Month: May 2016

Oh Eye See! Solving the mystery of Matthew 6:22-23

The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”
Matthew 6:22-23, ESV

230391158_34439b5c44_b[1]

 

I sometimes think Matthew 6 is my spiritual medicine cabinet. I struggle with being well-thought of by others and with the danger of religiously going through the motions. I need Jesus to teach me how to approach prayer. I live in a society where materialism is one of the greatest temptations and despite my efforts I never fully feel I’ve conquered the temptation to accumulate things here. And despite acknowledging God’s sovereignty, I worry a lot about the future.

Jesus addresses some of my major life-issues in His best known sermon. But have you ever read this chapter and struggled to figure out how the verses above fit into the overall picture?

The above verses from Matthew 6 are one part of the Sermon on the Mount that seems to spoil the flow of what Jesus is saying. In 6:19-21 Jesus talks about having the right attitude towards “treasure”:
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21, ESV)

Then in 6:24 we have another warning about money/riches/wealth:
No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Matthew 6:24, ESV).

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Love of Money [2]

When we consider these verses in light of the opening and closing of Matthew 6, we see a theme of trusting God to provide our needs and grant us an everlasting reward – rather than spending our lives worrying about how others perceive us (eg; living a superficial religious life) or how our financial and material needs will be met (see vv. 25-34 and the Lord’s Prayer).

So what to make of Jesus’ comments, smack in the middle of this discourse, about the eye being the lamp of the body? Is this a random thought bubble; an accidental “combo-breaker”; or could it actually be part of the key theme of the passage?

People have often interpreted these verses as a stand-alone point about our spiritual “focus” (thus the “Eye”). It runs something like, if your eye (or heart) is focused on things that are good, you’ll be filled with light (goodness), but if your eye/heart is focused on things which are evil, you’ll be full of darkness (and at risk of spiritual condemnation). While this interpretation could fit roughly with the overall theme (eg; if you focus on heavenly treasures, your soul will be “enlightened”, if you focus on earthly treasures and worldly things, it will be darkened), I discovered what I believe is a much better thematic fit, by looking at what Jesus would have meant by a “good” or “evil” eye.

Evil Eye? [3]
Evil Eye? [3]

Have you ever heard the phrase “to give someone the evil eye”? We usually think of it as a kind of superstitious hex, where one person curses the other through ill-will and perhaps supernatural powers. Or perhaps it just gets used in modern day speech as a synonym for a scowl or a dirty look. But the phrase had a different meaning in the biblical culture.

In Deuteronomy 15:7-11, Yahweh instructs His people concerning how they are to treat their poor brethren in the land of Israel: “”If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be. Take care lest there be an unworthy thought in your heart and you say, ‘The seventh year, the year of release is near,’ and your eye look grudgingly on your poor brother, and you give him nothing, and he cry to the LORD against you, and you be guilty of sin. You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’ (Deuteronomy 15:7-11, ESV)

Verse 9 more literally speaks of someone’s eye being evil against their poor brother. Giving them the evil eye means being stingy and begrudgingly refusing to give generously to them to meet their need. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament the phrase “πονηρεύσηται ὁ ὀφθαλμός σου” is very similar to Matthew 6:23’s “ο οφθαλμος σου πονηρος”. So I’d contend that Jesus is talking about someone’s eye being evil (i.e. stingy) rather than just some vague idea of spiritual badness.

On the other hand, the eye being “good” (not “healthy” as the ESV unhelpfully translates) can also have the opposite meaning in the Old Testament. In Proverbs 22:9 the ESV has “Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor.” Again, this is clearly speaking of generosity towards the poor. And the opening Hebrew phrase of the verse is “טוב־עין” – literally “good eye.” Thus, having a “good eye” in the OT meant being liberal or generous to those in need.

So when Jesus makes a seemingly random remark about our eye being good and full of light or evil and full of darkness – He is undoubtedly making an observation about the spiritual state of people’s souls. But He’s specifically talking about our attitudes towards money and resources and how we respond to the needs of those around us. This makes it a perfect fit with the surrounding themes of not accumulating earthly treasures; not trying to serve God and Mammon (wealth) and trusting in our Sovereign Father to supply all our needs.

My sinful tendency to be stingy in different ways comes from my rotten belief that I don’t have enough to go around. I’m not one of the rich, so I can’t give very much to others. But it’s worse than that. My attitudes towards money and my struggle to be as generous as Jesus calls me to be is because of a spiritual sickness – a lack of love for my brother or sister and a lack of trust that God will provide for my material needs (just like he looks after tiny plants and birds).

So next time you see a brother or sister in need, Jesus is saying “Is your eye good or evil towards them?” “Are you full of light or full of darkness?” “Are you generous to those in need, or stingy and bound by selfish greed?”

[1] Mike Lindsey Eye Spy (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) flickr.
[2] Tax Credits Money Girl (CC BY 2.0) flickr.
[3] Phil Balchin 061 – Evil Eyes (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) flickr.

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It’s a Conspiracy! Christians and dark, speculative theories

We’ve all heard them at one point or another. September 11th was orchestrated by the American government. Lady Diana’s death was arranged by a member of the Royal Family. The 1969 lunar landing was staged. The world is controlled by secret societies, multi-national cartels – or the Jews. There are no shortage of conspiracy theories around – particularly if you talk to people who don’t trust government agencies, corporations and foreign powers.

