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These five practises that make Church harder are a good thing.

These five practises that make Church harder are a good thing.

We live in a culture where commitment is not normal. This is not news. The decline in commitment has been well documented.  Social researcher, Hugh Mackay, says that this current generation is…

“growing up in a world of ever-expanding choices, they have made a virtue of keeping their options open, and they have adopted “what else is there?” as their general catchcry. It’s a question that comes up whether the topic is a course of study, a job, a sexual partner, a musical genre, an outing, a set of religious or political beliefs, a fashion label, a food fad or a make of car.”

It is interesting that Mackay added religious beliefs to the list of things that people don’t want to commit to. One way we could respond to this trend would be to make it as easy as possible for people to say they are part of our churches.

There are five practises at my church, and many churches, that run directly counter to this temptation. Each one of these practises  demand a level of commitment that is increasingly counter-cultural.

The five practises are baptism, child dedication, communion, giving money and church membership. Other churches do some of these differently, but all churches have practises that demand commitment.

As a Pastor I often feel the temptation to make it easer for my people, but the more I am honest both about what the bible says and what my experience is, I know that reducing committment is not a path that ultimately makes life better.

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This is an important moment for the church to have a long hard look at itself and how it relates to same sex attracted people.

This is an important moment for the church to have a long hard look at itself and how it relates to same sex attracted people.

Up till now, I have been avoiding writing directly about the current same sex marriage and homophobia.

One glimpse at Facebook will tell you that this is an issue that divides friends and even divides families.

The reason this issue is so intense, is that on both sides people feel as though they are fighting a battle that goes to the very heart of their beliefs about themselves and the world.

For many Gay and Lesbian people, the question of whether they are able to marry seems like the final battle in the war to be accepted as full members of the society.

Things have come a long way in a short period of time. It is only 20 years ago that homosexuality was decriminalised in Tasmania. It is important for the whole community to acknowledge that same-sex attracted people have been treated in ways that have been blatantly dehumanizing.

We have heard a lot about “homophobia” in this debate. The word means “dislike of or prejudice against homosexual people.” While the term has been inappropriately extended to anyone who might want to vote “no” in the postal plebiscite, we need to acknowledge that there has been real homophobia in the Australian society and also in the Christian church.

For Christians particularly, who proclaim a gospel of love and grace, there simply is no excuse for dislike or prejudice against any category of people.

It is true though that questioning the nature of marriage goes to the heart of how Christians interpret the bible and understand their role in society.

The question of the Bible’s guidance for Christians who want to take their faith seriously is not a small thing, particularly for those of us who see the Bible as something more than a collection of historical manuscripts.

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Social issues really do matter, however they are not the main challenge for the church.

Social issues really do matter, however they are not the main challenge for the church.

It is interesting coming home into what feels like a highly charged political environment. Things feel very polarised both globally and nationally.

There is a strange sense of foreboding at the moment as it looks like America and North Korea are, day by day, inching closer to a cliff and at the same time, a vitriolic debate about same-sex marriage is dominating talk radio and social media.

Polarisation is not new, but it does feel like this is different.  It feels like the whole nature and question of democracy is at stake at the moment.

One of the big differences between Australia and the U.S. is that the fragmentation here seems to be less about “Conservatives” vs. “Liberals” and more about an overall lack of trust in any institutions at all.

In America there is at least the illusion that things can be fixed when we defeat the enemy. In Australia the enemy is much less defined and so the societal fragmentation is much more obvious.

I was impressed by former Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson who seemed to be a voice of reason in the midst of the highly charged debate. He clearly articulated that the big concern at the moment isn’t same sex marriage but whether the country itself will hold together.

All of this the context in which I now find myself leading a church and needing to equip our people to live their faith.

What would you aim for if you were in my place?

I know that one of the things I will need to keep remembering myself is that whatever the immediate battle seems to be, it isn’t actually the main game.

Jesus didn’t come and teach an ideology, he came and demonstrated a completely new way of doing life and invited his followers to step into that life.

The Christian church is never at its best when we are fighting the battle of ideas. We are always at our best when we are living our faith in the nitty-gritty details of ordinary life.

That doesn’t mean that we should avoid social issues. Issues of Justice matter, but when we debate issues without seeing or respecting people, we do exactly the opposite of Jesus’s direct command to love our enemies, and we also misunderstand how the church is meant to work.

