Category: Practice


Awkward Names

Inheriting a weird last should feel a little awkward, but since you have it from birth you don’t notice it so much.  In fact, I don’t know what it’s like to have a normal last name.  My last name, Godde (pronounced ‘Goody’), certainly fits in the awkward category.  I got teased a bit growing up (goody, goody, yum yum) and people had plenty of fun with my name when I was an adult (I got put in a section at ADFA with two other guys, last names Pagan and Priestly).

The Anglican Church has also inherited a weird name.  I discovered this when I married someone who is half-Italian.  An Italian relative asked her, ‘Is he Inglesi?’ That’s the Italian word for English, but it means something more like the reverse of ‘wog’.  Maybe you could loosely paraphrase it ‘dirty skip’ (that’s probably not always implied, but it’s within the range of meanings).  Now, you might be incensed to think that such a category would even exist in Italian thinking.  I think we’re often too racist and naive to realize that other cultures don’t consider themselves inferior to Western culture (i.e. Anglo culture), and in fact may consider themselves superior and have somewhat racist terminology that backs up the fact.

I have noticed this language overlap when I go door-knocking.  Often if I knock on the door of an Italian person, when they hear that I go to an Anglican church they immediately say, ‘No thanks, I’m Catholic.’  That’s possibly because what they actually here me saying is, I go to ‘dirty skip church’.  Given that they don’t see themselves as a ‘dirty skip’ they don’t really feel like going!  It’s about the same as if I door-knocked an Anglo and said, ‘Would you like to come to wog church?’  Other Mediterranean languages have similar words, although I’m not sure about their connotations.  For example, Greek (Αγγλικά) and Spanish (Inglés).  Perhaps that’s why we hear the words, ‘No thanks I’m Catholic’ or ‘No thanks I’m Orthodox’ so often?

I notice that people from Asian backgrounds tend to have less qualms about the word ‘Anglican’.  Maybe that’s because they have no equivalent word in their language?

While ‘Anglican’ may have a proud heritage in Australia, perhaps it’s not the best label to do multicultural ministry under?

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Seeing is believing… But what is seeing? What is appearing? Are they so straightforward categories? I was reading this morning from 1 Sam 3:21 and came across the most extraordinary phrase: “And the LORD appeared again at Shiloh, for the LORD revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the LORD.” (ESV). What is this verse saying?

In 3:1 we see that “And the word of the LORD was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision.” By the end of the chapter, with the calling of Samuel to be a prophet this situation has been reversed. Now the word of the LORD is coming to Samuel and the LORD has appeared again. Nice, neat, case closed, right? Or is it?

The NIV changes one small word in 3:21 which changes the meaning of the whole verse. It replaces ‘for’ with ‘and’. If the word really was ‘and’ then we would be hearing two things which may or may not be related:

  1. God appeared at Shiloh
  2. God revealed himself by his word

But that’s not the case. The Hebrew word is a little slippery, but I think in this case is better translated ‘for’. There is a link between God’s appearing and God revealing by his word. The link is that God is appearing by the revealing of his word. Or, to put it another way, God revealing himself by his word is the evidence that God appeared again.

Sounds weird, doesn’t it? Usually we would say he either appeared or he spoke, but we don’t typically say that someone appeared by speaking. But that’s exactly what seems to have been said here. Skip forward to Hebrews and we see something similar happening. In 2:9 the author says, ‘But we see… Jesus’. Now the author didn’t actually ever see Jesus. In 2:3 he admits that he is a second generation believer, not an eye-witness of Jesus. So how did he ‘see’ Jesus? Through the word that ‘was attested to us’ (2:9). He sees Jesus by hearing God’s word. The same idea.

What does that mean for us? Some people hanker for a great vision of God, or some other impressive, spiritual thing. Like angels. Imagine the book you could write about seeing angels. It would be genuine proof that you are truly spiritual. But if we understand what we have in God’s word, the Bible, it’s far more impressive than any vision of angels. In the Bible God appears to us through his word. We get to see God when we read the Bible. It’s not that God looks like a book, but this is how the invisible God reveals himself to us, through his word. You can get no more profound and real spiritual experience of God than through reading his word.

So let’s do it! Let’s get into God’s word and get that profound picture of the LORD who made us and loves us. It’s the clearest picture you’ll ever get of God this side of heaven.