9-11 Theories abound
9-11 Theories abound [1]
Australia has a range of localised versions. Did you know our Prime Minister Harold Holt was abducted by a Chinese submarine while swimming off the coast and has never been seen again? Or that the fall of Gough Whitlam’s government in 1975 was done at the behest of the U.S. Government? Or that our governments are fluoridating the water supply for devious reasons? Or that we’re secretly housing nuclear weapons for the US at the Pine Gap facility in central Australia? All true – if you talk to the right people. And let’s not even get started on vaccination speculation…

Secretive Pine Gap Facility [2]
Secretive Pine Gap Facility [2]
Harold Holt - missing PM [3]
Harold Holt – missing PM [3]
I wanted to write about conspiracy theories because I’ve been watching re-runs of the X-Files – a hit 90s TV show about a government conspiracy involving the cover-up of alien activity on Earth. One reason I believe the show was such a hit in its time (and continues to have a considerable fan-base) is because many of us are susceptible to mistrust of governments and other powerful organisations.
The famous catchphrase “The Truth is Out There” resonates with inquisitive minds that value open enquiry and are cynical enough to suspect we’re often being lied to by people with power. And due to the secrecy required for international intelligence communities to thrive, we find it easy to imagine that perhaps bigger secrets are being kept from the public than we might imagine.

X-Files [3]
X-Files [4]

While the age of Freedom of Information Acts, Wikileaks and the Panama Papers often proves there are secrets that governments and corporations wish we didn’t find out about – so far there is little in the way of earth-shattering revelations coming to light.

Christians are people of the truth and should desire to see evil exposed. We should want facts rather than misinformation to guide our societal assumptions and activities. But exactly what truth we’re preoccupied with and how we go about dealing with the unknown, unexplained and unverified is very important.

The X-Files’ main character, Fox Mulder, is an FBI Agent on a quest to prove the existence of aliens.
Mulder is intelligent, capable and one of the FBI’s most talented investigators, but his incessant preoccupation with paranormal activity and extra-terrestrial life earn the ire of his superiors and the nickname “Spooky Mulder” from some of his colleagues. His most important goal in life is to expose the truth about aliens – which he believes is concealed by a top-level government conspiracy.

Christians should be ready to endure insults for what we pursue in light of our beliefs. But there’s a few very good reasons we should be unwilling to waste our time entertaining conjecture about secret government cover-ups and plots for international domination.

1) There’s only one truth many people around us are blinded to that they really need to hear about.

Christians don’t have the luxury of spending their time trying to uncover dark secrets hidden from sight by the powers-that-be, because God has given us one central truth to pre-occupy ourselves with, shape our lives by and talk to others about. Millions of people in the world are blinded (2 Corinthians 4:4) to the reality that Jesus is the Son of God; that God has a plan to save people from every nation, tribe and language through His death and resurrection; and that Jesus will take complete control of the entire globe and put every person not allegiant to him on trial. God’s mysterious plan concerning Jesus is not being hidden by the rulers of this world, so much as it is being hidden from them (1 Corinthians 2:8)

Since Jesus is returning at a time people don’t expect, the most urgent secret you can be talking to people about, isn’t what the government is up to, but what God is up to in Jesus. It’s not a dark, evil secret, but what missiologist Lesslie Newbigin called the “Open Secret” – one we need to tell everyone about.

2) We should not risk our credibility as ambassadors of the truth by engaging in unwarranted speculation

Let’s face it, we all judge people’s credibility and trustworthiness based on their past-record of truth-telling and how careful they are with evaluating and communicating information. Most people tend to value respectability of their opinions and at least give lip-service to an evidence-based approach to much of life. So if they find out you have “interesting” beliefs about government surveillance, Freemasons running the world or a celebrity’s death being a politically-motivated assassination – based purely on your own unsubstantiated speculation – they might find it harder to be open to your beliefs about Jesus when you share them.

There’s a lot about Christianity that sounds weird to the outsider. If people mock us or reject us because of their bias against the supernatural or the historical reliability of the Bible, or the incompatibility of our theology with their assumptions about the world – so be it. That’s always part of the risk of sharing our faith. But if you get the reputation for being paranoid, suspicious and prone to believing any theory that suggests dark activity by governments and corporations – it’s your credibility as a person that’s affecting the plausibility of the gospel: when the good news of Jesus comes off your lips a few days after your latest, wild theory.

3) Conspiracy theories often make light of the principle found in the ninth commandment

Another reason to distance yourself from conspiracy-theory-style-speculation is that you run a high risk of bearing false witness against your neighbour. When Christians pass on dubious news reports about on the internet without verifying the source, we often participate in the damaging of a person, group or company’s reputation without grounds for doing so.

When you say “the government is doing X” but can’t back it up with evidence, you’re using your hunch, your personal mistrust as a grounds to slander leaders by implying they are guilty of maliciously harming the public.

Unsubstantiated rumours are very often more evil than the person or group they’re about. Ironically, by suggesting “this group killed him” or “this person is secretly this” – you could well be the one obscuring the truth by spreading misinformation. In other words, you’re creating the very kind of smoky haze over the facts and public knowledge that you’re accusing more powerful people of doing.

4) There is enough openly evil activity in the world for us to worry about   

Some Christians (particularly those with a certain understanding of how to interpret Bible prophecy) see Satan as orchestrating a stealthy global take-over through corrupt governments, secret societies and would-be antichrists. They fear that our ignorance of what’s really happening behind global events will stop us from seeing the rise of a one-world government with the Antichrist at it’s head, until it’s too late. Some believe that millions of people will receive “the mark of the Beast” (effectively sealing their eternal destiny) without realising what they are doing, because it will be a cleverly implemented micro-chip program or something of the like.