One of my heroes is William Wilberforce. He and his friends, the Clapham Sect, transformed England and ended slavery through persistent and clever political action. I doubt though that even William Wilberforce would be very effective in the current political climate.

William Wilberforce was able to draw together a national consensus because an Anglican preacher had stepped into a very fragmented country and pointed to a different way of life for the fifty years before the young politician began his career.

England was falling apart. There were very few trusted leaders and it seemed that corruption was rife. In 1738, Bishop Berkeley declared that religion and morality in Britain had collapsed “to a degree that was never before known in any Christian country.”

Five years ago my son Dan and I visited John Wesley’s house. He is one of the leaders I most admire.

It was also in 1738 that a young preacher by the name of John Wesley attended a church service on May 24, that changed his life and ultimately would result in England changing to the point that Wilberforce could do what he did.

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The only kind of church that will actually work here is a Fair Dinkum one.

The only kind of church that will actually work here is a Fair Dinkum one.

Our family is orienting to church in Australia

We’ve been back in Australia for one month.

We’ve been surprised at how big the adjustment has been, however it does feel like we are starting to find our bearings.

Part of the adjustment has been the different place that the Christian church has in Australian society. The Aussie church is much more on the fringes here than it is in Canada.

Our church has a “men’s shed” program, which is pretty much what it sounds like: a shed in someone’s backyard that blokes get together in. In some places guys get together and build stuff or fix stuff… fortunately in our church the guys get together to eat, drink and watch footy.  (I’m not the most practical person in the world.)

It was at my first visit to the men’s shed and while I was there I had a conversation I have been thinking about ever since. One of the guys opened up with me about why he didn’t like going to church. He has shown up occasionally,  but found that the words people spoke were very different from the way they acted.

He spoke about his own personal experience of trusting a church leader who he invited into his home and spend hours with on the golf course, only to find out that all the while this guy was having an affair. He also spoke about the ongoing revelations of abuse that seem to get back to into the headlines every couple of weeks. There is no excuse for either of these things, and the fact that he was so disturbed by them are actually sign of his integrity.

Australians don’t have an issue with Jesus, they do have an issue with His church.

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Don’t let the dark side of consumerism rob you of your life. Life is for living now.

Don’t let the dark side of consumerism rob you of your life. Life is for living now.

Article in todays St. Albert Gazette
St. Albert is a beautiful city, but as with most Western cities,  it is very easy to focus on the wrong thing.

Next week we are heading back to Australia after being here for four years. We have loved our time in St. Albert. This is a very special place and you are served by some remarkably dedicated and gifted leaders both in the church and in the broader community.

The Good Neighbour Project is remarkable (goodniehgbourproject.org) and I don’t think there is any doubt that St. Albert is the Block Party capital of the world. I doubt that any other city on the planet could point to over 50% of streets having participated through the course of a decade. It has been so encouraging to see the way the churches, community groups and the city have been able to partner in such a productive way.

As i prepare to leave however, I do want to issue you with a challenge.

If you haven’t already noticed, there is a culture in this city of a continual striving for better houses, holidays, experiences and toys, that never reaches a point of fulfillment.

Many of us have fallen for the lie of the St. Albert’s dominant consumer culture that we are going to buy our way to a life that brings satisfaction. We never will.

William T. Cavanaugh, in his book Being Consumed says:

“Our relationships with products tend to be short-lived: rather than hoarding treasured objects, consumers are characterized by a constant dissatisfaction with material goods. This dissatisfaction is wha produces the restless pursuit of satisfaction in the form of something new. Consumerism is not so much about having something else; that’s why its not simply buying but shopping that is at the heart of consumerism.”

Too many of us in St. Albert live our lives in a constant state of shopping, looking for the next thing and not having the space to appreciate what we already have. The tragedy of St. Albert is that we are living in a place and at a standard that 98% of the world can only dream about, but our dreams about what we don’t have stop us from enjoying the people around us and the very special place God has us in.

Jesus told his followers not to worry about tomorrow because it has enough worries of its own, and not to worry about stuff, but simply to be in the moment with Him (Matthew 6:33-34). I think that principle is why Jesus continually told his followers that they needed to become like little kids, who live their lives in the wonder of the present moment and trust that the future will look after itself.

