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OMEGA: How Will It All End?

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'End Times' Fever

One of the last questions Jesus’ disciples asked him was about the end of the world (see Matthew 24:1-3). After the resurrection and at the end of Jesus’ ministry on earth, he ascended up to heaven. As he did, two angels appeared and boldly proclaimed, “Why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven (Acts 1:10-11).” The last recorded words of the ascended Jesus are in the book of Revelation. They were to the church and he said, “Yes, I am coming soon (Rev.22:7, 12, 20)!” Ever since that time people have looked for and anticipated the second coming of Jesus and the end of the world. This began with the New Testament believers and has continued right through history but has intensified in recent years. End times fever is alive and well! That’s why it’s important for us to have a clear understanding of the end times so that we are not swayed by various trends or world events.

Observations about the Second Coming of Jesus

1. Jesus will come again. The early church held strongly to the belief that Jesus would come again as he said he would. A common phrase among them was “Maranatha”, which means, “Come, O Lord! (1 Cor.16:22)” The second coming of Jesus Christ is mentioned 318 times in the 216 chapters of the NT. That’s 1 in every 25 verses. Some entire chapters are given to this subject (Mt.24. Mk.13. Lk.21. 1 Cor.15) and three New Testament writers wrote entire books about it (1 and 2 Thessalonians. Jude. Revelation). Jesus said he would come again. Peter, Paul, John, James and Jude all speak of his coming. Not one New Testament writer fails to mention it. There are more references to this subject that any other New Testament teaching. Every time we take communion or the “Lord’s supper” we proclaim the Lord’s death “until he comes” (1 Cor.11:26). Jesus will return to the earth literally, visibly (“every eye will see him”), physically and personally just like he came. It will be the “same Jesus”, not another. He will come personally to receive us to himself (Jn.14:3). Unlike his first coming, which was in great humility and lowliness, his second coming will be in great glory with his angelic hosts accompanying him (Mt.16:27; 19:28; 25:31).

2. No one knows exactly when. Jesus will return in the Father’s appointed time. No one knows the exact day or hour (Mt.24:36. Mk.13:32. Acts 1:7. 1 Thess.5:2. 2 Pet.3:10. Acts 3:19-21). People who try to set dates or times bring discredit to the Christian faith and cause people to mock (2 Pet.3:4). We can, however, know the “times and seasons”. If we study God’s Word and listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit, we can be aware and ready for his coming. We don’t have to be caught “off guard” like the religious leaders were at Christ’s first coming. Dogmatism and intolerance on exact details is not wise. The Scribes and Pharisees missed the first coming of Christ because it did not happen just the way they thought it would. For those who are unprepared, his coming will be like a “thief in the night” – suddenly (Mk.13:36) and unexpectedly (Mt.24:36-51; 25:1-3. Mk.13:32-37. Rev.3:3; 16:15. 2 Pet.3:10. 1 Thess.5:1-11). Therefore, we need to be spiritual awake, watching and ready.

3. The second coming completes what Jesus began at his first coming. At the cross Jesus conquered Satan, sin, sickness and death. He said, “It is finished”! However, we live in the time of the end, which involves a tension between the “now and the not yet”.

  • “Already” Satan is conquered (a defeated foe), but “not yet” has his final judgement taken place. In between, he continues to try to deceive the nations and must be resisted.
  • “Already” sin has been atoned for and forgiveness is freely available, but “not yet” do we see sin totally eradicated.
  • “Already” sickness has been defeated but “not yet” do we see sickness and disease totally removed from the earth.
  • “Already” death is defeated but “not yet” do we see death destroyed. Our bodies are all ageing and unless Jesus returns beforehand, we will all die.

The contract has been signed and paid in full but we are living in this “in between time” before what has been legally accomplished becomes a complete reality.

  • There is coming a day when Satan and his demonic forces will be judged and cast into a lake of fire for eternity.
  • There is coming a day when sin will be cleansed from the earth and from our lives.
  • There is coming a day where sickness and pain will be no more, where suffering ceases.
  • There is coming a day when death, our last enemy, will finally be destroyed.

That “day” is the second coming of Jesus Christ. So the kingdom is both present (“already”) and future (“not yet”). Until then, we stand firm and continue to pray, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done.” This prayer is a request for God to reign and to manifest his love, justice and mercy in the earth. Our hope is rooted in Christ’s work of redemption that began on the cross and will be completed at his second coming.

The Bible and the End Times

There are a number of books and passages in the Bible that deal specifically with the ‘time of the end’ and the second coming of Jesus. Obviously, the book of Revelation would be the primary source of information concerning the end times. It is a fascinating apocalyptic book with much prophetic symbolism in it that makes it somewhat difficult to interpret. Over the years there have been a variety of approaches to interpreting the book of Revelation (as well as the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 24). There are three broad categories of how people have interpreted this book through the centuries:

1. The Preterist (‘past’) View – this view understands the events of Revelation as having been fulfilled in large parts in the first centuries of the Christian era. In effect the book was written to comfort Christians, who suffered persecution from Rome and also from Judaism. Revelation’s fulfilment is all in the past. We don’t need to be looking for anything happening today that corresponds to its prophecies.

This view has a lot of merit. The book of Revelation was written to real people and real churches in the first century and it had specific relevance to what they were going through. It meant something to them and they would have been able to gain understanding about the times they were living in and to draw comfort and hope from it. In fact, the arguments for a direct correlation between some of the prophetic pictures in revelation and to events in the first century are quite convincing. However, in addition to this, like all biblical books, I believe that Revelation also speaks to believers in all generations and times of history. We must not limit its meaning and application to the first century. In fact, like all prophecy, there are often layers of application to people in different times and circumstances without taking away the direct significance to the first hearers. 

2. The Historicist View (‘literal’) – this view sees the events of Revelation as unfolding throughout the course of history. Another variation of this view it what is referred to as a ‘Futurist View’, which argues that the events spoken about in Revelation (particularly chapters 4-22) await the end times for their historical fulfilment.

This view has some good things going for it. The first coming of Jesus historically fulfilled a whole variety of prophecies from generations earlier, and with amazing accuracy. It seems sensible to acknowledge that the same thing will happen with his second coming too. Unfortunately, the task of trying to identify contemporary events with prophecies from Revelation is fraught with danger and must be done very carefully. Otherwise, believers can be caught up in a ‘conspiracy theory’ obsession that only leads to fear and speculation and doesn’t really help anyone.

3. The Idealist View (‘figurative’ or ‘spiritual’) – this view is reluctant to pinpoint the symbolism of revelation historically with any specific social or political events. Rather it sees Revelation as setting forth timeless truths concerning the battle between good and evil that continues throughout the church age. The challenge is to be faithful to Christ and expectant of a victorious future not to seek any literal or chronological interpretation.

This view also has some real merit. There is a lot of prophetic symbolism in Revelation that paints pictures of spiritual activity in the heavens that can’t be fully understand in human or historical terms. However, to limit the entire book to only spiritual matters without any direct correspondence to events on earth would seem an inadequate approach.

As you can see, each one of these views has strengths and weaknesses. I believe that proper interpretation includes the best aspects of all three views.

An Order of End Time Events

We will now look at a possible order of end time events. It is important to mention that dogmatism and intolerance on exact ‘end time’ details are not wise. The Scribes and Pharisees missed the first coming of Christ because it did not happen just the way they thought it would. Every one of us is in danger of doing the same with the second coming. Here at CityLife, we have no official ‘party line’ when it comes to end time teaching. We allow for diversity on the details of these types of matters After all, we’ll probably all be a little right and a little wrong about how it’s all going to happen. I’m sure there will be a few surprises for everyone!

Let’s look at what will likely happen before, at and after the second coming of Jesus. Of course, I encourage you can do your own reading, study and research on this important topic.

Things to occur before the second coming of Jesus Christ 

Negative things to occur:

1. Increasing spiritual darkness (Is.60:1-3). Jesus told us that the last days just prior to his coming will be similar to the days of Noah and the days of Lot (Lk.17:20-37). He said that there would be great deception (Mt.24. 1 Tim.4:1) with many false prophets and false “Christ’s” appearing (Mt.24:5, 11, 23-26. 2 Thess.2:1-12. Rev.13). We are told of a great “apostasy” or “falling away” of many who are struggling to hold on to their faith in Jesus Christ (2 Thess.2:1-3. Mt.24:12. Heb.6:3-8).

2. Great Tribulation (times of ‘pressure’). There will be a time of great tribulation (Mt.24) and “terrible times” (2 Tim.3:1-7). Wars, diseases and earthquakes will increase (Mt.24:6-7. Rev.6:1-17). There will be times of intense persecution of believers for their faith (Mt.24:9-10, 21).

3. The revelation of the Antichrist. The title ‘antichrist’ refers to someone who is ‘against Christ’ or who sets themselves up ‘instead of’ or in competition with Christ. Jesus himself predicted the appearance of “false Christ’s” (Mt.24:5). There is a ‘spirit of antichrist’ at work in the world (1 Jn.4:3). The apostle John tells that there will be ‘many antichrists’ in the last day (1 Jn.2:18). There also seems to be an indication that there will be one very strong individual Antichrist (‘the’ Antichrist) who will be revealed in the last days before Jesus returns (see 2 Thess.2:1-12). The Antichrist will be revealed and will set up his kingdom for a time (Dan.2, 7, 11. Rev.13; 19:11-21). Satan knows that his time is short and in the last days he will throw everything he can against God and his work on earth.

4. God’s judgements will be revealed (Rev.14:7; 16:7). These judgements are outlined under the seven seals, seven trumpets and seven bowls of anger to be poured out on the earth (Rev.6-16), as people reap the consequences of their decisions and actions.

Positive things to occur:

1. A worldwide outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all people (Joel 2:28-32. Acts 2:17-21. James 5:7-8). This began on the day of Pentecost and will be completed in the “last days”.

2. A great spiritual harvest. Many people will become followers of Jesus and there will be a great harvest of people brought into the kingdom of God. The gospel will be preached to every nation and people saved out of every nation or “people group”, before the end comes (Mt.24:14). Revelation tells us about a multitude of people worship around the throne from ‘every tribe, language, people and nation’ (Rev.5:9). We still have more work to do here.

3. A glorious church. The church of Jesus Christ will be united (Jn.17), glorious (Eph.5:25-27) and victorious (Mt.16). The “last day” church will be greater than the first church (Acts 3:19-21). We are not there yet.

4. The fulfilment of all true prophetic words. All words spoken by the prophets will be fulfilled (Acts 3:19-21). Not one word spoken by God through his prophets will be left undone. Everything will come to pass. In fact, one reason I don’t believe Jesus will come back tonight, is because there are a number of things yet to be accomplished before he returns.

Darkness and light (Prov.4:18-19. Is.60:1-3), the mystery of lawlessness and the mystery of godliness, the weeds (tares) and the wheat are growing together as the coming of Christ draws near. The evidence of many of these “signs” is all around us today and they will increase in intensity as the return of the Lord comes closer. We live in exciting yet challenging times.

Things to occur at the second coming

1. The appearance of Jesus in glory. Jesus’ return will be with “a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God” (1 Thess.4:13-18). He will return in great glory, the glory of his Father (Mt.16:27; 19:28; 25:31). The angelic hosts will accompany him. Every eye will see him (Rev.1:7). John gives us a vivid picture of Jesus riding on a white horse – eyes blazing with fire, a two-edged sword coming out of his mouth, his robe dipped in blood and the armies of heaven riding with him (Rev.19:11-16).

2. The resurrection of the righteous. All believers who have died “in faith” will have their bodies resurrected and will live forever with a glorified body (1 Thess.4:13-18. 1 Cor.15:51-57. Heb.9:28. Phil.3:20-21). In that sense Jesus is coming ‘with’ his saints. This refers to all of the righteous believers who have died in faith since time began – their spirits are in heaven right now but they are waiting in expectation for the resurrection and glorification of their bodies.

3. The ‘rapture’ of remaining believers. Although the word ‘rapture’ in not mentioned in the Bible, the concept is. Jesus will return for (those who are “alive and remain” and escape death) and with his saints (those who “died in faith”). In this sense, Jesus is coming ‘for’ his saints – those who are alive and remain on the earth when he returns (1 Thess.4:16-17). There is a generation that will never die. Jesus will come in their generation while they are still alive and they will be "caught up" to meet him int he air. Many have hoped to be a part of that company and we do too.

What a day that will be! It will be more dramatic, more explosive and more exciting than any movie you have ever seen. The second coming is a great source of comfort and of hope for us as believers. There is coming a time when pain, crying and suffering will be gone. We will be reunited with our loved ones who have died and gone to heaven.

Things to Occur After the Second Coming

1. Judgement and reward for believers. Believers will appear before the judgement seat of Christ, which is not about salvation but about reward for the good works we have done (2 Cor.5:10).

2. Judgement of the devil. The devil will be judged and cast into a lake of fire for eternity (Rev.20:10). This judgment has been a long time coming being prophesied about in Genesis 3:15 and initially enacted by the work of Jesus on the cross and his subsequent resurrection.

3. Eternity in either heaven or hell (based on our choices in life). There will be a judgment for unbelievers, the great white throne judgement where the book of life will be opened. Those who names are not in the book of life will be cast into a lake of fire (Rev.20:11-15) where the devil and his angels are.

The godly, those who have accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour, will live forever in heaven with the Lord (Rev.21:27). Heaven will be a place like nothing we have ever experienced – more wonderful than we could ever think or imagine. God’s heart is that no one perish but that all have an opportunity to receive forgiveness and eternal life (2 Pet.3:9). Hell was made for the devil not for people. God does not wish anyone to end up in hell, that’s why he sent his Son.

Another area of debate amongst end time theologians is when the ‘millennium’ spoken about in Rev.20:1-6 will be. The ‘millennium’ is a 1000-year period where believers will rule and reign with Christ on the earth as a reward for their faithfulness. Some people believe we are in the millennium now and therefore that the second coming occurs after it (post-millennialists). Some people believe that it does not refer to a literal period of time but rather is symbolic of the entire period between the first and second comings of Christ (a-millennialists). Still others believe the second coming will occur before it (pre-millennialists). The challenge for all interpreters is that Revelation 20 is the only explicit reference of the millennium in the Bible and there is no mention of the relation of the second coming to the millennium in the actual text (whether it is before or after). Personally, I don’t think we’re in it now (you call this rest?). I tend to think it will be after the second coming but even that view has some challenges. We should not be dogmatic because there are too many unknowns.

4. The creation of a new heavens and a new earth (see 2 Peter 3:1-13. Rev.21). The end of the biblical story (Revelation 21-22) return us to a new world without sin, suffering or death, just like God originally intended (Genesis 1-2).