I know this well, because I was one of these Christians. I was certain that the European Union was the Revived Roman Empire, that a certain European politician was the future Antichrist and that the world was all heading towards some kind of totalitarianism by stealth.

At the time I thought there was very good evidence for the above. Time proved me to be wrong. Things that needed to happen to confirm the “evidence” didn’t take place.

As I’ve come to understand the Bible better and how Jesus must always be the focal point of interpreting Bible prophecies (rather than the weekly news), I must say that I think there’s enough evil clearly visible in the world for us to worry about – rather than delving deep into the darkness to find hidden plots and satanic secrets. Psalm 2 clearly states that the kings and rulers of this world have set themselves against YHWH and His anointed one. The plotting and rebellion has been going on for centuries. Millennia even. Romans 1-3 paint a clear picture of humanity utterly compromised by sin and handed over by God to plunge deeper into the depths of our depravity.

The social changes we see in our world are often driven by the spirit of the age. But rather than a secret conspiracy, they seem to be part of an age-old pattern of people rejecting the God who made them and willingly shifting their thoughts and behaviour away from what He has revealed. Satan is at work – but the main work we should be concerned about is his blinding of people’s minds to the gospel to keep them enslaved to sin – not his covering up of a plan to take away their civil liberties and enslave them to others.

So whatever your understanding of what will happen between now and Jesus’ return – focus on the one secret that people can’t afford to be ignorant of any longer: Who Jesus is, what He’s done and what He’s about to do.

[1] Michael Gil Conspiracy Theory (CC BY 2.0) flickr

[2] Schutz “Pine Gap Sign” (CC BY-SA 3.0) flickr
[3] Public Domain
[4] sdobie Martin, Les – X Marks the Spot (1997 PB) (CC BY-NC 2.0) flickr

Neither Monks nor Nominals: The Consecrated Life for all of us

First a confession: I’ve always had something of a for weakness mysticism – so ascetic or monastic lifestyles have always had a little bit of romantic appeal to me. There’s just something about the idea of getting away from the rush, pressures and temptations of everyday life and being able to pursue the spiritual life in a less hindered and distracted way.

hermit
                         Desert Hermit

 

But here’s the thing – I’ve managed to convince myself that there’s a very good reason for an evangelical Christian like me not to leave ordinary suburbia for a monastery or the tranquillity of the outback. Like many other Christians who are serious about the gospel, I am concerned that a withdrawal like this is an abdication of our duties to actively engage society with the good news of Jesus.

But there’s a deeper problem than that. I don’t think the monastic approach really delivers where it’s supposed to. There is nothing innately beneficial about taking vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, living a tightly regulated communal life in a monastery or withdrawing to wander in the desert. They offer no guarantee of growth in Christlikeness and in fact may be more dangerous than helpful. The Bible warns against asceticism (see Colossians 2:18-23) and against performing religious practices in such a way that makes us feel like we’re pleasing God, whilst not really dealing with what’s going on in the heart (eg; Mark 7:1-23). So a monastic life may actually be a way of deceiving ourselves and drawing us further away from Jesus.

It’s true that monasticism developed because people wanted to live fully consecrated or devoted lives to God, without things like money, worldly business and even family life “getting in the way.” But it also created a tiered spirituality, which saw ordinary Christians as still eligible for salvation, but less able to draw near to God, while those consecrated by vows were able to more fully devote themselves to things that were considered “higher instructions” of Christ in the Gospels.

Monks in Jerusalem [1]
Monks in Jerusalem [1]

In many ways, this is where our society’s contemporary categories of “very religious” vs. “not very religious” Catholics/Christians come from. Poverty was seen as more devoted than having material wealth. Chastity was seen as a higher calling to pursue than legitimate expressions of human sexuality in the bonds of marriage. And placing one’s self under the binding authority of a monastic rule of life, as well as particular religious leaders, was esteemed more than simply steering clear of sinful actions and attempting to follow the teachings of Jesus and the church.

While each of these dichotomies is false, my recent studies on Puritan spirituality and the way they valued meditation and contemplation, have suggested to me that there is a much better way than having a two-tier Christian system on one hand, or completely dismissing “monkhood” as unbiblical on the other. The solution it seems would be to encourage all Christians to live lives that are consecrated and contemplative. And perhaps we need a “semi-monastic” approach to Christian life (I’m open to a better descriptor!). One which avoids the excesses and unhelpful emphases of monasticism, while at the same time fostering a serious commitment to following Jesus and denying the legitimacy of indulgent, distracted, spiritually unengaged disciples.

I’m not proposing vows or monasteries, but here’s where I think we could get somewhere: Instead of “poverty, chastity and (monastic) obedience” for some, how about “modesty, purity and evangelical obedience” for all?

While I don’t believe Jesus requires the spiritually serious to live in complete poverty and forego having any money or valuable possessions, I think Western evangelicals are far more likely to err on the side of over-indulgence, luxury, stinginess and mass-accumulation. The biblical solution would seem to be a universal commitment of Christians to material modesty, in a world that worships Mammon (see Matthew 6:24). We deal with the problem of materialism and luxury not by voluntary poverty but by dealing with the heart’s lust for riches by believing Jesus’ promise that treasure in heaven is worth pursuing more than treasure on earth (Matt 6:19-21).