In my opinion this is the greatest challenge facing the residents of St. Albert. We are so busy that we simply don’t have the emotional space to be present in the moment with God, others or even ourselves.

Don’t let the dark side of St. Albert’s culture of consumerism rob you of your life.

Can I suggest that you create the space to just hang out with your family and neighbours with no agenda? Go for a walk along our network of neighbourhood paths and take time to stop and enjoy your surroundings. Get to church on Sunday morning and rediscover the power of a life lived with something else rather than your own desires at the centre.

Life is for living now.

The moments when you decide your core vales are actually the biggest turning points of your life.

The moments when you decide your core vales are actually the biggest turning points of your life.

Sharing some of what I have learned on the journey last Sunday, with a photo of the day Leeanne and I were engaged

Every now and then life takes a major turning point. Something changes that means every other aspect of your life is affected.

From an external perspective, my family and I are in a moment like that right now.

In eight days time we will be boarding a Qantas flight to head back to Australia. I will begin my new job as Senior Pastor of Citywide Baptist church, Hobart, a week later.

On the surface it looks and feels like a very big thing. It feels like a life turning point. At a deeper level though, I think real life turning points look much less dramatic.

Last Sunday I gave my last sermon at St. Albert Alliance church. It was challenging to try to capture what the journey of the last four years had meant.

In my sermon I talked about three moments in my life that were  life changing.

The first was the point at which Leeanne and I agreed that we wanted our marriage to be about seeking first the Kingdom of God. I showed a picture of the day we got engaged, and as I did I, and everyone else, realized how young we were at the time.

The second was the time I stood atop Mt. Wellington and declared that I was willing to do whatever Jesus asked of me in order to reach Hobart.

The third was the time I agreed with God that I was wiling to do whatever he asked me to do, even if that was sweeping the aisles of a supermarket.

None of these moments would have looked as consequential to an outsider as what it means to move your family to a different country, but each of them were profoundly life shaping. Each one of them contributed to the fact that we found ourselves in Canada in 2012, and each one of them has affected our understanding that it is right to once again board a plane next week.

The moments when you decide your core vales are actually the biggest turning points of your life.

Perhaps like me, you can point to points in your early adulthood that shaped your core values. The work doesn’t finish there, though. The job of working out who you are and what matters to you is an ongoing one. New circumstances will raise new questions and often demand a new level of reflection on your values.

An example of that for me has been my changing understanding of the importance of the local church, and how it really is the cornerstone of Jesus’s plan for changing the world.

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A message to those who Kill us: Thank You, We Love You and We are Praying for you

A message to those who Kill us: Thank You, We Love You and We are Praying for you

As the world struggles to come to terms with another senseless bombing, I thought I would post the remarkable words of Father Boules George, a Coptic priest, speaking the day after a bomb killed 49 worshippers in his church in Alexandria.

I spoke on Sunday about the paradoxical heart of the Gospel, and the words of this man are the clearest example I have seen for a long time of what it means to be an agent of God’s love in the face of violence and brokenness. Fr. George demonstrates with remarkable clarity how the love of God defeats the power of violence and hate.

A MESSAGE TO THOSE WHO KILL US

Father Boules George

(St. Mark’s Church, Cairo…Monday night of Holy Week, April 10,2017…the day after a total 49 people were killed outside St Mark’s Church in Alexandria and inside St George’s Church in Tanta by suicide bombers on Palm Sunday. This is an English translation)

What will we say to them?

  1. THANK YOU

The first thing we will say is “Thank you very, very much,” and you won’t believe us when we say it.

You know why we thank you? I’ll tell you. You won’t get it, but please believe us.

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You can have a whole life, or you can regularly watch porn. You can’t do both.

You can have a whole life, or you can regularly watch porn. You can’t do both.

I was reading Proverbs chapter 5 this week, which is mostly about sexual immorality, and it occurred to me that since I started this blog in 2010 I have never written about pornography, despite the fact that it has been something that I personally have had to wrestle with.

While I am pleased to be able to say that porn hasn’t had a hold over me for many years now, I am embarrassed to have to admit that I fell for something so stupid and directly opposed to my faith. I think that embarrassment, despite the fact that it was in my past, is why I have avoided writing about it.