How should we then live?

We should live ready for Christ to come at any moment (Lk.21:34-36) but working diligently as if he may not come back in our lifetime. We should avoid extremes (over-preoccupation with a sneaky rapture vs. trying to create heaven here on earth). As Tony Campolo once said, “Any theology that does not live with a sense of the immediate return of Christ is a theology that takes the edge off the urgency of faith. But any theology that does not cause us to live as though the world will be here for thousands of years is a theology that leads us into social irresponsibility.”

1. Live with full devotion to the Lord. Be prayerful and watchful. Love him with all your heart and develop a close relationship with him. Many nominal believers will be shocked on that day (Mt.7:21-23). Don’t be caught without “oil” (Mt.25:1-13). Be spiritually awake, refusing to allow lethargy or apathy into your heart (Mk.13:32-37. Rom.13:11-12. 1 Thess.5:1-10).

2. Live your life in light of eternity. What we do in time echoes through eternity. We have only one life to life. This is not a dress rehearsal or a practice run. This is the real thing so give it all you’ve got. Use your gifts, talents and abilities for the benefit of others (Mt.25:14-30. 2 Cor.5:10-11. 1 Cor.3:1-15). We will be rewarded for faithfulness with what we have been given, not because of the gifts we received or the positions we held.

3. Live with an evangelistic edge. Make heaven’s priority yours. Be stirred to a spirit of evangelism. Build relationships, take risks, look for opportunities, share your faith and invite people to church and to Christ. Join God in his mission in the world.

Life is short, live wisely! Know God’s will, seize every opportunity and invest your time in things that count for eternity (Eph.5:15-17).

Extra Reading

There are a variety of views within the Christian church about all of these ‘end times’ matters. With so many unknowns, it is wise to hold our own views about the future cautiously and with an open mind. Here is some recommended reading for those who’d like to dig a little deeper.

  • Four Views on the Book of Revelation, edited by C. Marvin Pate (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998).
  • Three Views on the Rapture: Pre-Tribulation, Pre-Wrath, or Post-Tribulation, edited by Craig A. Blaising (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 2010).
  • Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond, edited by Darrell L. Bock (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1999).
  • Four Views on Hell (Second Edition), edited by Preston Sprinkle (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 2016).
  • Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World, edited by Clark H. Pinnock (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996).
  • Four Views on Eternal Security, edited by J. Matthew Pinson (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 2002).
  • Four Views on the Role of Works at the Final Judgment, edited by Robert N. Wilkin (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 2013).

Sample Reflection Questions

  1. What evidences do you see of ‘end times fever’ today?
  2. Have your ever read the book of Revelation? How did you find it? Did you understand it? Discuss the various ways people interpret this book. What do you think about them?
  3. When do you think that Jesus will return? Soon? In our life time? In another generation?
  4. What are some things happening today that may indicate that Jesus is coming soon?
  5. Do you ever think about the second coming of Jesus? What do you think that day will be like?
  6. Do you think the church, in general, focuses too much on ‘end times’ or not enough?
  7. Consider the things to occur before the second coming. Do you believe Jesus may come back tonight? If so, why? If not, why?
  8. Reflect on eternity – heaven and hell. What do you think they will be like?
  9. How does your belief in the second coming affect your daily life?

End Times Fever

End

The topic of the ‘end of the world’ has been one of interest to humans since time began but it has intensified in recent years.

Church History

Here is a quick overview of what has taken place from the end of New Testament times up until today:

1. Many people have speculated about the time of the second coming and the end of the world as we know it.

  • Even in 100 AD there were believers who thought it was immanent.
  • In the early 200s, Hippolytus of Rome predicted that Christ would come in 496 AD, working out this date from studying the book of Daniel.
  • Another Syrian church leader led his people out into the desert to await the second coming – only to be disappointed when it didn’t happen.
  • Another leader from northern Asian Minor predicted that Christ would come in a year’s time. His people trusted him and when the year went by they were devastated.

2. Many people speculated about the great tribulation.

  • In 303 AD great persecution broke out against the church and there was speculation that the dreaded tribulation may have arrived, with the Roman Emperor Diocletian as the first beast in Revelation 13 and his Caesar Galerius as the second beast.
  • When persecution ceased under Emperor Constantine in 312 AD and the church entered into a period of favourable treatment, many thought that the Millennium (1,000 years reign with Christ spoken about in Revelation 20:1-6) had arrived and that Christ’s coming was near.

3. Then just before the year 1000 AD there is evidence of more millennium and end of the world fever.

4. When the bubonic plague swept across Europe in the 1300s killing 40% of the population many people thought the end of the world was near.

5. There were many radically apocalyptic movements in the Middle Ages.

6. Many people have speculated about the Antichrist.

  • Frederick the Roman Emperor who died in 1250 AD.
  • Luther believed that the Catholic Pope at that time was the Antichrist. Of course the Pope at that time, Hadrian VI, thought that Luther was the Antichrist because of his attacks on the Catholic Church at that time.
  • Many other individuals in history have been given this label too – from Nero to Napoleon to Hitler, from Ronald Wilson Reagan to Henry Kissinger.

7. In the 1800s …

  • Many American Protestants believed that they were living in special times and that current events were hastening the coming of God’s kingdom to earth. Through people such as Jonathan Edwards and a number of great religious awakenings there was a belief that the church would rule supreme throughout the world and all evil would be suppressed ... then Jesus would come.
  • Great evangelistic preacher Charles Finney said that “if the church will do her duty, the Millennium may come in this country in three years.”
  • The American Civil War was the first event to burst this balloon of optimism. Factors such as immigration, urbanisation and industrialisation created numerous problems for the nation and people began to realise that the world was simply not getting better.
  • A church going farmer named William Miller was convinced upon studying the Scriptures (particularly the prophecies of Daniel) that that the world would end in 1844 (25 years from when he made this prediction). Optimism filled the air as did millennial dreams. Miller and his associates began travelling everywhere preaching at camp meetings and distributing all kinds of literature. Crowds of people gather in city after city to hear sermons such as, “Are you ready to meet the Saviour?” It is estimated that more than 50,000 people believed Miller with as many as a million others who were curious and expectant. When March 21, 1994 passed and nothing happened, Miller had to confess his error and acknowledge his disappointment. But one of his followers found a verse in the OT about a tarrying time of 7 months and 10 days (Hab.2:3. Lev.25:9) so a new date was set – Oct.22, 1844. When the second date came and went, just as the first one, most of Miller’s followers were completely disillusioned, Many became bitter and Miller died in 1849 a discredited and forgotten man.
  • By the end of the 1800s, events such as political corruption, international conflicts such as World War I, earthquakes, changing weather patterns, polio and flu epidemics, the rise of cults, and the sinking of the Titanic signalled worse times – not better. These events seemed to be proof to many that the end of the age was rapidly approaching.

8. After World War II (the 1900s), there was further eschatological frenzy. The world definitely wasn’t becoming a better place – two world wars, a depression, Hitler, Mussolini, holocausts and environmental crises proved that. Atomic weapons with incredible destructive power now left no safe place on earth. The USA and the Soviet Union entered the Cold War. A host of prophetic and apocalyptic literature rolled off the evangelical presses in the 1960s through to the 1980s.

  • One example is Hal Lindsay whose book, The Late Great Planet Earth, became one of the best selling non-fiction books of the 1970s, selling more than 35 million copies and was translated into 50 languages. The book focused on outlining all of the signs of the times – everything from the Antichrist to the battle of Armageddon. He predicted the return of Christ in 1988 and the rapture of the church 7 years earlier. Obviously, as that date came and went, Lindsay made some changes to his predictions.
  • Christian rock singer, Larry Norman, wrote a song entitled, “I Wish We’d All Been Ready”. This song is played several times in the movie The Thief in the Night (1972), the first in a four-part film series. It focused on all the sings of the end – a one world government, a bar code ‘mark of the beast’ and an appeal to become a Christian now.
  • In America, one minister released a book in the early 1980s entitled, “88 reasons why Jesus will come back in 1988”, selling many 1000s of copies to gullible Christians. Interestingly enough, he issued a sequel the following year, “89 reasons why Jesus will come back in 1989.” I assume the extra reason was because he didn’t come back in 1988! Anyway, we haven’t heard much from him since.
  • Other people have predicted dates such as 1994 and 2000 as the end of the world. Anyone remember Y2K? Well, as you can see, we’re still here!

Contemporary Culture …

Many movies made in the last few decades today make us aware of an end times –movies such as Mad Max, The Terminator, Armageddon, Deep Impact, The Matrix and The Day After Tomorrow all have some sort of apocalyptic or ‘end of the world’ theme.

One of most popular set of Christian novels is the Left Behind series created by Tim LaHaye. TIME magazine named this as one of the best selling fiction books of our times (over 65 million copies have been sold) and acknowledged its contribution to the frequent conversations emerging about the end of the world. The twelfth book in the series, The Glorious Appearing, focuses on what happens with those who are left behind after the Rapture. Tim LaHaye passed away in July of the year and the area of 90 ... leaving us all behind.

Just this week, there was an news article saying that Nostradamus (the French seer from the 1500s who wrote down many prophetic sayings) predicted that Donald Trump would win the American Presidency and the end would come soon after. Others are saying that the occurrence of three super moons this year is a sign of the end. 

Yes, end time fever is alive and well!

Well, how will it all end?

See my next BLOG post "Omega: How Will It All End?"

[Much of this information has been gleaned from the Christian History magazine (Issue 61), The End – A History of the Second Coming]


Suffragette

Suffragette_posterIn the holidays, we went to see the movie Suffragette. It was very moving - showing the struggle of women to gain the right to vote in Britain back in the early 1800s. The movie does not claim to be a comprehensive exploration of every activist who falls under that broad term, but instead revolves around one working class woman’s story. As a result, critics have noted that the full detail and nuance of this mass movement has been lost in the transition to the big screen. Nevertheless, it's a story crying out for justice for everyone everywhere - regardless of gender, race, age or socio-economic status. 

What would it look like to treat all God's creatures with respect, honour and dignity? After, all we are all created in the image and likeness of God. 

The Bible reveals God as a Trinity - one God existing in three persons. There is no hierarchy, domination or abuse. The Godhead is THE model for all earthly relationships - characterised by love, honour, selflessness and serving.

May God's kingdom come and may his will be done - on earth as in heaven!

May we live and work each day so that becomes a reality. Men, let's lead the way - starting with how we treat the women in our world.

See also: Women in Ministry


The Impact of Poker Machines in Australia

Pokie-machines
 
TONIGHT at 9.30pm on ABC TV, Ka-Ching Pokie Nation will screen across Australia

By all reports, it is a shocking report into the way that poker machines are placing a terrible cost on our society. There is stunning new evidence that pokie addiction functions in exactly the same way as heroin, cocaine or ice. This product has not just been licensed by the State but spread irresponsibly throughout Australia for the profit of the gambling industry, not to mention State Treasuries.

PLEASE help us lift awareness about poker machines by:
  1. Watching Ka-Ching tonight and encouraging others to watch it to. You can see and share Ka-Ching's trailer here. 
  2. Live tweeting during the event with the hashtag #kaching so that we can contribute a distinctly Christian voice to the conversation. 
  3. Stay tuned for next steps we can all take as part of an alliance of more than 40 community groups committed to addressing the problem.
“The problem we have is that [poker machines] are everywhere,” says Ms Keogh. “We’ve got 20 per cent of the worlds’ machines, and five times per capita more than the United States, and it’s really causing a lot of damage.”
 
Ms Keogh says that when it comes to poker machines, the gambling industry continues to talk about “problem gamblers”, casting blame on the user and diverting conversation away from the product itself.
 
“Roughly 30 per cent of people who play [the pokies] end up with a problem. If any other product caused 30 per cent of people to get sick we would actually look at the product rather than blaming the person,” she says.

[From Bible Society article]


Discerning Truth and Error

Discernment-and-scriptureMost followers of Christ understand the need to pursue truth and avoid error. Some take it upon themselves to find error and point it out to others. Most churches I know have a statement of faith and their teaching teams speak from this foundation. They believe that the Bible is inspired by God and is authoritative in matters of belief and practice.

From time to time, I noticed that one of our teaching team may quote someone in a message and it raises questions from a listener or congregation member. This can lead to some interesting conversations. In one such recent dialogue, I raised three questions:

1. "If a person quotes someone else, does that mean that they endorse everything else that person has said?"

2. "If you disagree with a person in one area, does that mean that everything else they say is invalid or not worth listening to?”

3. “Are you comfortable being in a church where diversity of belief around various debatable theological matters is okay?”

A few brief comments about these questions:

Question 1 - "If a person quotes someone else, does that mean that they endorse everything else that person has said?"

The logical answer is ‘no’. The apostle Paul quoted Cretan poets in his letter to Titus (Titus 1:12) and Greek philosophers in his speech at Athens (Acts 17:28). By doing so, he was not endorsing everything else they said or believed. In addition, he did not feel the need to pause and say, "By the way, let me tell you everything about this person that I disagree with." He used these quotes because they were true and because he believed that they would assist him in connecting with his audience and building his message, which was always aimed at lifting up Jesus and promoting the good news he had come to bring.

For some people, however, it seems that the answer to this question is ‘yes’. They go down rabbit holes to discover everything the person quoted believes or has said and then by abstraction declare that the speaker has promoted error. It’s actually not a logical argument.

Paradoxically, in a recent conversation with a person, they quoted a statement by John MacArthur to me. I paused and then asked them whether they knew that MacArthur ran a conference last year called "Strange Fire" in which he stated that the charismatic movement was demonic. I asked the person whether by quoting MacArthur they were supporting this anti-Pentecostal sentiment. Silence. No answer. 

Question 2 - "If you disagree with a person in one area, does that mean that everything else they say is invalid or not worth listening to?”

The logical answer is ‘no’. For example, the best selling book The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People is one of the best life management books ever written. Yet some people have told me we shouldn't read it because the author, Stephen Covey, was a Mormon. If your math teacher wasn't a Christian, could you not learn something from them? Another example: People such as Billy Graham and Bill Hybels are not Pentecostal like I am, but I have gleaned so much from them as followers of Christ. In fact, when I chaired the Willow Creek Association here in Australia for 5 years, I was always amazed at how few Pentecostal church leaders would come and hear from Bill Hybels. He has one of the most outstanding leadership and evangelistic gifts in our generation. 

Unfortunately, some people believe that if they disagree with someone in one area, his or her entire life/teaching is not worth engaging with. I find this very sad. 

An analogy I have used for years is that listening to sermons or lectures or reading a book is a bit like eating fish. You eat the fish but spit out the bones in the process. Very few things you hear are pure fillet. Just don't throw out the entire fish!