Chastity is right for those who are single (voluntarily or involuntarily so), but sexual lust is a sinful desire that must be killed in the hearts of both the married and the unmarried. The Bible clearly calls for purity of heart, mind, tongue and body for all who would be Christ’s disciples. And while it’s true that singles have more potential time and energy to be fully devoted to God’s priorities (and thus, well-used singleness should be more highly esteemed than it often is), there is nothing that automatically makes the single woman more effective or faithful than the married mother. And there is certainly nothing that makes a married man less pure than a single guy when he expresses his sexuality in the marriage bed with his wife. Purity and effectiveness come from hearts transformed by grace, rather than external life circumstances.

Finally, obedience to a monastic rule of life won’t necessarily help us grow spiritually, but dedicating ourselves to respond in repentance and faith to whatever we read in God’s Word certainly will. Born-again Christians cannot live out God’s will perfectly, but those who understand “evangelical obedience” know that he accepts our obedience when it is fuelled by genuine faith in response to the gospel of Jesus and born out of the love that God’s Spirit has generated in our hearts as He sanctifies us. Not adherence to a particular set of regulations for some – but sincere obedience to Christ for all.

If we’re not being controlled or distracted by the excesses of materialism and sexuality, nor compromised through selective obedience to Jesus as Lord, we will then see Christians from all walks of life growing in ways that monasticism promises – but fails to deliver on.

And while you don’t need to move to a monastery or desert to pursue these commitments, why not do everything you can to surround yourself with Christians who are committed to the same life principles for growth in godliness?

And why not make sure we each take time to draw aside from the busyness of life – to contemplate the great and wondrous truths of our Saviour and Redeemer, hear His voice in the Word and pray to Him?

[1] Abraham Sobkowski OFM “Catholic monks in Jerusalem 2006” CC BY-SA 3.0 wikimedia

Puritans vs Pharisees

Puritans and Pharisees can both get a pretty bad wrap from Christians and non-Christians alike. Stereotypes affect how we (mis)understand both groups and each term easily becomes a dismissive or derogatory label, rather than a word that helps us understand members of these two religious movements in their historical context.

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Pharisees [1]
But “Pharisee” deserves to be a negative byword due to Jesus’ evaluation of Pharisaism in the New Testament. It would be better if people used Pharisee specifically, rather than as a way of condemning anyone who is stricter on some point of ethics or theology than the speaker; and it would be more helpful if Christians understood what the main issues Jesus criticised in the Pharisees actually were – but there is such a thing as a “Pharisaic” outlook on life and it isn’t positive.

“Puritans” on the other hand get a bad wrap because they’ve been caricatured for centuries by people who disagree with their views on theology and their approach to the Christian life. The name itself is pejorative and meant to conjure the idea of someone who thinks they’re “holier-than-thou” and a restorer of “true religion.” But the dull and dour, no frills/no fun, legalistically strict Puritan is more a portrait drawn by their enemies (often enemies of the gospel) and often doesn’t reflect who they really were.

Desembarco_de_los_puritanos_en_América_(Antonio_Gisbert)
Puritan Pilgrims in New England

The Puritan is not in fact the Pharisee of 16th and 17th century England and America. Both may have shared a superficially similar emphasis on purity of religion and holiness of life – but the Pharisee on the pages of the New Testament and the Puritans of the still-fairly-young Protestant movement were fundamentally opposite to one another.

So what’s the main point of difference between the two? Well, generally speaking, for the Pharisee, outward displays of strict religious observance were where they placed all too much emphasis. The way they looked in front of others and the way they separated or distinguished themselves from “sinners” was often the key aspect of their daily devotion.

In perhaps the most famous denunciation of the Pharisees in the Bible (see Matthew 23), Jesus targets their desire for religious prestige before others (vv. 5-12); their selective, partial and unbalanced obedience to God’s commands (vv. 1-2 & 16-24); and their hypocritical inward corruption beneath their positive outward image (vv. 25-28). In the crescendo (vv. 29-39) Jesus effectively charges them with hatred of God, because of how they’re no different from their fathers who killed God’s messengers (and indeed they soon expressed their wicked rejection of God by conspiring to have His Son executed).

So when we use the name Pharisee as a negative label (by no means something we should do lightly!) we ought to use it to describe someone who is like an actor that dresses up as a “religious person” and performs for the approval of men and women, but who underneath is a different person (in other words a hypocrite). The Pharisee looks upright, especially in comparison to the more obvious “sinners”, but at heart he’s morally corrupt, unwilling to submit to God and in fact harbours hatred towards the true God and his servants.

Puritans at their best were anti-Pharisees. While they did believe outward behaviour and separation from certain kinds of sin (and sinners) were important (but for different reasons as we’ll see), they took Jesus’ warnings against the Pharisaic attitude very seriously. They held that godliness (which is properly understood as the right, personal, heart attitude towards God, as He reveals Himself to us) was essential for the Christian life and that anything done for God or man that was for outward show – rather than from the heart – was not only useless, but evil and dishonouring towards the King of Glory.

Consider these strong words from Thomas Watson, the Puritan I’m focusing my research on:
“To have only a name, and make a show of godliness, is odious to God and man.
The hypocrite is abhorred by all. Wicked men hate him because he makes a show, and God hates him because he only makes a show. The wicked hate him because he has so much as a mask of godliness, and God hates him because he has no more…The wicked hate the hypocrite because he is almost a Christian, and God hates him because he is only almost one.”

Being a religious hypocrite like the Pharisees, basically makes you a double loser!