I feel I need to apologize for not talking about this sooner both because I want my reflections on this site to be an expression of my real wrestle with seeking to follow Jesus, and also because I am more and more convinced that Pornography is a cancer that is having a huge impact on the Christian church.

An article in the 2016 July/August edition of Christianity today quoted a Barna study that showed that 41 percent of Christian men aged 13-24 and 23 percent of Christian men over 25 said they frequently used porn. (the figures were 5 percent and 13 percent for Christian women in those age groups).  While my experience as a Pastor indicates that these numbers may well be understated, they are numbers that are a real worry for the future of the church itself.

A recent study has found that  watching pornography significantly increases the likelihood that you will abandon your faith.  (2015 study by  Samuel Perry published in The Sociology of Religion 76:4, pages 436-458 ). Did you get that? 2 out of 5 young Christian men, and 1 out of 5 men and women generally, are actively engaged in behaviour that predisposes them to leaving the church!

While 3 U.S. states have declared pornography a health crisis, we in the church have been slow to talk about the impact it is having on us.  Porn has been around in different forms for hundreds of years, however online porn is having such a devastating effect because of its anonymity, accessibility and affordability according to this article.

Lets call a spade a spade. Porn does real damage and it really is wrong. Pornography is adultery, plan and simple. It might be adultery that you can get away with anonymously, affordably and accessibly, but it is still adultery.

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There are 6 choices you need to make if you don’t want to be sucked in by Trump (or anyone else).

There are 6 choices you need to make if you don’t want to be sucked in by Trump (or anyone else).

There is a seismic shift underway in how the world looks at the United States, how the United States looks at itself and how everybody understands truth.

I used to teach people about Public Relations. I would teach that we have “media” because they “mediate” truth. These days, while that might be the origin of the word, the reality of the function is not so simple.

Yesterday I watched one of my favourite journalists, Chuck Todd, reach a point where he declared that he no longer had the words, quoting a sports commentator who once declared “I can’t believe what my eyes are seeing.”

It seems as though the biggest question facing us over the next decade will be “what is real?”

I wonder if part of the problem is that over the last 40 years we have been lulled into a dependence on media. We have allowed them to mediate, and therefore shape our reality.

In my Public Relations classes, I would teach that “those who know how to use the media have disproportionate power.” I don’t think anyone would doubt that Donald Trump knows how to use the media.

I don’t think that Trump is the problem. I think the problem is that we have all become lazy. We have allowed ourselves to have our understanding shaped by others, rather than doing the hard work of seeking truth ourselves.

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Are you ready for another trip around the Sun? #HappyNewYear #Plansfor2017

Are you ready for another trip around the Sun? #HappyNewYear #Plansfor2017

2016 has been a big year.

I love this time of year.

I love it for two reasons, the first is that it’s not a normal time, it’s kind of a twilight zone, an in-between time where one year is really over and another hasn’t properly started. In a moment like this there is the opportunity to spend some time reflecting.

The other reason I love this time of year is the chance to sit down in front of the cricket (I know its not a very Canadian thing) or over a jigsaw puzzle or board game with family in a very relaxed kind of way that doesn’t seem to happen in the frenetic pace that most of us seem to sustain.

Since Christmas I’ve reading back over my journal from 2016 and reflecting on all that has happened over the past 12 months.

At the start of the year I set myself some goals.

I think goals are a very good thing. Without goals it is easy to get thrown around by life and never really getting anywhere.  It is encouraging to see that some of the goals I set myself on January 1, 2016 are now memories and there is significant progress on others.

I have to acknowledge though that there are a number of things I said I wanted to do that I haven’t done, and there are lots of other things that I couldn’t have even imagined in January that I am now grateful to have experienced.

Increasingly I am coming to a point where I can relax and trust that God knows what he is doing, even when things don’t make sense.

I have a plaque on my desk which helps me get perspective on a regular basis. The plaque features two verses from the book of Proverbs chapter three: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

As I look back on the past year I see God’s hand at work, guiding me, challenging me, encouraging me and ultimately, carrying me. I also see that some of my plans that didn’t eventuate were because of His work in my life.