Question 3 - “Are you comfortable being in a church where diversity of belief around various debatable theological matters is okay?”

For me, the answer is ‘yes’. We have a clear set of beliefs but we allow diversity around a whole range of issues, mostly matters of biblical interpretation. However, for some people, this is not something they are comfortable with. They are looking for clear 'black and white' answers and strong promotion from the pulpit on a whole range of theological issues.

For instance, in our ORIGINS series a few years ago, we talked about creation. The author of Genesis clearly tells us 'who' created the world and 'why'. They do not tell us 'when' or 'how' the world was created. That was not their intent. When it comes to these last two questions, there are a variety of views in the Christian church today, including young earth creationism, old earth creationism and theistic evolution (see my BLOG post on Creation). I believe that God created the world but we don't have an official stance on how old the earth is. We are comfortable with this diversity and see it as a strength.

When it came to disputable matters, such as eating meat, Paul did not seek to create 'meat-eating churches' and 'non-meat eating churches'. He urged people to form their own convictions then learn to live peacefully and respectfully with others who differ. We seek to do the same. Obviously, not everyone finds that comfortable. 

Final Example 

Let me pull this post together with a final example. There are different views of the meaning of the 'atonement' and the work that Jesus did on the cross (see my BLOG post on Why Did Jesus Die?). 'Substitutionary atonement' is one such common view. It suggests that God is angry because of the world's sin but he chose to take his anger out on his Son, killing him instead of us. No doubt, there is truth in this but this view, pushed to an extreme, can make God out to be some sort of 'cosmic child abuser', which is not a true representation of the heart and character of God. A variety of theologians are thinking and writing about this, so in my recommended reading list, I suggested a few books. Firstly, The Nature of Atonement: Four Views by editors James Beilby and Paul Eddy, and then A Community Called Atonement by Scot McKnight. I also included the book Stricken by God: Non-Violent Identification and the Victory of Christ edited by Brad Jersak and Michael Hardin. This latter book is a compilation of articles by a wide range of authors speaking into this important debate. By doing so, I am not promoting everything every author included in this book has ever said or believes. For instance, Marcus Borg, who died recently, was a liberal theologian who did not believe in the literal resurrection of Jesus. I do believe in the literal resurrection of Jesus and therefore I would disagree with him on that issue. Hopefully, most people would know this because we talk about the resurrection of Jesus regularly in our messages. So, I am not, by some sort of abstraction, promoting disbelief in the resurrection by including this book on the reading list. However, I am saying that if you want to have a good think about the different views of the atonement, taking these perspectives into consideration is part of a robust process of study and reflection. That's all. Every serious theological student would understand the need for this.

Conclusion

Yes, let's be like the people of Berea who checked out what Paul was saying with the Scriptures (Acts 17:11). But let's avoid moving from discernment to judgment (see my BLOG posts on Heretic Hunting and Discern Don't Judge). Let's not become 'theological police' or 'heretic hunters'! Remember, we all "know in part" (see my BLOG post on The Joy of Not Knowing it All). None of us knows everything, so we need to always have an attitude of humility that is open to learn, even from our critics and/or those who see things differently than we do. Our teaching team welcomes feedback and are always happy to answer any questions or clarify any misunderstandings. We want to continue to grow in our ability to communicate God's truth in a way that changes lives through the power of the Holy Spirit.

My dad used to say, "We can be right in our doctrine and wrong in our attitude and we are wrong." Love, how we treat people, is of utmost importance (1 Corinthians 13).

P.S. For further reading, check out Across the Spectrum: Understanding Issues in Evangelical Theology where author Gregory Boyd shows the range of Christian beliefs (each believing they have the correct interpretation!) on matters such as: inspiration, providence, foreknowledge, creation, the divine image, atonement, salvation, sanctification, eternal security, the destiny of the un-evangelised, the Lord's Supper, baptism, charismatic gifts, women in ministry, the millennium and hell.


Responding to Domestic Violence

DV

Right now, our vision as a church is to see over 10,000 stories of transformation. Recently, we have had a number of moving stories about individuals coming out of domesitc violence situations. These are people who once felt isolated, hopeless, and helpless. Now they feel cared for and looked after. These stories provide hope for anyone affected by domestic violence.

Domestic violence (sometimes referred to as ‘family violence’ or ‘interpersonal violence’) is defined as “a pattern of coercive or controlling behaviour used by one individual to gain or maintain power and control over another individual in the context of an intimate relationship. This includes any behaviours that frighten, intimidate, terrorise, exploit, manipulate, blame, injure, or wound a person.”

It is estimated that at least 1 in 4 women is a victim of domestic abuse in her lifetime. There were 65,000 police reports of domestic violence in Victoria last year (almost double those reported in 2010). In Australia, the police deal with a domestic violence matter every 2 minutes. It can happen to anyone, regardless of your background.

“Violent abuse” refers to “using physical violence in a way that injures or endangers someone.” Physical assault or battery is a crime, as well as serveal other forms of domestic violence, whether it occurs inside or outside the family. The police have the authority and power to protect victims from physical attack. The victims of violent abuse have the right to protect themselves and their children.

Domestic abuse is dangerous in ALL its forms (not just physical violence) - including willful intimidation, sexual assault, stalking, verbal or emotional abuse, economic control, psychological abuse and isolation. Physical violence is sometimes easier to recover from than psychological or emotional injuries that cause a person to feel worthless. Threats of abuse can be as frightening as the abuse itself.

The Church

As a pastor, I need to confess that the Church, in general, hasn't always handled this issue well. We have often failed to believe that it can happen in Christian homes. There has been erroneous teaching about ‘submission’, ‘authority’, and ’obedience’ in the home, as well as misunderstandings about forgiveness and repentance. This has often created a culture of silence and acceptance. Here at CityLife, we are committed to doing a better job at helping to prevent domestic violence, confronting it when it does occur, and offering help to those involved – both the victim and the perpetrator.

Biblical Reflection

Central to the Christian message is that we believe in the good news of Jesus Christ. The Son of God took on human form, lived amongst us, so that we can have life, and life to the full! Any sort of abuse or violence hurts the heart of God. It is the very opposite of his sacrificial love. Abuse twists God’s good intention for marriage, the family and human relationships. God’s Word contains clear declarations against any form of physical or verbal abuse, including that of spouses or children. Psalm 11:5. “Those who love violence, God hates with a passion.” Instead, we are called to show kindness, generosity, and love to one another.

For Victims

If you are being abused, you need to know that abuse is not God’s will or part of God’s plan for your life. Enabling one person’s cruelty to another is not the will of a just and loving God. You don’t have to remain silent anymore. Please tell a friend, a family member, a pastor or ministry leader, or the authorities. You do not deserve this. It is not your fault. You are the victim of abuse and violence and it is wrong. You were created in the image of God and should be treated with dignity, love and respect You do not need to put up with it. It is not acceptable. If you don’t feel safe, please seek professional help in making a safety plan for yourself and the children. This may include leaving the situation or obtaining an intervention order. No person is expected to continue in an abusive environment.

For Perpetrators

If you are the one causing the abuse, you need to know that it is never okay to hurt or threaten to hurt anyone. Please get some professional help. Talk to someone you trust. Get some accountability.

CityLife Church

Domestic/family violence causes great damage in people’s lives. It has to stop. For anyone affected by domestic violence, we have counselors and pastors trained to be able to help you and offer support and strategies for you to move forward. Please call and ask for help.

Prayer

Father, you love us as your children and your desire is that our homes, our families, be places of love, care and encouragement – not places where we experience fear or abuse. I pray for wisdom and courage for those affected by domestic violence. Help them to take a step towards freedom today. For those caught in a cycle of abusing others, I pray that you would convict them and bring about change in their life. For us as a church, may we be a community of faith characterized by loving relationships. In Jesus name. Amen.

Continue reading "Responding to Domestic Violence" »


"Porn Kills Love" by Josiah Conner

We fight the drug of porn with the power of love

Ephesians 5:1-14

[Josiah Conner kicked off our Modern Family series last weekend with a message entitled "Porn Kills Love" (watch or listen). Here is a summary, along with some reflection questions]

Steak: We have taken the good gift of sex and turned it into something it is not.

Steak: food is for eating (we have twisted sex into something it isn’t).

1. Think about the ways that sex has been twisted away from God’s intention.

2. The dictionary defines pornography as: Sexually explicit writing, images, video, or other material whose primary purpose is to cause sexual arousal. Think about what kinds of pornography there are in our world.

3. Have a read of the statistics about pornography below. Consider whether these statistics are greater or lower than what you expected.

Scripture: The Bible tells us sex is sacred and is not to be cheapened.

The Bible is a book about God’s love for the world. Sex is a gift of God given with a purpose (Gen 1:26,31) but humanity through sin took it outside of its purpose. People tried to come back to God by their actions but it was the hearts that God was after (Prov 4:23, Matt 15:16-20, Matt 5). Sex is not just physical, it is spiritual (1 Cor 6:15-20, Eph 5:1-14).

1. Read through the Scriptures above. Reflect on why sex is more than just a physical act.

2. Do you think God or the Bible is against sex? 

Stats: Porn kills love

Here are some of the main ways that pornography kills love.

1. Brain: When we look at pornography it releases dopamine in our brain that rewires them to crave the feeling more and more. This is like taking drugs. We are the product of our habits (good and bad). Pornography becomes addicted to the good feelings of sex outside of the purpose in a loving committed relationship.

2. Relationships: Looking at pornography creates false perception of reality where we learn to expect what we see/read in pornography over real life. It creates distorted views of men and women. It decreases intimacy in marriage.

3. Injustice: participating in porn consumption creates the need for a system of injustice. While we may not be looking at the terrible aspects of pornography, they are all part of a system that makes abuse against women, child slavery and sexual abuse possible.

4. Spirit: porn pushes us away from the only one who can truly transform us. When you engage in pornography it pushes you away from God and community.

Are these statistics and consequences of pornography something you were aware of?

Shift: Fight porn with love

For those who are struggling here are some great next steps:

1. Choose: change starts with a choice. It may sound simple but what we tolerate we will never change. We need to make a conscious decision to change.

2. Talk: one of the great lies of the enemy is to make those struggling think they are the only ones struggling. We cannot do life on our own. We need community. As a church we need to create space for people to be real about their struggles and help lift one another up. (James 5:16)

3. Walk: Change your habits. There are some real practical ways you can change your habits. You can replace the bad habits with positive ones. Below are some great resources to assist your change

4. Journey: remember that change and growth is a journey. We are being transformed each day. Whatever our struggle, we must follow the example of Paul in Philippians (Phi 3:12-14) by forgetting what is behind and pressing on.

Response to Sin

How we respond to sin (of any kind) says a lot about our understanding of God and His grace. There are two extremes we want to avoid:

1. Rubbish: (kick someone while they are down). When someones is struggling we do not want to condemn them. If our first response to sin is retribution and not redemption than we are living under law and not grace.

2. Reinforce: (pretend it doesn’t matter). The other extreme is to overlook the sin. When we pretend sin doessn’t matter we cheapen the grace of Jesus.

The way that Jesus modelled is the best way to respond to sin (John 8)

3. Redeem (speak to the person they are yet to be). Jesus met people where they were but called them to something more. We want to speak to the potential in people. God met us at our worst and called children of God. We want to be a community that meets people wherever they are and calls them to their God given identity.

Recommended Resources


Beyond the Walls by Brad Chilcott

Bad C

Who would’ve thought that one photo could cause so much trouble?

It wasn’t the first time I’d been criticized for my friendship and solidarity with the Muslim community, in fact I’d had some threats of violence when I spoke up about Halal certification but this one took it another level. Had I renounced the gospel? Sure, being friends with Muslims, but praying in a mosque? Did I even believe in Jesus anymore? The beard didn’t help any.

Had I taken the instructions “love your neighbour as yourself” and “love your enemy” too literally? Too far?

1 John 3. This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.

We know what loves looks like by only one measure. Jesus Christ. We only know what loves looks like because we know Jesus and what it looked like for him.

And if I had a Bible for every time I’ve heard a Christian use their love for everyone as an excuse to be bigoted, hateful, insular, selfish, fear-mongering, greedy and self- interested I’d be the library at the Vatican.

You’ve heard it like I have. This flippant Christianese about loving people for whom we hold our deepest prejudices and ugliest hatreds.

Let me say this -

If it sounds like hate, feels like hate and makes people feel hated then it’s certainly not love.

There’s not some special form of love that only Christians get to know about that looks and feels a lot more like hate for those that it is directed towards, but in some super spiritual secret way is still love.

If it looks like prejudice, feels like prejudice and keeps us as far away from people as prejudice does, then it’s prejudice.

There’s not a special form of Christian love that looks like prejudice, feels like prejudice and distances and dehumanises people like prejudice but in actual fact is some secret kind of love that only Christians know of.

There’s no special kind of love where you get to be horrible to people, or pretend they don’t exist, a kind of love where you stay in your insular and ignorant world, judge people you’ve never met, protect yourself from difference and religiously maintain your privileged way of life and self-righteously sheltered paradigm.

There’s a reason that doesn’t sound a lot like love.

Because it isn’t love. It’s prejudice wrapped up in faith.

It’s ignorance wrapped up in religion.

It’s bigotry masquerading as Christianity.

It’s selfishness appropriating the name of the selfless one to excuse greed and insularity.

It’s our rampant desire for a comfortable, self-interested life using the one who gave up the trappings of heaven to set us free as an excuse not to give a damn about anyone except ourselves, our situation and our perspective.

That’s not love it’s blasphemy.

But seeing as that little rant doesn’t relate to anyone here in this room I want to move on and talk about some things that are a bit more insidious, a bit less overt and obvious but are nevertheless important to reflect upon if we are to apply this wild measure of love to our work in the community and world.

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus laid down his life for us.” There’s a CS Lewis quote that I find helpful to explain it in practice

“Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.” ―C.S. Lewis

Another way of putting that could be “good intentions are not the same thing as love”.

Why? Because if we don’t do the hard work of turning good intentions into real outcomes for people then it’s likely that the “good” in “good intentions” is more about how good we feel about what we’re doing.

There’s a danger that we’re in fact congratulating ourselves for the intention to do good deeds, the videos we made to celebrate them and the likes on our Instagram account of ourselves with poor children rather than doing whatever it takes for the good of the people we say we love.

The phrase in CS Lewis’ quote “As far as it can be obtained” is key for us, I think. Love seeks the ultimate good of the loved person “as far as it can be obtained”.

Here are some very practical things that love does when love has the intention to work for the “ultimate good ... as far as it can be obtained”.