Thomas_Watson_(Puritan) (1)
Thomas Watson (c. 1620-1686)

Watson also echoed Jesus’ attacks on the Pharisees’ failure to deal with their sinful hearts or obey God inwardly as well as outwardly:
He who fears God—dares not sin secretly. A hypocrite may forbear [avoid] gross sin because of the shame—but not clandestine, secret sin. He is like one who shuts up his shop windows—but follows his trade within doors. But a man fearing God dares not sin, though he could walk invisibly, and no eye see him.”

On the Pharisaic attitude towards God, he offers:
Hypocrites obey God grudgingly, and against their will; they do good but not willingly. Cain brought his sacrifice—but not his heart. It is a true rule—what the heart does not do, is not done,” and “Hypocrites take God’s name in vain: their religion is a lie; they seem to honour God—but they do not love him; their hearts go after their lusts.”

Finally, he summarises well the goal of Pharisaic religion, versus the kind of faith he was promoting himself:
The hypocrite makes use of religion, only [in the way] the fisherman [uses] his net, to catch preferment. He serves God for applause – hypocrites look not at God’s glory, but vain glory. They serve God rather to save their credit, than to save their souls…[but] an upright heart makes the glory of God his centre.”

The Puritans condemned religious hypocrites so heavily (Watson calls them “doubly damned” in hell) that they could scarcely afford to be found guilty of the same crime themselves! And so while people may accuse Puritans of being legalistic (generally a misconception, but space won’t permit a detailed defense here), they were not at all like the Pharisees of Jesus’ time. The main difference was that the Pharisees for the most part ignored Jesus’ charge of hypocrisy and selective obedience, whereas the Puritans listened to those same words and made every effort to deal with their inner corruption through repentance and faith, so that they might truly obey God from the heart by following Jesus instead of wanting to see him dead.

[1] Waiting For The Word TISSOT pharisees enraged (CC BY 2.0) flickr

 

Voting for Life (in Australia)

While the issue of abortion became live this week in Queensland, due to Rob Pyne’s private members bill (which in its current form, simply repeals everything in the Criminal Code that relates to intentionally procuring a miscarriage: i.e. doing something to cause an abortion), we also find ourselves in the opening days of a long federal election campaign.

STOP_sign
Passage of this bill is something we must stop [1]
Irrespective of whether the law changes or not, the Queensland government’s wafer thin margin in parliament means that we could also go to the polls in a state election within the next 12 months as well. That means, at least once and possibly twice, many of us will vote for a candidate or party with positions on a wide range of issues that affect our community and the welfare of our nation.

In the past, while I was serving as a local church pastor, I wrote several articles outlining some principles to think about when voting for a candidate or party in any given election (you can read them here). While in that position, I felt it was not beneficial for me to be seen to be telling people in my pastoral care (i.e. church members) that they should vote for a particular party. Things can get messy when churches and Christian leaders tie themselves too closely to one brand of politics and I wanted to avoid mishaps in that area.

However, my convictions about the seriousness of fighting for the right to life of all people conceived within our borders, along with an increasing sense of bleakness about the quality of public life in Australia has led me to make this plea to anyone who will read what I have to say about voting in any upcoming elections.

I urge all Christians not to vote for any candidate or political party who advocates the destruction of unborn babies via abortion procedures, as something that is beneficial or morally acceptable.

God created humanity in His image (Gen 1:26-27) and charged men and women to be fruitful and multiply and exercise authority over creation under God’s ultimate rule (Gen 1:28). Each one of us is here today because God knit us together in our mother’s womb, commencing our journey of life as a human whose ways and future are known to Him (Ps 139:13-16). The fallen human nature we each possess, as descendants of a common ancestor, is present from conception (Ps 51:5).

The Lord Jesus’ incarnation as a member of the human race began when He was “conceived by the Holy Spirit” (Matt 1:18-20) and his cousin John was able to rejoice while still in the womb in response to the presence of the unborn Jesus and his mother Mary (Luke 1:41-44). God says that to take the life of another human being is to disregard God’s inviolable image in that person and is a crime worthy of death (Gen 9:6).

What I’ve just presented is part of the picture behind our commitment to life and the seriousness of getting it wrong. While naturally someone who rejects God’s revelation of Himself in Jesus and through His apostles and prophets (brought down to us in the Scriptures) lacks this framework for seeing all life as God-given, God-reflecting, God-owned and God-protected – this is hardly a matter we can agree to disagree on.

The hard reality of abortion is that it murders children as an expression of rebellion against God and everyone who commits it must face God’s wrath as someone guilty of another’s blood. The only people who are guilty of such an act who will not personally experience eternal death as a consequence are those who recognise that Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty of their rebellion against God and blood-guilt for a human life. Abortion is deadly serious not only because children die as a consequence, but because Jesus died as part of God’s judgement on this evil.

So the principle I’m strongly advocating is that anyone who doesn’t get this – that medically destroying innocent children’s lives is a serious matter – is completely unworthy of any Christian’s vote. Full stop.

But what does that mean practically? When it comes down to it, it means I am calling for Christians not to vote for particular political parties and their candidates if the promotion of abortion is part of their policy platform. That means I have to urge my Christian brothers and sisters not to vote for specific political parties and candidates who do actually have such a position.

Thus, I’m pleading with you not to vote for the Labor Party (ALP) or the Greens at the upcoming federal election and at any subsequent state or federal polls. Both of these parties support access to pregnancy termination (abortion) as a matter of party policy. You can read their statements here and here.

Now let me deal with a couple of issues that immediately arise.