Tomorrow, after church, I will set some goals for 2017, however I am grateful for the truth of Proverbs 19:21 which says: “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”

God’s plan will not always fit your agenda, and it won’t always be comfortable. However as you learn to let go and to trust, you will find that somehow a pattern will emerge that is only explicable through God’s supernatural care and work in your life.

As we all begin another journey around the sun, I wonder whether 2017 might be a good time to discover in a new way that God actually does have a plan for your life?

It is important not to sentimentalise the baby born in Bethlehem, but to recognise him for who he is: the instigator of a revolution of love.

It is important not to sentimentalise the baby born in Bethlehem, but to recognise him for who he is: the instigator of a revolution of love.

Dressing up as Mary and Joseph in 2002

The front yard is blanketed in snow and there is extreme cold weather warning for this part of the world for the next 24 hours.

Christmas must be coming.

As we come to the end of a year in which politics and power seemed to dominate every news bulletin, we find ourselves again being reminded of a little baby born in Bethlehem who gained more followers than any politician in history, yet never grasped for power.

That wasn’t how the Messiah was supposed to act.

Lots of Jews had been waiting expectantly for a baby to be born, but not this baby, not this way.

They expected a baby who would eventually force the anti-Jewish powers to bow to a stronger political force. They expected a baby who would reinstate the political might their nation had once enjoyed under Kings David and Solomon.

They expected a powerful king.

The baby born in Bethlehem had indeed come as king, but of a wholly different kind of Kingdom. He had come to institute a kingdom based on love and not coercion.

Coercive power and love are opposite forces.

As I wrote in my book 6 Radical Decisions, sociologist Willard Waller has demonstrated what he calls the principle of least interest. This rather disturbing but obviously true principle states that the person who cares the least in any relationship is the person who has the most power.

The more you love, the more you are willing to put aside your agenda for the sake of the other person. The less you love, the less likely you are to sacrifice for the other person.

While it took a sociologist to give the principle a name, it was Jesus who first made the truth of the principle of least interest clear when he said:

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:12-13)

Jesus defined love as the willingness to die for the sake of another, something which he of course would ultimately demonstrate on the cross, but something he was clearly asking his followers to be willing to do as well.

We are used to people grasping for power. We are not used to people demonstrating selfless love, but perhaps we should be. After all it is self-giving love that is always the key that breaks the curse in the blockbuster movies (think Darth Vader disposing of the Emperor in Return of the Jedi or Leonardo DiCaprio freezing in the icy Atlantic waters in Titanic or Sigourney Weaver sacrificing herself in Avatar). It is self giving love that gave weight to the words of Mother Theresa or Nelson Mandala. It is self giving love we hope for in our leaders (but often find ourselves disappointed).

At one point in “the Hobbit” Gandalf is asked why he chose Bilbo. He nailed the difference between a kingdom of power and a kingdom of love:

“Saruman [another wizard] believes that it is only great power that can hold evil in check. That is not what I’ve found. I found it is the small things, everyday deeds of ordinary folk, that keeps the darkness at bay. Simple acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? Perhaps it is because I’m afraid, and he gives me courage.”

It is not a stronger coercive power that contains an evil power, it is the power of love. As Martin Luther King wrote;

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

Love is a wholly other way of living. When you love you allow your needs  to not be the primary filter through which you see the world, and as a result you are actually able to see the world. N.T. Wright wrote:

When I truly love, whether the object of my love is a planet or a person, a symphony or a sunset, I am celebrating the otherness of the beloved, wanting the beloved to be what it really is, greater than my imagining or perception, stranger, more mysterious. Love celebrates that mystery: in that sense, it is truly ‘objective’; but it is also of course delightedly ‘subjective’

In the 80’s the rock group Foreigner had a hit with the song “I want to know what love is.” Some of the lyrics were:

In my life there’s been heartache and pain
I don’t know if I can face it again
Can’t stop now, I’ve traveled so far, to change this lonely life
I want to know what love is, I want you to show me
I want to feel what love is, I know you can show me
I want to know what love is, I want you to show me
(And I want to feel) I want to feel what love is
(And I know) I know you can show me
Did you notice that the most common word  was “I” followed closely by “me?” Foreigner will never know what love is, when the reason they are reaching for love is their own needs.