1. Love intentionally escapes the echo chamber. In love we realise that it is easy to be surrounded by people, ideas, books and stories that affirm what we believe, the way we think, our theology, missiology and ecclesiology and we end up in a situation where we think anyone who isn’t doing it like us, or with us, must be naive, uneducated or willfully incompetent.

The echo chamber is when we find a bunch of like-minded churches, with similar culture to our own, and so do what they’re doing – it must be the right thing because they had a sick video and their people love it.

Love is not an excuse to be uneducated, or narrowly educated. Love is a steady wish for the loved one’s good as far as it can be obtained. As far as it can be obtained means being aware of the danger of the echo chamber where all our ideas, practices and projects are constantly being affirmed by those who we have become mirrors of.

2. Love is teachable and actively seeks out learning and critique. Love makes sure we’re at the cutting edge of community engagement, aid and development and have made every endeavor to learn from the best practitioners in the world about how to maximize our engagement with the people we say we love.

Love is not an excuse to do things badly. Love is not an excuse to be ten years behind. What I mean by this is that love won’t just send money, people and hours to any foreign aid and development project, or local community development work, driven by an emotional response we call love.

Love will, in seeking the loved one’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained, actively seek to understand what it world’s best practice today and invest in that best practice.

If you don’t know what results-based accountability, asset-based community development or collective impact mean, it’s time to learn.

When we’re still behaving like the white Saviours who can solve all the world’s problems for them the photos look great but It’s not love.

3. Love maximizes outcomes no matter what the cost – because it’s about the recipient and what they get out of our love acting towards them and not about us and our desire to feel like we’re good people.

In a small church community like mine, hundreds of people hours and thousands of dollars are invested in helping the people we love. In larger churches it’d be thousands of hours and tens or hundreds of thousands.

Across this room, across Australia, it’s incredible to think how much human and financial resource flows from our love for others.

Love, seeking the loved one’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained, pays the price of ensuring this investment does the most good it possibly can. That sometimes leads to conflict when we learn that our favorite projects aren’t aligned with good development principles, or that our community engagement isn’t helping but is feeding a dependency mindset.

Love sometimes means educating people that there are better organisations, projects, activities to invest their time and money into, and others that need to be abandoned, or radically re-imagined.

Love is not an excuse to avoid the conflict that comes from assessment, accountability and education. In fact, love makes those things essential because love doesn’t ask, “How does this activity benefit me and my church?” or “How does this keep people in my church happy and comfortable?” love says, “How can I best obtain the ultimate good for these people we say we love?”

This is how we know what love is – Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. What would you give up for love of people?

Changing the way it’s always been done? Escaping the echo chamber and being challenged by new ideas and paradigms? Being willing to take your people on a journey towards world’s best practice despite the uncomfortable changes on the way?

Maybe it’s risking your reputation, like Jesus being seen with sex workers, tax collectors and sinners as we do whatever it takes to make our community engagement about them and not about us and our church-culture measures of success.

This is how we know what love is. Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. Thanks. 

Brad Chilcott

[Source: World Vision's National Church Leader's Summit - February 2015]


Say 'No' to Domestic Violence

Stop-domestic-violence
 
As a pastor and church leader, I have a confession to make:
 
The church has not handled the matter of domestic violence well.
 
Let me be more specific:
 
1. We have not done a good job of helping to prevent domestic violence, of confronting it when it does occur nor of helping those involved - both the perpetrator and victim.
 
2. There has been too much ignorance about the prevalence of domestic violence. Many church leaders have failed to believe that it can happen, even in Christian homes.
 
3. There has been much erroneous teaching about ‘submission’, ‘authority’, and ’obedience’ in the home. This has led to a culture of silence and acceptance..
 
4. Preachers have not taught on this subject nor referred to it enough in their messages.
 
5. Pastors and church leaders have not been equipped to address this matter (I can’t remember learning much about it in Bible College nor in seminary) nor have they equipped their congregation members with proper responses should domestic violence occur.
 
6. Pastors have often emphasised forgiveness and repentance at the expense of a person’s welfare and safety. For instance, a mid-1980s survey of 5,700 pastors in the USA revealed that 26% of pastors would advise an abused wife to continue to submit to their husband and trust God to honour her action (by either the abuse naturally stopping or giving her strength to endure). More shockingly, 71% of pastors said they would never advise a battered wife to leave or separate from their husband because of abuse. Clearly, greater priority has been given to keeping families together rather than ending the violence. 
 
Central to the Christian message is that we believe in the good news of Jesus Christ. The Son of God took on human form, lived among us, so that we can have LIFE (John 10:10)! Domestic violence not only causes great damage to the victim(s), it also hurts the heart of God because it is the very opposite of his sacrificial love and the abundant life he desires for us.
 
The Bible contains clear, unmistakable declarations against any form of physical, emotional or verbal abuse. It repeatedly calls on people to show kindness, generosity, and love to one another, and specifically condemns the abuse of wives and children. Domestic violence cannot be justified through the Bible and/or the Gospel of life and peace. The apostle Paul said: “As much as is possible, live at peace with everyone.” Sometimes, peace is no longer possible and immediate separation may be the safest and wisest option.
 
Every church needs to adopt a NO tolerance stance towards any and all acts of domestic violence. We need to recognise the serious implications and consequences of domestic violence. This issue needs to be addressed and spoken about more frequently in order to raise awareness and help people break through the fear barrier. Training needs to be provided for all church staff and leaders, as well as the preparation of helpful resources for assistance. Every church needs to be a ‘safe place’ for people to find support and care.
 
Personally, I don't have all the answers. There is a lot to learn. Our church pastors and counselors are dialoguing about this matter so we can become a greater help to families facing domestic violence as well as be able to continue to help build healthy, strong families where domestic violence is prevented. 
 
Please, join the conversation. Listen attentively. There is a lot of shame and fear involved with all of this. Speak up and speak out. Domestic violence has to STOP.
 
See also: Responding to Domestic Violence (June 2015)
 
 
Other Articles and Resources 

If you are in an abusive situation:

  • Contact the free DV hotline on 1800 656 463 (TTY 1800 671 442).
  • Walk into your local police station.
  • If you have been assaulted, call 000 immediately.

Australia's Defining Traits

AustraliaDay

As a nation, there are traits that have defined Australia for decades, but as the times shift and trends emerge McCrindle Research takes a look at the extent to which these are still relevant in defining us today. 

1. The Lucky Country

Statistics show that Australia is doing better than ever when it comes to health, education, economic opportunities, and even political participation. 

The economy is on a steady increase, even despite a recent global economic crisis. Cash flow is increasing with the net disposable income for everyday Australians now $10,000 more than it was a decade ago. 

We value independence but in a community-minded way. As Aussies we recognise that individual achievement rarely occurs without a helping hand from others. After all we call this the lucky country—we don’t take the credit for it all ourselves. Despite our differences we know that when adversity strikes, whether in the form of personal tragedy, natural disasters or international conflict, there’ll usually be a fellow Aussie there to help out. It’s the tradition of the digger, the character of mateship, and it’s still the essence of the Australian community

Fast Facts

  • Compared to the unemployment rate of the US, UK and France, Australia’s unemployment rate is lowest at just 5.8
  • The EU, G20, OECD and USA have all experienced a recession during the last 7 years, whereby Australia has not
  • Over the last 10 years Australia’s life expectancy has increased by 2 years
  • Over the last 40 years our life expectancy has increased by 10 years

2. Big Australia

Australia’s population exceeded 23 million on 23 April 2013. Having doubled since 1966, this rise is fuelled by an increase in birth rate, life expectancy and migration. These factors have allowed Australia to grow at a rate of 1.7% per year, above the world average of 1.0%. Not only is Australia the fastest growing OECD nation, but its population is increasing faster than Indonesia, India, and Malaysia.

Fast Facts

  • Australia’s population is growing by 1.7% annually
  • Australia currently has a population of 23 million people, with an increase of 397,200 people
  • Natural increase accounts for 40% of growth, adding 154,500 people to the population
  • Net overseas migration accounts for 60% of the population increase, increasing Australia’s population by 228,000 people
  • Australia’s population density is 2.99 people per km2
  • Vertical communities - with record population growth comes increase densification, where we now live up and not out
  • Traditional detached homes vs housing approvals. More new homes in greater Sydney are medium density than detached homes

3. The Clever Country

The Top 5 industries 30 years ago were all industrial (mining, utilities, manufacturing, construction, and transport) whereas today there has been a shift to professional industries (Top 5 are mining, technical, IT, financial, and utilities). 

While once derogatorily referred to as the world’s quarry, it turns out that we are the clever country after all with more people than ever employed in science and technical roles. The Australian workforce has undergone significant structural change and we’ve moved from an industrial base to a knowledge base.

Fast Facts

  • The average years of schooling Australian’s engage in is 12 years
  • The number of patents granted by Australia annually is 17,877
  • 1 in 5 Baby Boomers, 1 in 4 generation X’s, 1 in 3 generation Y’s have a university degree and 1 in 2 generation Z’s will have a university degree

4. The Land of the Middle Class

Australia is the land of the fair go, where people are taken at face value and class and values based on where people are from or where they were educated don’t rate highly in interactions. Lifestyles are busy and our lives are complex but our culture is down-to-earth, and mainstream recreations are simple. Regardless of income or social status, there are rich pleasures offered in Australia, and these are all the more appreciated in times of rising living costs. 

It is a collaborative rather than individualistic culture and this teamwork, a mix of mateship and altruism, creates a context where neighbourhoods and communities are defined by diversity and connecting rather than class and hierarchies

Fast Facts

  • Australia’s median household income is $47,736. This is 2.6 times Spain’s average household income and 47 times the income of more than 30 other countries with household income below $1,100 (Spain’s is $18,531, Greece $15,823)
  • The average capital city house price in Australia is $2.5 million

5. The Small Business Nation

Australia has always been an entrepreneurial nation, with small business the backbone of the economy and the labour force. The Australian spirit of independence, a DIY attitude and the courage to give things a go are strongly demonstrated in these latest business statistics. The tough economic times and the terrain in which small business operates is having an impact, however, with only half (51%) of new business starts surviving 4 years in operation. For many Australians, the entrepreneurial dream is still alive but as demonstrated by the survival rates of new businesses, without better support, only a minority will achieve success.

Fast Facts

  • There are 2.1 million businesses in Australia
  • Just 39% are employing businesses
  • 69% of employing businesses are micro and have 1-4 employees, 6.2% are small (5-19 employees), 24.3% are medium (20-199 employees) while just 0.5% of businesses are large and employ over 200 employees
  • 50% of new businesses cease operation within 3.5 years of establishment
  • 1 in 10 cease operation every year

6. Land of the Long Weekend

Australians enjoy between 11 and 12 public holidays in addition to the 4 weeks annual leave for employees, which is more public holidays than many countries, and twice the annual leave of the average worker in the US. However Australians also work amongst the longest hours when compared to other developed nations and some of the most years of schooling. The “no worries” attitude is strong but it is more “no worries- we’ll sort it out” rather than “no worries- she’ll be right”. The “can-do” culture balances the “long weekend” mindset to shape a people who enjoy time off and know how to holiday- but work hard to earn the break.

Fast Facts

  • Australians enjoy 11 to 12 public holidays a year
  • Full time workers receive 4 weeks annual leave
  • On average, Australians work 38 hours per week, (41.0 for males and 35.8 for females)

7. The Tryanny of Distance

While Australia is warmly referred to as the land down under, the isolation and distance that the term once communicated is not the case today. While Australia is geographically a long way from the UK, it’s historical and population links with the “old country” remain strong. More importantly, it is closely located to the new epicentre of economic growth in Asia. Australia is a regional hub for many multinational organisations with operations in Asia, and is in its own right a globally connected, business influencer, cultural exporter and regional leader. The cultural cringe has given way to sophistication, cultural diversity and global influence.

Fast Facts

  • Australia’s region of Asia is home to 60% of the global population and the fastest growing nations on earth
  • China, India, Vietnam and the Philippines are all in the top 7 birth countries of Australians born overseas
  • In a 12 month time period Australia chaired the UN Security Council, hosted the G20 and will host the Cricket World Cup

For more on the facts and figures of Australia, be sure to check out the Australia Street Video Animation and Infographic (see below).

Australia-Street-McCrindle

[Source]


Should We Move Australia Day?

Australia_day-thongs1

On Monday, the 26 of January, we celebrate 'Australia Day' - the official national day of Australia. I love Australia. I have travelled to around 30 countries in my short time on earth and I love different cultures and places ... but there is no place like home. 

Amidst the fireworks and BBQs we remember the anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet of British Ships at Port Jackson, New South Wales in 1788. That was when Governor Arthur Phillip raised the flag of Great Britain at that site. We can celebrate and be grateful for this beautiful nation we live in and at the same time understand how some people may not feel like celebrating on this particular day. For many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, it isn’t a day of celebration. Instead, this day reminds them of how their way of life was invaded and changed forever. For others, it is Survival Day, and a celebration of the survival of people and culture, and the continuous contribution Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make to Australia. This weekend, before 26 January, in the spirit of love and reconciliation, let us recognise these differences and reflect on how we can create a day all Australians can celebrate. 

My good friend, Rob Buckingham, has written a thought-provoking BLOG post called Let's Move Australia Day. Check it out. If you agree, why not sign the petition to the Australian government.

Let us pray for our nation, for unity and reconciliation, and for a future that is established in understanding and compassion. Let's also continue to pray for God to pour out His Spirit upon our nation ... that we might be a light to all the nations of the earth.

[See also: Australia's Defining Traits]


Asylum Seeker Treatment: A Response from Prime Minister Tony Abbott

A few weeks back I wrote a letter to the Australian Prime Minister expressing concern about how children are being treated in detention centres.

This last week I received a response from him and I post it here.

 

Tony Abott Letter (Nov 2014)

It feels like a "everyone has a right to their opinion but we're going to do what we want to do regardless" response. He has totally ignored my concern. I will be writing him back again. 


Christianity, Christmas and Consumerism

Santa_Sells_Out

As we head towards the crazy Christmas season, it's a good thing to pause and think about consumerism and the follower of Christ.

At CityLife, we have a social justice LifeGroup and they have put together a paper designed to be a thought provoking series of questions and comments exploring some key issues which confront us in our Western, first world culture. We hope that it can be used to start discussion and to promote action in your family, your LifeGroup, your social network and your work colleagues!

1. On the Issue of “Stuff”

When is enough, enough? Or we could ask ourselves what would Jesus buy?

Thought Spot:

Jonathon Comford, in his article - Daily Bread: The Economy of Enough in the Bible - in Tear magazine, TARGET, posed the question:

 “How much money do you need to be happy? The answer is: About 20% more than you currently earn.