#1 I am not telling Christians to vote for the Coalition (as though it is the only other option)

There are plenty of reasons you might want to consider not voting for the Liberal Party and the re-election of a Turnbull government. Let me make it very clear that I do not support the Liberal Party as an organisation and would never join it as a member. It has principles and objectives I disagree with fairly firmly. But what I’m not prepared to do in this article is tell you not to vote for them on the basis of this issue, because the party does not have a policy for promoting abortion the same way Labor and the Greens do.

On the other hand, Malcolm Turnbull is himself pro-abortion and therefore (in my opinion) unworthy to be the Prime Minister of Australia on that basis, so some Christian voters may decide not to vote in support of a party/government that he leads. Likewise, your local candidate or member may personally support abortion as a women’s rights issue, in which case I’d urge you not to support them with your vote. But if you want to vote for a Liberal or National candidate who is pro-life, you should definitely consider supporting them – assuming there is no other issues with their character or policies that disqualifies them from your support.

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull pose for a photo together at Pentagon on Jan. 18, 2016. (DoD photo by U.S. Army Sgt. First Class Clydell Kinchen)(Released)
PM Malcolm Turnbull supports abortion

#2 What if my Labor candidate is pro-life?

Formerly I would have encouraged you to consider voting for them, but I’ve changed my mind. Here’s why. I’ve read some stuff recently from Joe Carter at the Gospel Coalition, which explains how voting works in relation to factions. We belong to electoral factions of sorts and we vote for members of factions (directly – i.e. our local MP) and leaders of factions (indirectly – i.e. who should be prime minister or premier).

To cut to the chase, if you vote for an ALP candidate who supports the rights of unborn children, you’re nevertheless voting for them to work towards the policy goals of the ALP – especially should they manage to win government. While there may be a conscience vote on certain contentious issues in which it may be helpful to have pro-life parliamentarians of all stripes present in the chamber, the reality is that in the day to day running of the country an ALP government will be working to implement their health policies, which includes ready access to abortions for women. The pro-life candidate you vote for is less likely to succeed in changing the party platform (which in this case they should be doing while in opposition, not government) and more likely to end up enabling pro-death factions within the party to promote and pursue the stated policy goals.

#3 There’s more than one issue to consider at any given election

I agree. But again, some recent reading has helped boost my confidence in calling for us to disqualify any candidate from our consideration when voting, who has any unacceptable policy positions.

You already agree with me (I think). If your local candidate said something outrageously racist, sexist or discriminatory against Christians – I don’t doubt you’d find another candidate to vote for based on that alone: never mind whether they have economic credentials or a plan for improving local facilities. If they supported a particular policy or viewpoint that made it very embarrassing to admit you voted for them to your family or colleagues, it may also have the same effect. Likewise if they managed to make it onto the ballot paper but were found to have serious character issues during the campaign, you’d probably steer clear.

All this is to say, “single-issue voting” as it’s sometimes called, is completely reasonable. It doesn’t mean only one issue matters, but rather than some matter so much that you can’t reasonably vote for a person or party who gets it wrong.

Abortion is most certainly one of these issues. Labor may have better policies than the Coalition in certain areas and they often seek to look after people and groups that don’t always fare so well under the Coalition’s economic policies. Many Christians find the Greens’ asylum seeker/immigration policies more compassionate (and therefore more desirable) than those of both major parties. I acknowledge these things. But because both the ALP and Greens would choose the death of unborn children to fulfil part of their ideological goals – neither of them should be trusted with your vote, unless those policies change.

This is not the last time I plan to write on this issue during this election campaign, or indeed the parliamentary process regarding abortion in QLD. But I do urge all Christians, this July – however you use your democratic privilege to vote, don’t cast it in favour of someone who doesn’t acknowledge the humanity of the unborn and who would be part of the political machine that enables the slaughter of thousands of them in Queensland and Australia every year.

[1] Bidgee “A stop sign in Australia” CCBY 3.0 wikimedia commons.

Fighting for Life (in Queensland)

With reports suggesting that a bill to decriminalise abortion in Queensland will be tabled in parliament tomorrow (May 10), it’s an urgent time for us to be thinking seriously about how we can be fighting for the lives of innocent, vulnerable unborn children who are conceived in this state.

While it is definitely time to write an email or letter to your local MP, expressing your concern at this issue, and while it may also be a good time to think about how you can be involved in the work of local, pro-life organisations – some recent events have made me reflect on what the most important part we play in this battle really is.

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It truly does [1]

A friend wrote to me a few weeks ago to tell me that they’d been chatting with a close friend whose partner had gotten pregnant unintentionally.  The nature of the conversation centered on the couple’s consideration of aborting the baby. My friend was able to share the value of life from a Christian perspective and encourage their friend not to think about abortion as the “best option” that many other friends were holding it out to be. In God’s mercy, this story seems to have had a happy ending and the couple have decided to embrace the life that has come about as a result of their relationship and raise him or her as part of a family together.

Even more recently, my wife has had the opportunity to chat with someone who has been under significant pressure from her partner to get an abortion. It’s a different situation: in this case there are already children on the scene and only one party in the relationship is advocating ending the life of the child. Helen was also able to faithfully share what God’s perspective is on the termination of innocent, vulnerable life and give strong encouragement and warning to choose life rather than death and all the consequences that go with it.  While we don’t know yet what the outcome will be in this case, we are praying and trusting God that this mother will be convicted that the life she is carrying is far more precious than anything she’d gain by succumbing to the pressure she’s under to dispose of it.

