a simple yet less-conflicting way?  Well, what is wrong with Christ-honoring, Christ-glorifying, Christ-oriented etc. Indeed, why can’t we speak in a less exclusive manner of : the primacy of Christ, the indispensable value of Christ,  or even the supremacy of Christ; terms which make provision for a more inclusive formulation.

I think, in making our theological explications, especially toward immature Christians who are not used to carefully thinking carefully, we who are teachers must strive for simplicity as well as theological precision, even if it requires more work to do so; and not lazily draw on ready- to- hand logical constructs, such as  the geometrical notion of ‘centricity’, which is predisposed to contradiction or conflict with other high-value doctrines–sooner or later.

So it seems, that not only what we think is important, but, how we think, what we think! For not only the matter of our thinking, but equally the manner of our thinking, will determine what we believe, how we actually live, and ultimately the nature of our relationship with God.

Faith is not ‘just’ faith!

Christians often talk about faith as if it’s meaning is so self-evident that any discussion on its nature is superfluous. Yet, we do well to be reminded that error can so easily creep into the crevices of doctrine that are ‘safely’ assumed and taken for granted. Yes, faith is a simple concept and by necessity must remain so, but adopting an indifferent approach toward its nature, may well result in the unwitting ‘believer’ embracing a false hope.

It is important for Christians to have faith; this is foundational to Christianity, but it is also equally important have the right kind of faith. So, let us briefly consider some ‘types’ of faith that have been adopted, rightly or wrongly, that we might have a better appreciation of which kind more adequately represents the kind God approves.

Some Christians consider faith as purely an action of the mind—a rational assent. They adopt this version of faith because they believe that it prevents their trust from being contaminated by human emotions, leading to an intransitive form of faith (i.e. faith that exists without anything to have faith in). Consequently, rational assent assumes a simple subject-object relationship in the believing process, e.g. the believer (the subject) assents to certain truths about Jesus (the object). Because it seems so straightforward, those who embrace faith as rational assent, draw comfort from the fact that their faith is ‘pure and uncontaminated’ by human feelings or actions—objective!

But its so-called objectivity exposes its greatest flaw. The apostle James appropriately reminded the first readers of his epistle that legitimate Christian faith must always have some kind of practical involvement with religious life. Faith that is not validated by faith-generated action is actually fictional; James calls it a demon’s faith, a belief in God without practical submission to him! However, in James’ estimation, a faith commitment to God must be expressed by a lifestyle of practical submission to God’s will—loving charity. Whilst we may concede a cognitive element to believing, it appears from the Bible’s point of view, if loving action doesn’t accompany rational assent, then faith invariably proves to be futile.

But with this emphasis on works as the validation of faith, we can find ourselves in the territory of the opposite error to faith as rational assent—faith as faithfulness.

Some Christians believe that the notion of faithfulness better reflects the kind of faith that is advocated by Holy Scripture. After all, faithfulness is a noble attribute that the Bible promotes. Unlike rational assent, faithfulness strives to prove its own legitimacy through practical obedience; it seeks to ground belief by integrating faith with works. In fact, many highly devoted believers, pastors, and missionaries have believed, and do believe that striving for a more radical devotion ‘proves’ trust in God. In fact, some 17th century Puritans used a practical syllogism to show the faithfulness/faith connection: Valid faith in God must involve prove itself with religious good works, I am doing religious good works from a ‘right’ motive, therefore my faith must be is valid!

However, as noble as this approach might seem, faith as faithfulness has the proclivity to become nothing more than a trust in human effort—effectively a good work. In the process of proving one’s rightness in God’s eyes through faithfulness, the focus of faith reflexively shifts from God to self. It doesn’t require too much imagination to see how such a version of a faith can be prove to be nothing more than a trust in ourselves! Yes, faithfulness is good but it can never be any more than the fruit of faith—not faith itself.

Finally, we come to a version of faith that, I believe, represents the kind of faith desired by God: faith as perpetual heart-felt trust.

Above and beyond an act of the intellect, genuine faith must involve absolute devotion of the self, a genuine recognition of my own inadequacy, necessarily resulting in an abandonment of my entire self to God. I cannot control the faith agenda by thinking or working, but must yield my whole ‘self’  to God. This kind of faith is not simply adding trust to reason or action, but represents an abandonment of any reliance on human capacity. As such, faith represents surrender of ‘all’ human control to Jesus Christ.

Since faith is total abandonment, it necessarily involves complete trust. It is so comprehensive, it even relies on God to every aspect of life. This kind of faith believes that every decision, action, and endeavour requires a resolute trust in God—even the smallest. It also believes that nothing done for God can be done without God. As it abandons itself to God’s moral will, it invariably leads to a loving care of others; in Paul’s words ‘faith expressing itself in love’!

Not only so, but this kind of faith is perpetual in nature. I don’t leave it behind at the evangelistic rally maintaining it as a memory, it accompanies every moment of my life. Far more than a punctiliar faith decision, faith ‘in Christ’ draws the believer into an atmosphere of faith, where Christ dependency becomes the perpetual modus operandi of all of life.

In this regard simple trust in God characterizes every: action, practice, and endeavor. Faith gets us right with God, faith keeps us right with him, and faith empowers all subsequent righteousness practicing—from ‘first to last’ (Rom 1:17). This is why Paul, consistent with his own stated practice (Gal 2:20), says in Romans 1:17 that the righteous will live by faith.

So as you can see, the subject of faith should not be taken for granted. In the end, errors in understanding faith come from creating a version of faith that appears to trust in God, while subtly maintaining human control. Until we come to terms with our desire to be in control, we will never come to terms with faith as God intends it. Perhaps the way ahead for those of us, like me, who are weak in faith, is to take small steps of abandoning ourselves to God. Once we experience God’s blessing, as we trust in small ways, it will invariably lead to a greater dependency and abandonment to his will. Why not start today, I am!

 

 

 

 

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