 At least that is what people think will make them happy. Research in the US has shown that people think that with an extra 20% in their pockets they could finally be content.”

The Pressure to Consume

We live in a high growth world where companies must make more profit year on year to meet shareholders’ expectations.  How do they do that?  By constantly marketing to us to BUY!  Upgrade!  It will make you skinnier!  It’s the latest and greatest!  If we are not careful we end up buying excessively, and over-consuming. Our rubbish bins are filled with stale leftovers, broken/outdated electronics and packaging wastes. Charity bins are littered with old toys and clothes. Our wardrobe is stuffed with clothes and yet we stare at it and say, “I have nothing to wear… I need new clothes!” Or have you observed the proliferation of “Storage Units” e.g. Fort Knox, Storage King? We now have so much stuff that we can no longer store it all in our homes and so we actually lease more storage space!

Packaging gives premium impressions and creates more value for its contents. We, humans, like the look and feel of ‘expensive’ packaging because it means the extra money paid was worth it. The growth in waste is placing continually increasing demands on waste management and disposal. Approximately 37% of landfill is filled with biodegradable waste, e.g. food waste, paper, cardboard, green waste, textiles and wood.

Quotes on Consumerism:

"The great danger in today's world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor."

"Let us be 'protectors' of creation, protectors of God's plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment."  Pope Francis I (2013), Evangelii Gaudium 

Thought, Discussion and Action Spot:

• How do your possessions end up owning you? 

 “The problem is not consuming to live but living to consume.” Skye Jethani

• Are you working harder, longer hours, working for a pay rise just to pay off your possessions?

 “It is preoccupation with possessions, more than anything else that prevents us from living freely and nobly.”

Henry David Thoreau.

•  Where could we learn to recycle and reuse, or buy second-hand or pass around?  E.g. Share items of infrequent use with family and friends – things like ski gear, camping gear, luggage, baby items (i.e. Freecycle.org is a non-profit movement of people who are giving (and receiving) items for free in their own towns – reusing things and keeping stuff out of landfills! (https://groups.freecycle.org/group/MelbourneOzFreecycle/description)

2. On the Issue of Who Makes all that “Stuff”?

How can we be ethical consumers?  Everything we buy has a start and an end called a supply chain. How do our purchases affect others and the environment?  This is not a new consideration – James challenged his readers in the first century: James 5:1-7 Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.

How can we be responsible consumers when the supply chain is far from obvious? There are organisations that are willing to help us navigate through the sea of choices e.g. Fairtrade Australia http://fairtrade.com.au/ and Shop Ethical http://www.ethical.org.au/

Thought, Discussion and Action Spot:

• Do we “hoard wealth”?

• Do we live “in luxury and self-indulgence”?

We can feel overwhelmed by the myriad of choices facing us. Our shop shelves are stacked with duplicate products that have been made overseas in less than ideal conditions – possibly by people, many are children, who are trapped in abusive situations as modern day slaves

• Do we consider who has manufactured the product we are buying?

•  Have they received a fair wage?

3. On the Issue of the Consumer Mindset and its Impact on our Christian Faith.

A potential consequence of consumerism is the danger of simply adding “Christianity” to our lives as another product worthy of consumption.  Is our focus “How can Christianity serve me and my needs?” rather than “How can Christ in me serve my neighbour?”

Thought spot:

“But in consumerism the customer is king, not Jesus. As a result Christianity becomes just one more brand we integrate and display along with Gap, Apple, and Starbucks to express our identity. So Christians no longer carry an expectation of obedience and allegiance to Christ, but rather the perpetual consumption of Christian merchandise and experiences—music, books, t-shirts, conferences, and jewellery. And rather than living out the values and ethics of the Kingdom of God, we share the values of our consumer culture while our identity as Christians remains a veneer”.  Skye Jethani

Paul challenges us in his letter to Timothy:

2 Timothy 3:1-5 But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.

Also Jesus, John and Paul, all warned of the dangers of loving the world and conforming to the world’s values.

Matthew 19:21-26 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

1 John 2:15-17 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father[a] is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.

Romans 12:1-2 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform 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.

The life that Jesus promises is not a life filled with material abundance, however, He promises never to leave us or forsake us. Luke 9:23-25 Then He said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?

Thought, Discussion and Action Spot:

In light of the Scriptures, it is sobering for us to consider:

• Do we place God first in our lives?

• How much of our time is spent concentrating on satisfying our many personal desires?

• Do we resume to consumerism as we exit the church?

• Do we challenge ourselves to give/tithe like we challenge ourselves to build a bigger house?

• Do we compete to share or help?

4. Faith in Action

Paul speaks of being content in all circumstances – of course this contentment can only flow from a life surrendered to Jesus. In the following passages Paul encourages us to find our satisfaction, our contentment, in Christ and His purposes for our lives.

Philippians 4:11-13 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

1 Timothy 6:6-10 But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

1 Timothy 6:17-19 17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

Thought, Discussion and Action Spot:

• How can we be content in all circumstances?

• Do we need more than food and clothing to be content?

• Where is our treasure?

• What is our treasure?

Hebrews 13:5 Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

ONE STEP AT A TIME…

Don’t be overwhelmed – we can decide to change one purchase and when that purchase becomes routine, change another. Every ethical choice we make will impact the life of someone for their improved welfare.

Is the answer to live more simply - acquiring only that which is necessary to live well?  Of course the dilemma here is that what we perceive as being necessary is ever expanding - this is what drives consumerism. However, way back in the first century Jesus, John and Paul, all warned of the dangers of loving the world and conforming to the world’s values.

Final thoughts:

The challenge in today’s world is for us to discern how God would have us use our wealth i.e. time, energy and finances, to be His hands and feet, His voice, His body to impact this world for His Kingdom. We will need to resist the temptation to give in to advertiser’s demands to buy every new product that is available.  In order to do this we will need to transform the way we think, to turn this world’s values upside down and be willing to deny ourselves and to bless our neighbour, to consider the poor, to be generous with not just our money but our very selves.

In the lead up to Christmas each year, we are bombarded with messages about spending and messages about “giving” that are really about buying and consuming. How about this Christmas we challenge ourselves about how we can give meaningful gifts without excessive spending – things like serving, encouragement, affection, words, hugs, and our time… 

As the National Director of TEAR Australia, Matthew Maury, said:

We have the opportunity to find freedom and joy that is defined by Jesus, rather than trying to find meaning in the things we can buy.

Additional Resources:

1. Consumerism and Christian Ethics by Kenneth Himes 

2. TARGET “Treasure in Heaven” 

Consumerism


An Open Letter to Prime Minister Tony Abbot re Treatment of Asylum Seekers

Flag razor wireThe inhumane treatment of asylum seekers here in Australia is extremely concerning. Thankfully, more and more people are speaking up about it. All year, Christian leaders have been peacefully protesting and writing letters.
 
I encourage you to do the same. 
 
Here is a copy of an open letter to Prime Minister Tony Abbott I recently sent:
 
Dear Prime Minister,
 

Subject: Treatment of Asylum Seekers and Children in Detention

I am the Senior Minister of CityLife Church, Melbourne. We are a community of over 9,000 members representing people from over 105 cultural backgrounds who make up our diverse and beautiful nation. On behalf of these members, I am writing to raise grave concerns about the current direction the government is taking in the treatment of asylum seekers, especially children in detention.

As a minister and follower of Jesus, I cannot stand idly by whilst children and adults, who have sought refuge and protection on our shores, are languishing in deplorable conditions in detention under Australia’s control. Numerous reports and investigations have clearly shown that detention centers have an incredibly negative effect on the mental and physical health of already traumatised individuals.

I am writing to ask whether you would act immediately to change the processes so that children and their families can be housed in community in Australia? I also ask that you would allow all asylum seekers to be processed onshore with minimal periods in detention.

I pray for you as the appointed Prime Minister of Australia and I appreciate that you hold a difficult position with many requests vying for your attention. However, I would consider the health and safety of any and all children, and the health and safety of all individuals seeking refuge, paramount and a priority for the government.

I look forward to your response.

Yours faithfully,

Mark Conner


The Exchange TV

Rob-christie-buckingham-exchange1Good friends of ours, Rob and Christie Buckingham (pastors of Bayside Church here in Melbourne), host The Exchange, an interactive TV program that engages with a variety of current issues, including parenting, technology, dealing with loss, the sexualisation of children, and domestic violence. 

The Exchange is like meeting with your friends in a coffee shop and discussing everyday stuff that affects us. It’s a half hour chat show that aims to share ideas on relationships, parenting, finance, wellbeing and social justice. Each week co-hosts Rob and Christie Buckingham invite guests around their table to get their take on a particular issue. The Exchange reporter Sandra Cavallo also hits the streets and finds out what the Australian public thinks.

The show is aired on Channel 31 and Foxtel's Australian Christian Channel. You can also watch episodes online. These can be a great tool and resource for small group discussion.

Worth checking out!


Halloween - Trick or Treat?

CostumesFeature

I remember attending my first Halloween party as a kid (not long after our family moved to the USA back in the 1970s), with its eerily lit pumpkins, freaky dress-up costumes and the scary dark room we were all dared to navigate ourselves through, kind of like a pseudo-haunted house. It was a lot of fun. And it was hosted by our local church!

My, how times have changed. Christians today either continue to celebrate it as an innocent annual party or boycott it as evil and even demonic. Why the debate?

Halloween (literally "hallowed or holy evening") originated as a pagan festival that followers of Christ 'Christianised' (as an occasion to remember the saints, martyrs and all departed believers) that has become more pagan in our own times.

For two very different opinions about Halloween, read:

1. "Six Reasons Why We Should Celebrate Halloween" by Dr.Ciaran O-Keefe and

2. "Six Reasons Why I Believe Halloween is Far From Harmless" by Canon J John.

No doubt we need to talk about it as followers of Christ. I encourage you to read the article links above  (and below) and discuss Halloween with your family and friends. 

What will you do tonight? Kids will be dropping by your home with their "Trick or Treat" greetings. You could pull the shutters down and shoo them away with a bit of a relational Wall OR maybe you could become the best lolly house in your street and offer local community people a warm Welcome? Think of the bigger picture - Halloween will come and go but our neighbours will still be there tomorrow. Remember, our call is not only to stand for truth but to show grace and love to people. That's good news. 

Other Links:


I Will Take a Walk on Saturday ... for Welcome to Australia

Welcome-to-Australia

Australia is marked with the beauty of diversity. People from many backgrounds, ethnicities and beliefs call this land home. Over the last several years I have had reservations about the treatment of asylum seekers, especially children in detention. The current harsh treatment of destitute people, seeking safety on our shores for a variety of reasons, does not reflect the beauty and depth of a society that embraces and celebrates diversity. There have been many reports about the detrimental impact of detention on the welfare of children and asylum seekers. As a follower of Jesus, and as a minister who believes that the church is called to exist as a faithful witness in the world, the abuse of children and the suffering of the destitute is not something I can stand and watch with indifference.

So on Saturday, 25 October, I will Walk Together with many other Australians across the nation to present a picture to our leaders and media that a different Australia is possible. Walk Together is an initiative of Welcome to Australia, which began as a conversation between a number of individuals and not-for-profit organisations who believed there needed to be a positive voice in the public conversation around asylum seeking, refugees and multiculturalism that was not politically aligned or focused on policy - but rather invited Australians to join us in dreaming of the Australia that could be. Adelaide pastor Brad Chilcott began to coordinate regular meetings of around a dozen representatives of these organisations in Adelaide, South Australia which lead to the initial 'Welcome Party' campaign in June 2011.

If you, like me, are concerned about the treatment of asylum seekers and children in detention, then consider taking a walk this Saturday. Details are available on the Welcome to Australia website.

For Further Reading: 


Indigenous Awareness Trip (October 2013)

IMG_1627In October 2013, my wife and I participated with a number of other church pastors in an Indigenous Awareness Trip, sponsored by the Concilia organisation. 

We began by flying from Melbourne to Alice Springs. It was my first visit to this iconic Australian town. It was not as big as I thought it would be - only 28,000 people. It was 41 degrees when we arrived - a very warm welcome. We began by visiting a number of the 20 Aboriginal camps around the town. Aboriginal people make up about 20% of the local population. We also visited some of the work of Mission Australia. Needless to say, it was quite confronting to see the challenges being faced by Indigenous people in this area. 

The next day, we took a 3 hour chartered flight north to a little town called Kalkarindji. Population - 450 people. Temperature - 43 degrees! We visited a Baptist church there led by Bill and Pauline. God has been at work in this small community. They had baptised 250 people a few months earlier.

After this, we spent some time in a number of other Aboriginal Christian churches and training centres in Brisbane, Logan City and Tweed Heads. 

The entire trip was an educational and moving experience. I realised how ignorant I was and how little I knew about my own country's history. Many stereotypes had been shattered. The needs are huge ... and they are right on our doorstep. It's hard work. These are very hot and isolated communities. The cultural differences are huge. There needs to be a lot of listening and learning.

The United Nations estimates that there are around 300 million indigenous people around the world today. They have a disturbingly similar experience of being swept aside by immigrant majorities, primarily through Western colonisation. Their close relationship to the land has been misunderstood, they have experienced the gradual dispossession of their land (through trickery, broken treaties, and violence), their culture has been decimated resulting in general despair and an ongoing struggle for identity in the midst of an overwhelming immigrant culture. As a result, Indigenous people are often the most socially disadvantaged (when it comes to unemployment, alcoholism, violence and abuse) and marginalised people in their own country. All of this is true in regards to Indigenous Australians.

Should this matter to us? Should we be concerned?

I believe it should!

When speaking to the religious leaders of his day (the Pharisees), Jesus commended them for their pedantic tithing (they even gave a tenth of their spices!) but challenged them not to neglect the more important matters of the law - justice, mercy, faith-fulness (Matthew 23:23). This was nothing new. Jesus was affirming the age-old prophetic tradition that called God's people to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with their God (Micah 6:8).

For Jesus, the 'good news of the kingdom' was not merely about individual salvation (going to heaven when you die) but about the coming of God's rule right here right now. It was and is about God setting things 'right'. His followers, the church, are to be the visible demonstration of God's Kingdom on earth. That means we are to be instruments of justice and mercy. Justice trumps spice!

Moving beyond good intentions requires us to practice justice. This begins with awareness - having our eyes and ears open to the cries of our world. Being 'salt and light' in our world requires a proactive stance. The opposite of good is not always evil; often it is indifference. Jesus saw the multitudes then acted on the compassion he felt. The next step is to allow what we see to influence the choices we make. Knowledge doesn't change the world; action does. It's a call to pray, give, get involved, and lobby. Social action (providing help for those who have fallen off the cliff)  and social justice (challenging structures and systems by building fences at the top of the cliff) are both important. 