These two cases make me think: have we as Christians realised that the most important part we might play in the fight for the lives of the innocent and voiceless, is to be there to speak to the friend, colleague or family member who’s considering abortion? Are you and I equipped to have these conversations with people in our lives? Are we the sort of friend someone could turn to when they are facing pressure to “deal with their mistake” or get rid of an unwanted child?

I suspect that just like evangelism, many of us might feel deficient for the task. Maybe I’ll say the wrong thing. Maybe I’d just confuse the person more. Maybe I can’t get the balance right between listening sympathetically and compassionately and speaking boldly and firmly about the seriousness of the matter. These responses are understandable starting points when we consider a life and death issue like this – but they’re terrible and unacceptable finishing points for our role in this battle.

Because like the need to share the gospel with unsaved friends, it is critical that we get equipped to speak life to our friends when they’re tempted by death. We want to be able to warn them and even persuade them, when they’re considering something that will bring about God’s judgement upon them and irreversibly destroy a human life.

Life at 9 wks
Life at 9 wks [2]

So we need to think about what we believe about abortion and the value of human life and why we believe it. And while we don’t need to be articulate geniuses who can discuss the ins and outs of medical data and philosophical arguments – we should all familiarise ourselves with the compelling-enough, basic arguments for why it’s wrong to terminate a life in the womb. We should chat with each other about how these kind of conversations have gone if we’ve had them. We can learn from mistakes and ideas – as well as learning from people who are better than us at careful listening and compassionate speech, or boldly articulating the truth of God to those who are tempted by the lies of the world.

For a long time now, pro-life activists – Christian and non-Christian – have realised that while it would be fantastic to outlaw abortion as a matter of principled justice, chances are that if one side of politics passed such a law, the other side would repeal it at the first chance they get. In Queensland, the problem with the status quo is two-fold. 1. The law prohibits abortion as a criminal offence, but allows for it when there is a benefit to the personal well-being of the mother. This is a rotten status quo, because any doctor that is happy with abortion in principle can recommend one be carried out as a “therapeutic miscarriage” for almost any reason, real or contrived. 2. The conservative side of politics in Queensland has been reluctant to change the status quo either a. because some are happy for it to remain a dead issue or b. because the pro-life parliamentarians fear that any changes they make will not only be reversed by others, but that their opponents would likely use it as a pretext to fully decriminalise abortion and make it even easier to occur.

Rob Pyne MP will reportedly seek to introduce a bill decriminalising abortion in QLD tomorrow
Rob Pyne MP will reportedly seek to introduce a bill decriminalising abortion in QLD tomorrow [3]

As a result, many here (as also in the US and other parts of the world) have recognised that a significant shift in public opinion regarding abortion is needed before legislative change can ever be successfully implemented. The way to achieve that must be through education and public awareness programs, run by people dedicated to the pro-life cause.

I agree – I would love to see the criminality of abortion enforced in Queensland tomorrow and even tougher laws stopping it from happening. Lives would literally be saved. But in the long run, we can only stop abortion if we take public opinion with us, so that no government would dare defy a populace united against such an evil practice. They permit abortion to happen within our borders because we as Queenslanders let them do nothing about it.

So let’s fight the further erosion of protections for unborn children that are being proposed in parliament this week – this is a bad bill and should be stopped. But let’s also be people who are praying God would use us to stop one abortion at a time – through being in people’s lives to bear witness to the preciousness of human life. And let’s do that while we support efforts to steadily educate the people of Queensland, Australia and the world about the preciousness of life from conception and the horror of ending a defenceless life – so that one day soon we may be able to see this barbaric practice socially condemned and legally prohibited.

[1] wht_wolf9653 “Abortion Stops a Beating Heart Sign”(CC BY-SA 2.0) flickr.
[2] lunar caustic “Embryo week 9-10” (CC BY-SA 2.0) flickr.
[3] Icuraj “Robert ‘Rob’ Pyne is in his second term as Division 3 Council for Cairns Regional Council”
(CC BY-SA 2.0) wikimedia.

 

Friday Fun: Tennant the Tenth’s Top Ten Doctor Who stories

It’s been 10 years since David Tennant took on the role of the legendary Time Lord known as the Doctor in the rebooted series run of the sci-fi classic Doctor Who. Since he gave us the greatest doctor of the new series (and in my mind, probably around equal pegging with Tom Baker’s 4th Doctor for the greatest Doctor of them all) and since ABC has just finished screening re-runs of his “Tennancy”, I thought I’d break from my usual serious tone of blog topics and indulge in a Top Ten list of what I regard as his greatest stories as the Doctor. So here they are, counting down from 10 to 1.

Doctor_Who_Series_2Doctor_Who_Series_3Doctor_Who_Series_4

Honourable mentions: The Next Doctor; Planet of the Ood; Fires of Pompeii; Gridlock; Lazarus Experiment.

10. Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel

Good story with a classic monster/robot/villain, a parallel universe and a mad genius. The Cybermen were formidable and good at terrorising people and Lumic worked as an evil visionary/inventor with a fatal weakness. Tennant was a little bit James Bond too, while his allies were a bit Scooby Doo.

9. Girl in the Fireplace

I didn’t really take to the clockwork droid monsters (although their masquerade outfits were kind of cool), but Madame du Pompadour worked as a historical character really well, as did 18th century Versailles as a setting for the story. It was an effective time-travelling story with a truly tragic ending. Tennant was able to play the romantic lead in a memorable way and save the day – the horse-riding scene being a memorable one.