Gay Marriage

I was door-knocking recently and met a girl studying for her HSC.  She identified herself as ‘Anglican’ and claimed that she believed in Jesus, but didn’t agree with what the Bible said about gay marriage.  It seems that there is nothing more disagreeable and repulsive in Australia at the moment (at least in the media) then to challenge the ‘right’ to gay marriage.  In fact I have heard it described as a ‘basic human right’, suggesting that Christians are oppressive for suggesting that any homosexual couple should be denied that right.  Perhaps that makes what I’m about to say a little risky, maybe some might think fool-hardy…

I don’t believe that Christians should be allowed to legislate their morality on the rest of the country.  But I also think that Christians should be allowed to put their view forward in the public arena, and be heard, along with the other voices.  I believe that what the Bible has to say about marriage is important for the well-being of Australia – for the present and for the future.

First, let’s examine the claim that, “Denying anyone the right to marry because of gender or sexuality is simply not fair”, that comes from www.australianmarriageequality.com.  Are the ‘marriage equity’ supporters willing to take that argument to its logical conclusion?  There are two other situations that are legislated against in the marriage act that this argument also allows, they are incest (two close family members) and polygamy (marrying more than one person at the same time).  They are other alternative forms of ‘sexuality’.  Are they also to be allowed to marry?  Do they also have the right?  Why should we deny a brother and sister getting married, or a man from marrying two women at the same time?  It seems to me that to argue for gay marriage with this argument, but to deny polygamy or incest is to not seek marriage equality after all.  Their argument is inconsistent.

What do Christians have to say positively about marriage?

3 things:

  1. Jesus loves homosexuals
  2. Jesus loves marriage
  3. Jesus is against gay marriage

Jesus loves homosexuals

It was characteristic of Jesus throughout his earthly ministry to hang out with anyone and everyone in society.  No-one was to ‘sinful’ for him.  In fact this became a common criticism of Jesus.   “Why does he eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” (Mark 2:16) was the complaint of the religious authorities of the day.  (Tax-collectors were traitors against their own people).  But Jesus’ response was, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17)  It was because Jesus loved them that he hung out with them.  Jesus loved all those who sinned, and he was quite clear that everyone has sinned.  All sin is sin to Jesus, whether that be homosexual activity (Jesus does not condemn people for being tempted, just acting on it), lust, lying, stealing or disobeying your parents.  He loves us all.  So Jesus loves homosexuals, even though though they sin.

Jesus loves marriage

Everybody thinks marriage is great.  Some believe it’s great for everyone but them, but marriage is still held in high regard in Australia.  That homosexual people want to honour marriage is to be applauded.  They are right.  Marriage is a fine institution, that was given to us by God.  Jesus rightly gave God all the credit for marriage: “what God has joined together, let man not separate,” (Matthew 19:6).  Not only did God start marriage in the first place and give it to us, but God is intimately involved in the creation of every marriage.  That’s why Jesus is so pro-marriage and against divorce.  Marriage is to be treasured.

Jesus is against gay marriage

Jesus’ description of God’s institution of marriage in unequivocal: “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,”  and he also said, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” (Matthew 19:4-5)  Jesus was clear that marriage was designed by God for one woman and one man, to the exclusion of all others, for life.  Any diversion from that pattern (including divorce) was a perversion of what God has instituted and is bad for people.  What does Jesus have to say about gay marriage?  He is against it.  It is bad for our society.

It’s tempting at this point to rehearse all the other arguments that don’t include God to back up what Jesus has to say.  But I’ll leave that to australianmarriage.org to do that.  What does Jesus want to say to all Australians about gay marriage?  He wants to say, ‘I love you (even if you’re gay)’, ‘I love marriage’, and ‘I am against gay marriage’.  I think nothing would be better for you then to get to know Jesus, but even if you don’t have any time for Jesus, life always goes better when we live Jesus’ way.

Oliver Cromwell: Church and State

I become more and more convinced of the importance of the separation between church and state as I look into church history. I’m not talking here about the removal of Christian influence from government. That is a thinly veiled attempt by secular humanism to privilege its own worldview over Christianity in the public sphere. No, I’m talking about the state church. The state church is an experiment that dates all the way back to Constantine in the fourth century AD. We see vestiges of it today in institutions like the Roman Catholic Church (Church Italy, Spain, France, etc.), the Anglican Church (Church of England), the Presbyterian Church (Church of Scotland), etc. I would be an idiot to say nothing good has ever come from the state church. I would say that much good has come, but from the fact that it is a church, not that it has wielded some of the power of the state. Much harm has also come from the state church. Wielding the power of the state has not helped the church. Oliver Cromwell shows us why this is the case. Cromwell was Lord Protector of England from 1653-1658. He believed that he had been specifically chosen by God to bring reform to England. He sought to do that through various means:

  1. To legislate religious tolerance. Unfortunately Cromwell was far more tolerant than most of his subjects. His toleration was withdrawn within 12 months of his death and was not reinstituted for another thirty years. The legislation had failed to change people’s hearts.
  2. He established the office of ‘Trier’ – someone who examined the moral character of people who wanted to be ordained clergy. This cleaned up a lot of the clergy in England and had a reasonably positive impact.
  3. The ‘Reformation of Manners’. A raft of legislation aimed at creating within the populace “an internalised self-discipline in a people governed not by the interests of the flesh but those of the spirit”. This was not enthusiastically enforced at the lower levels due to a lack of popular support. It was largely ineffective.

Why did it fail? Because laws don’t change people’s hearts. Neither does education. What changes people is the work of the Holy Spirit through the word of God. This is the ministry that the church should be doing and it is done through the weakness of proclamation, not through the power of the state. How does this help us today? Don’t we have a separation within Australia already? To a certain degree, yes. But we must beware of seeking to bridge that divide. How does this happen? Two ways – one is to seek power over the state to achieve our ends. The other is to submit to the state in order receive its resources. The first way – seeking power over the state – we can see in politics. But shouldn’t we have an influence in government? Certainly. The difference between power and influence can be seen between the Christian Democrat Party (CDP) and the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL). Now both are full of godly people who I respect, so don’t hear me slagging off either. But the CDP seeks to gain control in parliament. Now that sounds ridiculous because they are such a small party in NSW. But imagine if they grew to the size that they could form government. What then are we looking at? Christians running government on the basis that they are Christians. On the other hand, the ACL seeks to influence government policy by highlighting policy issues that they think a Christian voice would speak to. They don’t seek to wrest power but to influence policy. They don’t highlight who is and isn’t Christian in the major parties, but rather highlight what their polices are. What frustrates me about ACL is that they have a grab bag of policies that they consider ‘Christian’, as if somehow what is done with the economy or taxation is not a Christian concern as well. But they are respecting the separation of church and state. The second way – submitting to the state – we can see in the school chaplaincy program. We accept coin from the government to fund chaplains, but that ties their hands from doing what every Christian ought to be doing – sharing the good news of Jesus with as many as are willing to hear. This is called proselytizing and is off limits to chaplains. We accept a neutered version of Christian ministry in order to get the funding. Keeping the distance between church and state is important – that is preventing control of the state by the church and preventing control of the church by the sate. Churches should still be law-abiders and politicians should still be influenced by religion and allow that religion to influence their legislation. But we should resist all moves to close the separation between church and state – for the sake of the gospel.

Financial Freedom

As I read Ecclesiastes last week it occurred to me just how enslaved our society has become by their finances. This is so much the case that we use the term ‘financial freedom’ to indicate that we don’t have to work anymore to live the lifestyle we want. What we’re not free from, it seems, is having that lifestyle, with all its possessions and experiences. These possessions and experiences are dictated to us by advertising, whose very existence is to make us dissatisfied. So our couch is not leather enough, our TV not thin enough (or is lacking a dimension), our stereo is not surround enough, our holidays are not international enough, our ipad is not 2 enough, and so the list goes on. Never mind that these things were all fine just the other month when we bought them.

Genuine financial freedom is not being free from work, it’s having the freedom to do with our money what we want to, not having to do what they want us to. It’s the ability not to be enslaved to money, to possessions, to lifestyle, to comfort or any of the false status that goes with those things.

It’s interesting to note that when Jesus preached he never preached against the worshiping of statues by the Jews. Ever since the Exile, when they had returned from Babylon, they had ceased to worship statues. Does that mean that they had given up idolatry? Not at all. Jesus preached against idolatry, but the rival god was money. So in Matthew 6:24 he says, ‘You cannot serve both God and money.’ The same thing is true today. Very few Australians worship statues (although there are some). But boy do we worship money here. The pursuit of money governs our time, our thoughts, our effort and yes, even our money.