Over the last few years at CityLife Church, we have lifted our focus on justice through addressing current issues such as human trafficking, poverty, and consumerism. This year, we are looking at issues facing indigenous Australians. 

Please check out Australians Together.

Let's embrace a deep respect for all people made in the image of God. 

Let's value building relationships over solutions by well-meaning white people

Let's increase our awareness and understanding.

Let's be compassionate.

[Picture: cooking up some kangaroo tail for dinner in Alice Springs]


Australians Together

Aus

Australians Together is taking a fresh approach to building relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. Their web site has some inspiring stories and helpful articles. Check it out.

This coming weekend at CityLife Church, I will be sharing some of our experiences on an indigenous awareness trip we did with some Australian pastors last year, sponsored by Concilia.

We will also be running the entire course on Saturday, 18th October. The course promotes the value of listening to Indigenous people and learning about our shared story so that we can live in respectful peer relationship with each other. In these sessions we will be watching ‘Sharing Our Story’, a 4 episode DVD series that explores how the events of our past continue to affect Indigenous people today. We're inviting you to join us on this journey to discover how we, as God’s people in Australia, can be part of writing a new chapter in this story; Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians together. Visit our church web site for more details and to register.

Let's continue to work together to bring justice and hope for all people across our great nation. 

See also:

Indigenous Awareness Trip. [NEW]

Max Conlon - Aboriginal Artist.


Don't Say 'Suicide'!

SaddddI am sure we all heard the tragic news of actor Robin Williams death this last week. It is so sad when a person gets to the place where they think that ending their life is a better option than living it.

Depression is a real challenge in our world today and many people battle with it. It is estimated that one in six Australians face depression at some time in their life. As a result, suicide is now the biggest killer of young Australians and accounts for the deaths of more young people than car accidents. 

If you are walking through what seems like a dark tunnel, please don’t say suicide. Talk to someone. Share what you are feeling and going through. There is hope. You can step out of the shadows and into the light.

Jesus said, "A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of." (John 10:10 Message Bible)

Here are a few contact numbers that may be of help …  

  • CityLife Community Care
  • Lifeline (24hrs) 13 11 14
  • Suicide Helpline (24hrs) 1300 651 251. Crisis support for Victorians.

What do Protestants think of Pope Francis?

Pope-francis_2541160bA recent article from the Barna Group:

March 18, 2014 — He was the most talked-about person of 2013 and winner of TIME’s “Person of the Year” award. Google Translate coders have set his name to translate as “a better world.” Yet Pope Francis insists that he is “a normal person,” and has no desire to be “a superman or a star.”

Some religion columnists and commentators attribute the public’s esteem to his humble insistence that he is ordinary. In fact, humility may just be the pontiff’s paradoxical trademark. The Washington Postsummed it up in one headline: “Like Pope Francis? You’ll Love Jesus.” The Post is not alone in pointing out that the pope’s actions, words and demeanor are often reminiscent of the Jesus portrayed in the Gospels. Humility may be exactly the kind of “ordinary” Pope Francis hopes will become the norm among all of those who claim to follow Christ. 

It’s widely accepted that Catholics love the Holy Father, but what about people of other traditions? Some have called Francis a pope for Protestants or for Millennials, but what do these groups actually think of him? And if his influence is so far-reaching, what has been the impact of the so-called “Pope Effect,” one year into his papacy? 

A new study conducted in late February 2014 by Barna Group examines the impact of the new leader of the Catholic Church on the U.S. population, including the nearly half of Americans who identify as Protestants.

The World’s Most Well-Known Religious Leader
Just last March white smoke billowed above St. Peter’s Square and then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio became Pope Francis I, head of the Roman Catholic Church and leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics. In a single year, Pope Francis has become the most well-known religious leader in ministry today. 

Of all U.S. adults surveyed, 62% say they are somewhat or very familiar with the pontiff. Not surprisingly, Catholics take the lead at 99%. Among practicing Protestants, 58% say they have a working familiarity with the pope. 

Second to Pope Francis is Billy Graham, the famed evangelist who has been in public ministry for 65 years. Sixty percent of adults say they are familiar with Rev. Graham. The third-most well-known religious leader is the Dalai Lama; just under half of all adults (49%) say are somewhat or very familiar with him.

Popularity, Power and Public Critique 
Familiarity is, of course, not the same as favorability—but Pope Francis receives positive marks among a majority of U.S. adults (54%). About one-quarter (26%) say their opinion of the pontiff is neutral, less than one in 10 (7%) view him unfavorably and 14% say they don’t know enough to have an opinion. More than half of all adults (54%) say Pope Francis is an improvement on his predecessor (among practicing Catholics, it’s a two-thirds majority). When asked to identify how well certain words describe the current pope, nearly nine out of 10 Americans say he is very or somewhat honest (87%), compassionate (88%) and intelligent (86%). 

Practicing Catholics take the lead in giving him high marks: an overwhelming 98% have a favorable view of the Holy Father. In contrast, just 45% of practicing Protestants express a very or somewhat favorable opinion, and among non-mainline Protestants even fewer have a favorable view (37%). 

On a generational scale, positive views of the pope increase among older adults. While only 41% of Millennials see him in a positive light, favorability is higher among Busters, also called Gen-Xers (51%), and Boomers (63%). The generation most favorable toward the pontiff is the cohort to which Pope Francis belongs: the Elders, two-thirds of whom view him favorably (66%). 

But what about dissenters? The largest demographic to express negative views is practicing non-mainline Protestants, one-quarter (26%) of whom feel somewhat or very unfavorable toward the pope. Specific critiques of Pope Francis range from descriptions of him as out of touch (22%) to the more serious allegation that he is corrupt (17%). While he has sometimes been cast as the pope for faith-jaded Millennials, young adults are notably skeptical about the pontiff’s integrity: 37% say he is somewhat or very corrupt, more than twice the national average. 

Adults are evenly split on whether Pope Francis—often billed by the media as progressive compared to former pontiffs—is too liberal (27%) or too conservative (27%) on social issues. Four in 10 adults (39%) believe the pope is too powerful. 

These critiques uncover some notable denominational and generational differences. For example, just 8% of practicing Catholics say the pope is either somewhat or very corrupt, while 22% of practicing Protestants say so. The leading groups to disapprove of the pope as too liberal include non-mainline Protestants (51%) and, perhaps surprisingly, Millennials (36%). On the opposite end of the spectrum, those most at odds with Pope Francis as being too conservative on social issues are also non-mainline Protestants (30%) and Millennials (38%).

Continue reading article ...


Typhoon Haiyan

TyLet’s be in prayer for people in the Philippines recently affected by Typhoon Haiyan. Thankfully, many groups, including World Vision, are at work in the area. Pray for safety, food and water for all families in the region, for the quick set up of evacuation centres and child friendly spaces, for those who have lost loved ones, for relief workers, and for those affected that they would find comfort in this time of tragedy and grief. Let’s declare that “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). 

A New Australian Prime Minister: Mr Tony Abbott

TonyCongratulations to Mr Tony Abbott who was elected today as the next prime Minister of Australia. He succeeded Mr Kevin Rudd, who will not contest the leadership of the Labor Party. This election campaign has been somewhat of a circus, but in the end the Australian population voted, and the Coalition has taken government, with a strong swign in their favour. Results for the Senate are yet to be finalised.

Regardless of how you voted and who you voted for, now is the time to get behind our new Prime Minister and his elected government, as we move forward as a nation. Those of us who are Christians should pray earnestly and consistently for whoever is in government, regardless of our like or dislike for them or their policies. God commands us to pray for those in leadership, because of the influence they have over our world (1 Tim.2:1-6).

As a follower of Christ, I believe that God is in control. He is sovereign over all matters on earth. Ultimately, his purpose will be accomplished. He puts one leader up and takes another down. He can put it into the hearts of people to do his will. We must trust him and honor him as the God over all the earth. Our lives are not subject to luck, fate or chance. We are in the providential hands of a loving, yet holy God.

A final thought … now that we have voted, our job is not over. There's a joke that goes like this: "What takes 2 minutes and last 3-4 years? Your vote!" That's very true. However, we need to do more than just cast our vote and then forget about it until the next election. A democracy is designed to be much more than just voting people into office and paying your taxes. We need to be actively participating with our politicians (whoever they may be) as key issues arise – and voice our opinions on important matters. After all, each politician is appointed to serve the people of our nation – which includes you and me.

"When the godly are in authority, the people rejoice. But when the wicked are in power, they groan." [Proverbs 29:2. NLT]


Religion and Politics is like Ice-Cream and Manure: They Don't Mix (Jarrod McKenna)

JarrodHere is a very thought-provoking article about tomorrow's election, by my good friend, Jarrod McKenna.

"Mixing religion and politics is like mixing ice cream and manure. It doesn't do much to the manure but it sure does ruin the ice cream", my friend Tony Campolo likes to say.

Yet this election, like many before, there is an unpleasantly nutty taste and many politicians have their finger on the blender.

Don't get me wrong - as a Christian leader who has studied the Bible since I came to faith, it's clear that central to the Christian tradition is a story of how well faith leaders and politicians work together.

But what's strangely forgotten around election time is the important detail that faith leaders and politicians worked well together to organise the killing of Jesus.

Um, as you can imagine, no small concern for those of us who love Jesus.

In the election season many pollies are out on street corners showing off their "Christian" credentials. Yet I can think of a number of reasons why most pollies would want nothing to do with Jesus as he is described in the Bible.

1. No one would vote for Jesus.

Seriously. Firstly He's one of those boat people. Well, at least one of those "donkey people".

According to the second chapter of Matthew's Gospel his family were refugees who in the middle of the night had to flee and seek asylum.

He's also a Middle Eastern man. Oh, and he's not Christian. (Yep, he's Jewish) He was involved in repeated seditious civil-disobedience and the religious right of his day repeatedly accused him of partying too hard and with all the wrong people.

Politicians and religious leaders today still find it convenient to scapegoat, alienate and demonise all the people Jesus loved hanging out with.

He was so poor he was sometimes homeless, with no place to lay his head.

Given this, it's more than likely not only would we not vote for Jesus, both major parties would send him to Nauru or Papua New Guinea.

2. No one would vote for Christ's election platform.

So what were the policies Jesus and his party ran on, all the way to... uh, the cross?

Can you imagine a foreign policy based on "love your enemies"? A foreign aid budget based on "love your neighbour as yourself"?

What would happen to our military spending with Jesus' policy of "do not violently resist an evil person"?  

What if real action on our unprecedented and irreversible ecological crisis was animated by "God so loved the world..."?

Or an asylum seeker policy based on Jesus' words "Whatever you did to the least of these you did to me"? Talk about a bleeding heart! Jesus' teachings and his example would have many saying he's more out there than the Greens.

No wonder pollies and religious leaders were keen to knock him off.

Some (many of them Christian), will be quick to retort, "but Jarrod, we admire how you try to take Jesus seriously, but Christ taught a spiritual Gospel."

No doubt.

But the spirituality of the early church put Christ's "policies of love" into practice. Central to the early Christians living of Jesus' politics of grace was the belief that it had to be voluntary.

Receiving and living God's love could never be enforced on others because it would then cease being Jesus-like. Why? Well, surprisingly comedian Bill Maher sums it up well:

"Non violence was kinda Jesus' trademark. Kinda his big thing. To not follow that part of it is like joining Greenpeace and hating whales."

After the resurrection the early Christians organised their communities around the nonviolent-love seen at Calvary that they believed conquered death. Think that's ridiculous?

You're not alone. Many, Christians throughout history would agree with you. You don't have to be a church historian or know the names of Constantine, or Charlemagne, to know that much of Christian history looks nothing like Christ.

It might shock some to find out that in the first century the pagan emperor Caligula was getting it on with his horse, who incidentally he wanted to be part of the senate.

Yet the early Christians didn't form "The Palestinian Christian Lobby Against Equine Senators and Bestiality". They just rolled up their sleeves and got busy living God's love in the power of Spirit, especially amongst the poor.

What does all this mean for me, engaging in a democratic system in 2013?

Well, I'm not looking for salvation from getting in a cardboard box and ticking boxes once every three years or so.

This is not just a horrible understanding of faith, it's an anaemic way of deepening democracy. Voting is not my voice - letting my life speak is my voice.

Voting is just saying one thing in one place on one day. If that's democracy, we are all stuffed. So have your say, but don't silence yourself by outsourcing your power to politicians.

Regardless of the result come Sunday, I'm still going to daily seek to live the politics of God's love, especially for "the least of these".

So maybe some helpful things to remind Christian friends who are voting (instead of being fined):

1. Don't vote for yourself.

Use your vote for the poor, the vulnerable, the marginalised and the common good.

2. "Christian" doesn't equal "Christ-like".

Don't think voting for a party or politician calling themselves "Christian" equals "Christ-like". The KKK claim to be a Christian organisation. Awkward.

An easy question is: Who are seeking the common good, especially for "the least of these" in a way that looks like an approximation of love? (Yep, it's hard.)

3. This isn't America (know our preferential voting system).

Understand Australia's Westminster-federalist-preferential-voting-hybrid system enough to know you don't waste your vote when voting for a minor party. This short video is a helpful two minute run down.

4. Don't vote for parties or personalities - vote for policies.

This isn't football. Don't just choose a team. This isn't Australian Idol.

Don't just choose personalities. Find out about real polices that will help build the common good for the least fortunate. ABC's Vote Compass is the best tool I've seen to work out who best represents you on issues you care about. (You can even just click "neutral" on issues you don't care about and forward to ones you do).

5. Pray.

There's nothing like prayer to bring us to a humble place of clarity that sometimes the best we can do is "love our crooked neighbour with our crooked selves" as Dr. Cornel West likes to say. And talking humility...

6. Don't be a jerk.

Sunday, this is all over. You have mates and family who even when prioritising the common good, will think there's a different way to do it than you. So don't be a jerk. We need to work together and demonising those you disagree with isn't a sign you are right, it's just a sign you are being a jerk.

So may our ice-cream be sweet, and please God, let us grow something good for the most vulnerable out of this stinking manure.

[Source]

Jarrod McKenna is a teaching pastor at Westcity Church, a national advisor for World Vision Australia, and lives at First Home Project with his wife Teresa, son Tyson and 14 refugees modelling welcome as an alternative to detention. This year alone his peace award winning social change work has engaged over 10,000 young people on 4 continents in 9 countries.  You’ll often hear him on the ABC’s Sunday Nights around Australia.