8. End of Time

I must admit upfront that End of Time lacks in several areas, which is why it is not higher on the list. I haven’t particularly found the new series’ take on the Master as compelling a character as he was in the classic series. As a result, I found some of the way the story played out to be lacklustre. However, there are a few things that gain it a place in the top ten. The opening is both sad and amusing as the Doctor has “gone troppo” as a way of coping with his impending death. His relationship to the Ood and particularly Ood Sigma make nice bookends to the story. The Woman in White is a genuine mystery to this day that keeps fans debating over her identity. Wilfred’s character and his relationship to the Doctor is genuinely engaging and he plays an important role in the finale. But of course, what really makes this story is the climax. The return of the Time Lords is an epic story component and everything from the trigger-tension of the climactic scene, to the moment that guarantees the Doctor’s death, to the farewell tour and the regeneration scene is, well…Brilliant, I suppose.

7. Voyage of the Damned

I quite enjoyed this special I think because of the special guest actors and the ending. Clive Swift, of Keeping Up Appearances fame was splendid as Max Copper, the tour-guide of Earth and made some genuinely funny remarks about Earthling customs to the tourists who wouldn’t have known any better. Kylie Minogue also did a good job as Astrid and her ending was a tragic experience for the Doctor. Was good to see an Aussie companion (albeit briefly) alongside the Doctor for the first time since Janet Fielding’s Tegan Jovanka during the Fifth Doctor’s run. Added comedic tension with the need to avert a collision with Buckingham Palace during the climax. Oh and Banakavalata!

6. The Doctor’s Daughter

There are probably reasons not to like this story, but I quite enjoy it. The Doctor’s emotional journey of involuntarily progenating a pretty soldier clone who he initially regards with some disdain but eventually finds a special place for in his heart was compelling. Good character exploration with the pain of the Doctor’s past and his own soldier-like ways. Jenny’s character will always be part of the Tenth Doctor’s legacy and has probably kicked loads of alien butt somewhere out there in the obscure portions of the universe – or at least in numerous fanfic spin-offs. Nice problem-solving skills from Donna too!

5. Sontaran Strategem/Poison Sky

Ok, top 5 now – serious end of town. The Sontaran story saw the welcome return of Martha Jones and featured some really cool features. The ATMOS devices played on our worst fears about the unforeseen dangers of adopting universal technology. Luke Rattigan was compelling as a socially-inept, bratty, lonely genius and had a noteworthy character trajectory. UNIT was at their bumbling, useless-without-the-Doctor, best. Clone Martha was an interesting approach. But what really made it was that this was the revived Sontarans at their best – trying to turn Earth into a clone colony, then threatening it with complete obliteration. They were fearsome, if not moronic compared to the Doctor (yet still able to successfully deceive intelligent humans with ease) and we were introduced to the hypnotic Sontaran-haka. Sontar-Ha! Sontar-Ha!

4. The Christmas Invasion

Though this post-regeneration Christmas special was kind of Doctor-lite, right upto when it counted – the plot worked as a grand entrance for Tennant to make his full debut. The almost frenetic, fresh-faced Doctor immediately began to project himself into what would become the iconic portrayal of the character for this generation. He was funny, erratic and, as it turns out, a superb swordsman. I liked the contrast of mercy and the dark, vengeful side that were on display in his interactions with both the Sycorax and then the memorable Harriet Jones. Humourous Lion King quotations and regenerative party tricks.

3. School Reunion

School Reunion is easily my favourite normal, stand alone episode of the Tennancy. Why? Well it saw the return of classic companion Sarah Jane Smith and K-9 and featured some touching moments between her and the Doctor, as well as some petty jealousy between Sarah and new companion Rose Tyler. While the Krillitane weren’t that fantastic in and of themselves, Anthony Head (of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame) was absolutely brilliant as their ringleader. He played the villain so well and the way in which the plot was set up to tempt the Doctor with an absolute kind of power was really enjoyable to watch. The climactic exchange between K-9 and Head was hilariously fantastic: “You BAD Dog” “Affirmative.” When the episode couldn’t have gotten any better, it also won points from me for included an 80s rock classic “Love Will Tear Us Apart” during the diner scene.

2. Army of Ghosts/Doomsday

Daleks vs. Cybermen. Enough said. The two most recurrent and indomitable enemy races to the Doctor clash in their respective attempts to conquer the Earth – and while so much more could have been done with such a scenario, it was still a wonderful piece of sci-fi history. The initial exchange between the Cybermen and the Daleks is undoubtedly one of the best dialogues (and subsequent laser fights) in Doctor Who history.
“This is not war – this is pest control.” The tragic ending was also very well done as a way of bringing the relationship of the Doctor and Rose Tyler to a sad, sad end. Catherine Tate’s random appearance, followed by a series of “What”s from Tennant is a humourous juxtaposition that might have dried a few tears.

1. The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End

The only thing better than a Dalek story is a Dalek story with Davros at the helm. In the series 4 finale we were deliciously granted a picture of a “Dalek Empire at the full height of its powers” with their creator hatching a plot to destroy reality itself. It doesn’t get much more epic than that, until you realise that the Doctor is going to be reunited with almost every conceivable companion he’s had during his tenure as they work together to try to save the world.
Top that off with the Doctor apparently finally experiencing Extermination, before partially regenerating and keeping his appearance and personality the same. Then we see his most recent companion apparently dying, before experiencing a human-Time Lord metacrisis which results in her hybridising into “the Doctor Donna”, while creating a second (albeit part-human) version of the Doctor. Everything about the ending is just superb – even though there is much tragedy for the Tenth to endure along the way. Tennant pulls it off so well and his performance in this story epitomises why he’s the greatest Doctor of this generation.