It’s only when we choose to stop worshiping money and to worship God instead that we can truly have financial freedom. Then we will be free to do with our money what we want. Not to put ourselves back under financial slavery, but to use our money to worship God.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately about Oliver Cromwell. Fascinating guy. I’ve been really enjoying it, maybe because under the banner of church history I actually get to read military history. Cromwell lived in the early 17th century, dying in 1658. He never fought in a single battle until he was 46, and then discovered that he was a military genius. He remained undefeated in a decade of military campaigns. He rose from a cavalry commander to be the Lord Protector of England. His rise was extraordinary, and the significance of this was not lost on Cromwell. He came to believe that he was God’s appointed instrument for the reformation of England.

How do you come to that conclusion, though? Well, as far as I can tell, the reasoning goes like this. God is intimately involved in the affairs of this world. So far so good. God punishes the wicked and proud and exalts the humble. As a general statement in world affairs, still good. We can know God’s will by looking at what he is doing in history. Now this is where the train derails. Just to let you see where the train went from there: Cromwell took his unbroken run of victories as a sign of divine favour and commission to become an absolute dictator for the reform of England.

But herein lies the rub. When people look outside God’s word for direction from God they open themselves up to all kinds of error. Now Cromwell did so with his Bible open. He was by no means ignorant of its contents. But he read what he saw happening around him and to him into his Bible. This is a subtle dynamic.

If we are to avoid error (and this is a high and hard calling) we must read our Bibles first and then interpret the world in which we live in light of that. If we do it in the reverse order, starting with our experiences, traditions or our society’s values, and then go into the Bible we open ourselves up to all kinds of trouble. This is exceptionally hard to do. Pray that God will help us.

Does this apply?

I heard this week that Harvard Business School claim that 95% of people don’t know how to apply a principle. My quick internet search has failed to turn up anything to confirm the claim, but the source is trustworthy (Ray Galea) and in my experience seems likely.

If this is true, what does it mean for us? It means that Bible teachers of all kinds need to work hard at application. There’s the principle, but we now know that 95% of people can’t do anything with it until I put some flesh on the bones.

So it means, we need to put flesh on the bones of our application, so that people understand. That can come a number of ways. You could give numerous examples in all sorts of different contexts, to show how the principle might apply. You could explore one example very deeply, to show how you go from principle to application. But to stop at just the principle is to give 95% of people a pleasant thought that probably won’t impact their life. (Of course the Holy Spirit works through the Word to change people’s hearts to be more like Christ. But that’s never an excuse for our slackness. That’s a comfort in our weakness).

Paul is a great illustration of this principle. Look at the book of Ephesians, for example. The first three and a half chapters trace through theology and principles that flow out. The remainder of the book puts those principles into concrete practice. We need to do the same. Application is hard work, but it’s essential to see lives changed.

The Cost of Discipleship

Thinking some more about money, again I was challenged recently to think, ‘What does generosity look like?’  How do we know if we are being generous?  In one sense we only know if we are generous by looking at our heart, but then our hearts can be so deceitful…

The way I was challenged to consider generosity was this:

We live in the age of grace now, not one of law.  And we see in the Sermon on the Mount that grace always goes further than law.  So, we don’t just not murder, we love our enemies.  We don’t just not steal, we give to all those who ask.  We don’t just limit ourselves to an eye for an eye, we turn the other cheek.  What if we applied this logic to generosity?

Well the law in the Old Testament mandated giving of at least 10%.  If grace and freedom from the law look better than law-keeping, than shouldn’t we be giving more than 10%.

Oh, that’s legalism, I hear you say.  Well, maybe.  But if you’re freedom from the law just encourages you to rationalize greed, then what good has your freedom really done?

Obviously we haven’t discussed the motivation for giving (2 Cor 8-9 is a great place to go to see Paul’s thoughts on that).  But why not take a moment to consider: Am I using my freedom for generosity?  What is holding me back from giving more?

We have been given so much in Australia.  Let’s be generous givers.

What do you think?

Listening to a pastor recently has challenged my thinking about money. Do we, with our current sensitivities owe more in our thinking about money to the Bible or to our culture? Here’s one example to ponder…

We say from Matt 6 that when we give we are not to let our right hand know what our left hand is doing. So we give secretly to avoid pride. But is that our problem these days? Is it that we are in grave danger of pride because of our generous giving? Or is it that our secrecy covers over our lack of generosity?

Matt 6 seems to be addressing the problem of hypocrisy in giving – doing it so others will think well of you. Is that our danger? Or is it that we are tempted to greed and don’t give much, which our secrecy actually aids and abets?

How do we work against this tendency? One idea is sharing our budget with a trusted brother or sister, asking them to tell us whether we might be suffering from greed. Maybe you have some other ideas… What do you think?