Federal Election Reflections

VoteOn Saturday, September 7th, Australia goes to the polls to vote and to choose their Prime Minister and who will govern them for this next season. As with any election, this is an important time in the life of our nation. This coming weekend, our church will pray for the election in all of our gatherings.  Our focus will be on four aspects:

First, we need to acknowledge that God is in control. He is sovereign over all matters on earth. Ultimately, his purpose will be accomplished. He puts one leader up and takes another down. He can put it into the hearts of people to do his will. We must trust him and honor him as the God over all the earth. Our lives are not subject to luck, fate or chance. We are in the providential hands of a loving, yet holy God.

Second, as citizens in a free democratic country, we need to take our responsibilities seriously. This includes the right to vote. All followers of Christ should do the due diligence and study the policies and values of each political candidate and political party. Unfortunately, it is usually a mixed bag and therefore priorities needs to be established and sometime compromises have to be made when making choices as to who to vote for.

Third, we want to encourage Christ-followers who have chosen to become involved in the political process and arena. We have numbers of people from our church community running as candidates for a variety of political parties who have a strong faith in Christ and who seek to use that for the common good of all. That is admirable. These people need our prayers and our support. 

Fourth, no matter what, we should pray earnestly and consistently for whoever is in government, regardless of our like or dislike for them or their policies. God commands us to pray for those in leadership, because of the influence they have over our world (1 Tim.2:1-6).

The good news is that when the federal election is over, Jesus will still be Lord and the kingdom of God will continue to advance on the earth. 


Some thoughts on the current Asylum Seeker Issue (by Tim Costello)

AssAustralia's humanity is the casualty of repugnant asylum politics

Article written by: Tim Costello chief executive of World Vision Australia.

The Australian philosopher Peter Singer asks students to consider whether a person wearing new shoes and a suit has a responsibility to wade into a nearby pond, thus ruining their clothes, if they see a child in that pond having difficulty swimming.

Predictably they respond that the person has a responsibility to save the child and that the cost of the shoes and suit are no reason not to act.

In other words, you either think that people have inherent dignity and worth, or not. In the eyes of the bystander, that dignity does not depend on whether you have a personal link to the child or not.

This humanist approach sits comfortably alongside my Christian ethical viewpoint - in the parable of the Good Samaritan, the help afforded a stranger did not depend on cultural or ethnic ties.

In 21st century Australia it is disheartening to think that some in mainstream politics would choose to keep walking past the pond, as the architects of evermore oppressive policies concerning asylum seekers appear to be prepared to do.

The loss of focus on human dignity in our political debate is evident in framing the contemporary argument around refugees and boat arrivals as a "problem" to be "solved".

Rather, it should concern every Australian that there are children in our detention centres who are living unhappy lives: lives behind bars, lives that were already blighted in some way by the circumstances which pushed their families from their homes, lives that are suspended.

In a democracy like Australia, politicians take their cue from what they understand to be public opinion.

So when we as a nation, as citizens, as respondents to opinion polls are either complacent about this issue or complicit in the punitive approach to asylum seekers, we have lost something that sits at the core of a decent society. How did this happen?

On the policymakers' side, the courting of political favour through the demonising of vulnerable people is undignified, repugnant and venal.

Australia is in urgent need of a change of heart.

As head of a child-focused aid and development organisation, I am continually humbled by the hospitality I receive from refugees fleeing from unimaginable violence, instability and natural calamity.

Most recently I was invited into the tents of Syrian families who had fled across the border to Jordan. As urban planners go to work in these giant refugee camps - in recognition that the prospects of peace and stability returning to Syria in the medium term are remote - displaced people have told me their stories. Their hospitality crosses cultural and religious divides, as well as the fact that I am a stranger, as they tell me about their fears for the future of their children. I have witnessed the boredom and frustration of refugee kids who simply want to be in school, because that gives them the best chance of achieving their dreams. When the hope that resides in the hearts of children is in danger of flickering out, then that is a true humanitarian emergency. And that is why I believe we stand, as a society, guilty.

We have let ourselves conflate the issues surrounding asylum seekers with any number of anxieties we face - from budget deficits to job security. The most distracting and distorting of these perceived links has been the linking of boat arrivals with security risks. This fearmongering sows the seeds of distrust and envy. It is the opposite approach of sitting down with someone and learning their story. And letting fear dominate the discourse also diminishes our way of life, and our democratic ideals. The inherent worth of human beings is just that - inherent - not subject to fashion and fickle political manipulation. This worth and dignity is denied when we as a nation ban asylum seekers from working - even in a volunteer capacity. It is holding back human industry and aspiration. It amounts to a brazen attempt to worsen the life chances of others who weren't born in this "lucky" country.

I call on all people who agree that there is inherent worth in every person, not be embarrassed to be pro-people. To see the potential in every person fleeing conflict, disaster and persecution. To respect their quest for some semblance of personal security. And to be pro-children - to support them to imagine a better future, not a life limited by incarceration.

Perhaps it's time for an honest assessment of the drivers of this fear and anxiety in our society, directed towards those who arrive via ocean. There is much anxiety over the economy, the budget, debt, jobs - if the media are any guide. It's intellectually and morally lazy to allow our fears about the economy and jobs and debt, to be projected onto human bogymen in the form of asylum seekers.

A more productive approach would be to consciously and conscientiously focus on what we've got to be hopeful about in this country, and how we can welcome those who are motivated to contribute. Our wealthy, free and culturally diverse society is something which should not be hoarded - tightly guarded, wrapped in plastic and gathering dust. It is something to be celebrated and shared.

[Source]


Tax Blues on the Increase in Australia

TaxIs Australia becoming a nation of whiners? The third survey of opinions on tax - for 2012 by Per Capita shows more of us believe we pay too much tax in a system that is less fair. Per Capita says Australia has the fifth lowest tax burden of the 34 OECD countries, only higher than South Korea, Chile, the US and Mexico, and yet 50% of us believe we are 'over-taxed', up from 44% in 2010. And the proportion of people who think they pay too much tax increases as income increases.

[Source: Money Magazine, May 2013 - Issue 156]

 


What Americans think of Islam

IslamBarna Report: In the aftermath of the Boston marathon bombings, the attention of the media and the American public quickly turned toward the faith and political background of Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Reporters honed in on Tamerlan’s apparently deep Muslim faith, especially analyzing if that faith had become radicalized in the last few years. Fair or not, pundits, experts, and the American public wondered—did the faith of the two alleged bombers have anything to do with the atrocity that occurred? If so, what did that mean?

It was yet another instance of American ideals and radical Islam clashing with one another. Since September 11, 2001, American attitudes toward the religion of Islam have been under increased investigation. Controversies surrounding al Qaeda action around the world (such as the recent attempt in Canada), the Ground Zero Mosque, the protests over the film The Innocence of Muslims, Pastor Terry Jones threatening to burn a Quran, or any number of proposed laws (like the one in Oklahoma) to ban Sharia Law in the United States, have all entered into the collective American consciousness. So what does America think about Islam?

A recent Barna study suggests one-third of Americans (33%) have a favorable perception of Islam, while slightly more (36%) say they have an unfavorable perception of the religion. Add to that the 31% who don’t know what they think about Islam, and you have a nation decidedly divided on how to deal with a religion that includes 1.57 billion followers worldwide.

Perceptions of Islam
Americans of all ages are fairly split on how they perceive Islam, though the general trend reveals older Americans have a less positive impression of the faith of Muslims. Only 5% of Elders—adults who are 67 or older—say they have a “very favorable” perception of Islam, compared to 14% of Mosaics—ages 18 to 28—who say the same. About one in five Elders also say they have a “very unfavorable” perception of Islam (21%), while less than one in eight Mosaics feel that way (13%).

There is also a political divide that defines people’s perception of Islam. In Barna’s research, the only group with a lower response of “very favorable” than Elders were people who identify as Republican. Half of political conservatives (50%) say they have at least a somewhat unfavorable perception of Islam, while only about in five (22%) political liberals say the same.

Religious ideology and affiliation also affects one’s perception of Islam. Evangelical Christians have the most unfavorable perception of Islam, with two-thirds of evangelicals saying they have an unfavorable impression (62%), and with four in ten evangelicals holding a very unfavorable perception (39%). Only one-fifth of evangelicals say they maintain a favorable view of Islam (22%). Conversely, only 7% of agnostics and people who identify with no faith say they have a very unfavorable view of Islam, and 17% say they have a very favorable view of the religion. In between these groups, about one-fifth of non-evangelical born again Christians say they have a very unfavorable view of Islam (20%)

Clergy Views of Islam
If religiously active Americans perceive Islam negatively, skepticism toward the Islamic faith is even deeper among Protestant faith leaders. In a separate Barna survey of pastors, almost three-quarters of Protestant clergy (72%) expressed critical views of Islam—saying they have somewhat or very unfavorable perceptions of the religion. According to the survey, pastors of mainline denominations tend to have a more favorable perception of Islam compared to other Christian leaders, with 68% reporting either a somewhat or very favorable perception of the Muslim faith. Non-mainline and Southern Baptist pastors have the most negative perceptions of Islam, with 85% and 92%, respectively, telling Barna Group they have either somewhat or very unfavorable perceptions of Islam.

Violence and Islam
Much of Americans’ concern over Islam has been a perception of violence. While more than half of American adults (53%) believe Islam is essentially a peaceful religion, a substantial minority—more than one in four of all Americans (26%)—associate Islam with violence, saying “Islam is essentially a violent religion.” Another one-fifth of respondents say they are not sure how to answer this question, which underscores that even while most Americans have come to a point of view on Islam, the jury is still out for millions of others

Among religious groups, the perception differs from group to group. While less than half of Protestant pastors (45%) agree with the statement “Islam is essentially a violent religion,” more than half of evangelicals (52%) say they agree with that statement. That percentage drops down to less than one-in-three (30%) when surveying non-evangelical born again Christians, and 26% of Catholics agree with the statement linking Islam and violence. An even smaller percentage of people (20%) who claim no faith (or are agnostic) say they agree with the same statement.

Only a little more than one in four evangelicals (27%) agree with the inverse statement, “Islam is essentially a peaceful religion,” while 62% of people with no faith or who are agnostic agree with that statement. Nearly half of non-evangelical born again Christians (47%) say they agree with the link between peace and Islam, and more than half of Catholics (59%) say the same. Of all Protestant pastors, well over half (62%) disagree that Islam is essentially a peaceful religion.

Politically, conservatives generally seem to believe Islam to be a more violent religion than do liberals. Nearly half of political conservatives (45%) agree with the statement “Islam is essentially a violent religion,” compared to 19% of moderates and 15% of liberals. Over three-quarters of people (79%) who identify as political liberals say they believe “Islam is essentially a peaceful religion,” compared with the 40% of conservatives who say the same.

There is also a steady uptick in agreement with the statement “Islam is essentially a violent religion” as responders get older—Elders are the most likely to agree with the statement (31% of these respondents agreed) while Mosaics are the least likely (20% agreed).

Is Peace Possible?
Three-quarters of all Americans (75%) believe “peace between Christianity and Islam is possible,” and that optimism plays out among the various demographic breakdowns as well. Even though nearly three-quarters of evangelicals (74%) believe that Islam is “anti-Christian,” Barna researchers found that seven in ten evangelical Christians believe peace between Christians and Muslims is possible. A full 85% of Mosaics believe peace between Christians and Muslims is conceivable, though only 63% of Elders say the same. That divide is echoed in the political realm, where 85% of liberals believe there is the possibility of peace between Christians and Muslims, compared to only 64% of conservatives who agree

Peoples’ view of Islam and hope for peace may be colored by attacks like the Boston marathon and 9/11 and the global reaction to Innocence of Muslims, which many people are willing to attribute to extremists. Nearly seven in ten Americans (68%) agree that extremists have unfairly distorted people’s perceptions of Islam (only 15% of Americans disagree)—it’s a sentiment held by the majority of liberals (86%) and conservatives (61%).

With a Muslim population in the United States estimated by some sources to be as large as seven million people, and as events across the Muslim world continue to touch American lives, public perception of Islam in the U.S. is an increasingly important religious indicator. David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group, commented on the findings. “The study raises questions for Christians in America. While Muslims remain a very small part of the entire U.S. population, the world is shrinking in many ways. Events like those in Boston focus the public’s attention on Islam. Increasing immigration of Muslims into the country changes population densities. The Internet and social media bring human beings of different faiths and contexts into closer digital proximity. And the implications of events in predominantly Muslim nations, including the Middle East, affect millions around the world. For example, how do U.S. Christians help support persecuted Christians who live in other countries, without demonizing Muslims at the same time?

“Christians don’t have to give up on their faith convictions, yet it is important to live and work compassionately and graciously with members of the second largest religion in the world. Some of the public’s response to the Boston attacks showed how easy it is to lump people into a group labeled as different and dangerous. Yet, it is important to see the human beings behind the Islamic label while discerning the fundamental differences between following Christ and Mohammed.”

[Source


Finger-Pointing and the Impulse to Judge (by Greg Boyd)

FingerA well-written article by Greg Boyd, worth re-posting:

To no one’s surprise, yet to the sadness of many of us, several Christian spokespeople, including James Dobson, Mike Huckabee and Bryan Fischer, are blaming the shootings in Newtown, Conn, on abortion and gay marriage. This is sadly reminiscent of Jerry Falwell’s hurtful response to 9/11 when he divined that “the pagans,” “abortionists,” “feminists,” “gays,” “lesbians,” “ACLU” and “People For the American Way” were to be blamed. It’s reminiscent as well, on a smaller scale, of John Piper’s disturbing public declaration that the collapse of the 35W bridge here in Minneapolis that killed 13 people was God warning us about our sin and the toppling of a church steeple by a tornado was God warning a denomination not to ordain gays.

It seems to have become a staple of American conservative Christianity to respond to tragedy – when people most need to be reminded of God’s comforting and healing love – to grab a megaphone and accuse.

How very different is the posture that the NT teaches God’s people to have. When Jesus confronted people who claimed to discern the punishing hand of God in the face of tragedy, he rebuked them by telling them to worry about their own relationship with God (Luke 13:1-5). He taught us to never look for specks in other people’s eyes, because we have planks sticking out of our own (Matthew 7:1-3). Whatever sin we think we discern in another person, in other words, we should regard it as a mere dust particle compared to our own plank.

Reflecting the same humble mindset, Paul taught us “a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance” by everybody: namely, that “Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst” (1 Timothy 1:15). Knowing that we are all sinners in desperate need of a savior, we should each confess that we are the worst of sinners. It would never occur to someone who took these teachings of Jesus and Paul seriously to ever try to put the blame for a tragedy – or even a damaged church steeple – on someone else’s sin!

I’m reminded of Paul’s beautiful teaching that God “reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” He then fleshes out what this means when he repeats: “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them, [a]nd he has given us the message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). In other words, God handed over to us the wonderful assignment to manifest his love and saving work by never counting people’s sins against them! Our job is to do the exact opposite of what Satan, the Accuser (Revelation 12:9) does. From the garden, to Job, to the end of the age, he holds people’s sin against them and inspires to do the same. All who follow Jesus are called to engage in warfare against this enemy of humanity by manifesting the loving attitude of Jesus when he offered up his life to free all from their sin, praying for our forgiveness with his last breath (Luke 23:34).

I don’t doubt the sincerity of those who respond to tragedy by pointing fingers. But I want to, in love, warn them that in pointing fingers, they’re unwittingly aligning themselves on the side of the cosmic finger-pointer.

For my two cents, I’d much rather find myself on the side of the one who died to end all finger-pointing.

[Source]


Heretic Hunting?

JudgeIt always concerns me the amount of so-called ‘Christians’ who spend their time throwing mud at other Christian ministries, claiming that so-and-so is a false prophet or spreading heresy. Jesus does call us to discern ministries (by their fruit) but to go beyond this and place a judgment on a person is something we are strongly commanded to NOT do (see my previous BLOG post 'Discern, Don't Judge).

To quote my previous post, Derek Prince recommends five key things that we should look for when discerning whether any church, ministry or so-called “move of God” is genuine or not (from his booklet Uproar in the Church published by Derek Prince Ministries). Here they are:

  1. The fruit of repentance. Are people turning from sin to God?
  2. Respect for the Scriptures. Is God’s Word being respected, valued and taught?
  3. Exaltation of Jesus. Is Jesus being lifted up and magnified?
  4. Love for other Christians. Is there a growing love for other believers?
  5. Loving concern for the unreached. Is there a focus on reaching people for Christ?
A tree is known by its fruit. We may not always recognise or understand how the Spirit moves, but we can know the evidence of the Spirit's work. Is the fruit something that looks like the Holy Spirit?

Not everything you read on the Internet or in the media is true. Having been quoted (or should I say misquoted) by the media myself, I can tell you that not everything you read is true or the whole truth. Charles Finney once defined ‘slander’ as ‘telling the truth in such as way as to give a lying impression.’ There is a lot of that around today!

Rick Warren is an example of a prominent pastor and church leader who frequently comes under attack for something (in Australia we call it the ‘tall poppy syndrome’ – always cutting down the ones who stick out a bit). Take a moment to read Ed Stetzer's recent interview with Rick Warren. It's a good example of a church leader having to qualify and explain some of the recent slander that he has had to endure. It is a good learning experience for all of us. 

Yes, truth is important but none of us have the corner on all of it. Truth is found in a person, Jesus Christ, not in my particular perspective on any matter or issue. When in doubt, dialogue. Enter the conversation, with a desire to grow and learn more as we pursue Christ together. Learn how to disagree ... agreeably. You can be right in your doctrine and wrong in your attitude and you are wrong. Knowledge can tend puff people up in pride up while love always seeks to build up. 

Let's get on with loving one another as Christ loves us (something Jesus said would be THE apologetic that we are truly his followers) and reaching out to a world that desperately needs to see and hear the good news of Jesus Christ.


2012 American Election Day Preview (Barna Group)

UsThe following article is the from the Barna Group web site ...

November 5, 2012 – Compared to the days leading up to 2008, when Barack Obama was a frontrunner and poised to make inroads among Christian voters, the 2012 presidential race remains without a clear leader. Yet most voters place a high urgency on tomorrow’s outcome: Two-thirds of all likely voters (67%) perceive the 2012 election to be one of the most important races in the past 50 years.

From the early primaries through the debates, Barna Group has been tracking the public perceptions of the candidates and the key issues. Here is a look at some of the factors that will affect people’s votes.

Top Candidate Influencers
Of all the factors likely voters will consider when choosing our next president, each candidate’s positions on specific policy issues will be the single most important component for their choice,according to a Barna survey of likely voters. More than four out of five (83%) said that positions on the issues are the most important factor in their decision of which candidate to support on Election Day. The issues that are of greatest significance are health care and tax policy.

The second most common factor that voters will examine when making their candidate selection is the character of the men running. Half of all likely voters (51%) listed this as a key matter for them.

Less common factors that will influence people’s choice of candidate include the party affiliation of the candidates (listed by 17% of likely voters); the political experience of the candidates (16%); the candidates’ religious faith (14%); their educational background (6%); their speaking ability (3%); personality (2%); endorsements received (1%); their age (1%); and their physical appearance (less than 1%). Of course, survey respondents may not be fully aware of the factors that influence their presidential selections; however, the research helps to illuminate how they think about their electoral mindset.

Though evangelicals’ top candidate influencers are generally in line with the rest of the population they are much more likely than other voters to consider a candidate’s religious faith to be a motivating factor. Half of evangelicals (50%) listed that as a critical insight compared to just one-quarter of non-evangelical born again voters (23%), and by less than one out of every twenty other voters.

The Key Issues
If a candidate’s stand on key issues is the single most important factor for voters, what are these key issues people care about? The answer to that question depends in part on the person's spiritual leanings. A nationwide survey by Barna Group, conducted among people likely to vote in November's election, indicates that the worldview of different religious segments of the population significantly impacts the issues they care about the most.

Among all likely voters, regardless of their faith inclinations, the most influential issues are health care (said to influence their candidate selection "a lot" by 74% of likely voters), tax policy (62%), employment policies and strategies (54%), and plans regarding the nation's dependence upon foreign oil (52%).

Throughout the campaign season, much has been made of the significance of the candidates' attention to and positions on traditionally “conservative social issues” such as abortion and gay marriage. The common thinking is that these are issues of primary concern to conservative Christians—especially evangelicals. While that appears to be a generally accurate assessment, it is important to note that among the 12 issues evaluated by respondents, evangelicals rated positions on abortion as third most influential in their candidate selection, and views on gay marriage to be fifth most important. And an analysis of reactions to the dozen issues posed to all survey respondents (regardless of their faith) shows that the areas least likely to impact people's choice of a president are candidate positions on gay marriage (31%), environmental policy (30%), and abortion (29%).

Division Among Faith Segments
While health care and the economy are top issues for all voters, religious views do affect how voters rank other issues. Among the five belief-based faith segments analyzed in the study—evangelicals, non-evangelical born again adults, notional Christians, adults of other faiths, and religious skeptics (i.e., atheists and agnostics)—evangelicals were notably distinct from other groups in regard to what many considered their "signature issues."

Among all likely voters, abortion ranked last on the list of influential issues. Among evangelicals, though, it ranked as the third most influential issue. Only taxes and health care were deemed more important in their candidate selection. Similarly, gay marriage was ranked tenth among likely voters, but was fifth on the list among evangelicals who are likely to cast a ballot in November.

Surprisingly, educational policies were deemed the sixth most significant issue to all likely voters but ranked just tenth among evangelicals. Past studies have indicated that evangelicals are generally much less supportive of government involvement in the schooling of their children.

Environmentalism has traditionally been of very limited interest to evangelicals. That continues to be the case in this election, as a candidate's views on environmental matters placed last among the issues studied. Barely one out of five evangelicals (22%) said it was an issue of top concern to them, compared to 31% of all other likely voters surveyed. Religious engagement also has an affect on voters’ election priorities. People who read the Bible, attended a church service, and prayed during the past week were substantially more likely than voters who are less active in pursuing their faith to rate candidate positions on abortion, gay marriage, and America's dependence on foreign oil as significant in their candidate selection process. Voters who are less active spiritually were significantly more likely to list environmental policies as especially meaningful in their selection process.

Christian Women Voters
Of all voting segments, Christian women are among the most likely to vote—Barna Group projects churchgoing Christian women will comprise the largest share of voters on November 6—in all, 30% of ballots are likely to be cast by churchgoing women. Representing such a high percentage of the population and with such a strong likelihood to vote, Christian women are a particularly important group for politicians and pundits to pay attention to.

When it comes to the political issues Christian women care about, they are not necessarily what one might expect. Wide-held stereotypes suggest Christian women care most about matters of family (i.e., gay marriage, abortion, education), but these are actually quite low on their list of priorities. Instead, as with other likely voters, fiscal matters are at the top of women’s list—healthcare, taxes and employment policies are the top three.

When it comes to the “horse race,” Christian women edge toward the Republican challenger, Mitt Romney (53%), over the incumbent, Barack Obama, but they are more likely to consider voting for President Obama than are Christian men. Among Christian women, 53% support Romney, with 30% definitely planning to vote for the conservative.

Interestingly, Christian women are slightly less likely than other voters to say the candidate’s position on specific policy issues was a critical factor. (It is still perceived by these women as their most important decision point, but less so than for other voters.) What is notable is that Christian women are most likely to mention the candidate’s character and faith, even more so than Christian men.

The Hispanic Vote
Much has been made of the growing Hispanic vote and how will it affect the 2012 election. In an August-September 2012 survey of 2,046 U.S. adults who are of Latino or Hispanic background, Barna examined the factors affecting this important voting bloc.

Like other Americans, a candidate’s stand on key issues is the most important factor for Hispanic voters—however, it’s less important (60%) for Hispanics than for all adults (78%). Hispanics name a candidate’s character (32%) and their political experience (28%) as additional factors that significantly affect their vote.

Overall, Hispanic likely voters prefer the Democratic incumbent Barack Obama to the Republican challenger Mitt Romney (55% to 20%, with 19% undecided as of September). Catholics support President Obama by a three-to-one margin (58% to 18%), while Protestants slightly prefer the Republican (38% to 33%). Non-Christian Hispanics are likely to support Obama by roughly a two-to-one gap (53% to 23%).

Still, despite President Obama’s lead on Governor Romney, his level of support seems to have waned among Hispanics by comparison to 2008. At the same time four years ago, 58% said they would vote for Obama (rather than 53%), and just 15% of the Hispanic electorate was favoring the Republican candidate John McCain. In other words, Romney’s gap among all Hispanic voters is 30 points compared to 43 points for McCain four years ago—and the Mormon candidate has significantly closed the gap among Hispanic Protestants and now leads among this segment of voters.

Hispanics overwhelmingly say President Obama is the candidate most committed to improving the Hispanic quality of life—64% compared to 10% who say Romney is more committed to improving Hispanic quality of life.

Finally, one-fifth (21%) of likely Hispanic voters and one-third (37%) of Protestant Hispanic voters said they would be less likely to vote for a Mormon candidate. Thus, even though Obama is likely to “win” a majority of Hispanics, the question of what margin he will carry hangs in the balance between the decreased enthusiasm for the incumbent and reservations about Romney’s faith.

Millennial Voters
In 2008, Barack Obama made significant inroads with younger digital-friendly voters, helping to boost the candidate to the highest elected office. This year is no different, with 61% of 18-29-year olds saying they prefer the Democrat, compared to 52% of voters ages 30-plus. Among born again Christian Millennials, 54% say they prefer Mitt Romney, which is lower than older Christians. Still, this finding shows that support for Obama has decreased sharply among younger born again Christians; in 2008, seven out of ten younger born again Christians were planning to vote for the Democrat.

This year, Millennial Christians are quite focused on economic issues, even more so than are other Millennials. They are most concerned about healthcare (65%), education (51%), taxes (48%), and employment (41%). These economic motivations are more important to born again Millennials than are abortion (36%) or gay marriage (35%).

Interestingly, despite their generation’s increasing skepticism about faith in the public square, nearly half of Millennial born again Christians (41%) said the faith of the candidate is something they would consider when voting, which compares to just 1% of non-Christian Millennial voters.

Elective Urgency
One of the intriguing findings of the research was the urgency most voters are placing on November’s outcome. Evangelicals and non-evangelical born again Christians are especially likely to express this perspective (73% and 76%, respectively). Skeptics—the segment comprised of atheists and agnostics—are the least likely (56%) to see November’s election as unusually important. Protestants were much more likely than Catholics to perceive this year’s election to be more important than usual (74% compared to 61%).

One of the reasons for such perceived importance is that more than three—quarters of all likely voters (76%) are discouraged by the direction of the nation’s political environment. Only 11% say they are encouraged by the course the nation’s political environment is taking, with the remaining 13% saying they are on the fence. Likely voters who are evangelicals are the religious segment most discouraged (85%) while people aligned with non-Christian faith groups are the least discouraged (69%).

About the Research 
Each of the studies referenced in this report are based upon representative, random and nationwide public opinion polls conducted by Barna Group. Methodological details are available for each study in the hyperlink referenced, with the following exception:

Hispanics - A total of 2,046 interviews were conducted among Hispanics living in the United States; 1,044 online and 1,002 by phone in August and September 2012. The sampling error for 2,046 interviews is +/-2.2 percentage points, at the 95% confidence level. Oversampling of Protestants was conducted to help represent this important part of the emerging profile of Hispanic faith. The overall findings were weighted to the natural, national distribution of Catholics and Protestants. Other slight statistical weighting was used to calibrate the sample to known population percentages in relation to demographic variables. In this study, 40% of the total interviews in the study were conducted with respondents on their cell, mobile, or smart phones. This was done to ensure households that only use a cell or mobile were included. Additional research findings from this study are scheduled to be released the week after the 2012 election.

Disclosure: Barna Group is not under contract with any of the presidential candidates, nor has it endorsed any candidates.

Research Definitions
Definitions used in this report are based on various survey questions. For instance, the category described as “born again Christians” is defined as people who said they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today and who also indicated they believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. Respondents are not asked to describe themselves as “born again.”

“Evangelicals” meet the born again criteria (described above) plus seven other conditions. Those include saying their faith is very important in their life today; believing they have a personal responsibility to share their beliefs about Christ with non-Christians; believing Satan exists; believing eternal salvation is possible only through grace, not works; believing Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; asserting the Bible is accurate in all that it teaches; and describing God as the all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect deity who created the universe and still rules it today. Being classified as an evangelical is not dependent upon church attendance or the denominational affiliation of the church attended. Respondents were not asked to describe themselves as “evangelical.”

“Non-evangelical born again Christians” represent adults who meet the born again criteria but not the additional evangelical criteria.

“Churchgoing” refers to those who have attended a religious service in the last six months at a Christian church.

About Barna Group
Barna Group (which includes its research division, the Barna Research Group) is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. It conducts primary research, produces media resources pertaining to moral and spiritual development, and works with a variety of organizations to facilitate the healthy moral and spiritual growth of leaders, children, families, individuals, and Christian ministries.

Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984. If you would like to receive free e-mail notification of the release of each update on the latest research findings from Barna Group, you may subscribe to this free service at the Barna website (www.barna.org). Other research-based resources are also available through this website.

© Barna Group 2012.