The only way to understand love is to learn to love. Hans Urs von Balthasar wrote:

“Love can only be perceived by love.”

When the Messiah actually did appear, he appears as love incarnate. The longing of Jewish people for political power was understandable after centuries of subjugation, however God was wanting to establish a kingdom of love and not political coercion. This actually was not news, he had made it clear 400 years earlier:

Zechariah 4:6 Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.

In fact, God had told them that the Messiah would be almost the exact opposite of the powerful political figure they were longing for:

 2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
Isaiah 53:2-3

Jesus came as a tiny, helpless baby, born to a teenage mother amongst the fecal stench of a barnyard. Jesus came as the perfect demonstration of self giving love.

I love how Bono puts it (in describing a moment of realization at a Christmas church service):

The idea that God, if there is a force of Logic and Love in the universe, that it would seek to explain itself is amazing enough. That it would seek to explain itself and describe itself by becoming a child born in straw poverty, in shit and straw…a child… I just thought: “Wow!” Just the poetry … Unknowable love, unknowable power, describes itself as the most vulnerable. There it was. I was sitting there, and it’s not that it hadn’t struck me before, but tears came streaming down my face, and I saw the genius of this, utter genius of picking a particular point in time and deciding to turn on this.”

Santa is much safer than that baby. Santa makes us feel happy while promising to meet our desires for stuff. The baby asks us to give up our agendas and to learn to love. He invites us to step into a wholly other way of living, a way of living that actually is the only way to a whole life.

It is important for us not to sentimentalize the baby born in Bethlehem, but to recognise him for who he is: the instigator of a revolution of love.

For the foreseeable future, we cannot just assume that people who proclaim themselves to be authorities are telling the truth.

For the foreseeable future, we cannot just assume that people who proclaim themselves to be authorities are telling the truth.

fakenewsOn October 30, the CBS news in America announced that an invasion had begun.

From the moment the broadcast started the audience of about 32 million people was transfixed in horror as they began to understand that the future of the whole world was now being threatened.

People started to panic.

Once the director of the programming realized the impact of the broadcast, he made the choice to make a public announcement.

“This is Orson Welles, ladies and gentlemen, out of character, to assure you that *The War of the Worlds* has no further significance than as the holiday offering it was intended to be: The Mercury Theatre’s own radio version of dressing up in a sheet and jumping out of a bush and saying “Boo!”

The year was 1938. Within three weeks newspapers had published at least 12,500 articles about the broadcast and its impact.

As a trainee journalist in Australia in 1990 I was told that broadcast in pre-WWII America was why Australian law was so strict in governing what was, and what was not, news.

I was given a government produced handbook that summarized broadcast law, and there was always a sense of significant responsibility in producing the local news.

I only just realized that the American laws didn’t change. Welles and CBS apologized for any misunderstanding, but there were no fines and no legal consequences at all.

So What?

In America, the media is called “The Fourth Estate”. It has played an essential role in holding the executive, government and judiciary to account. This was most clearly seen in the “Watergate” incident that ultimately resulted in the resignation of a president and every subsequent governmental scandal being labelled with the suffix “gate”. People trusted the media.

That has all changed.

In this election cycle two things happened: First, The label “Mainstream Media” became a thing, and was used by particularly the right wing as a term of disparagement. And Second, a whole industry developed in producing “Fake News” which seems to have had a huge impact on the election.

An Assistant professor of Media and Communications at Merrimack College, Melissa Zimdars, has produced a list of these sites, and it is a long list. Most, but not all, would have been strongly supporting Trump in the election. As the professor points out, not all the sites are producing completely “fake” news, but they all are sites that are at least questionable.

Apparently in the weeks leading up to the election, the top stories from fake news sources attracted more engagement on Facebook than the top stories from legitimate news organizations.

On Monday both Google and Facebook announced that they would be taking action to ban fake news networks from advertising with them.

An indication of the importance of these websites is that the executive chairman of one of the biggest of them, Breitbart, is now the senior advisor to President-Elect Trump.

Trump also appears to be close to another fake-news producer, Alex Jones, who claimed that the Sandy Hook massacre and 9/11 were both faked.

Unlike Orson Welles, Steve Bannon and Alex Jones are not going to come on the air and publicly announce that what they are saying is not true.. Their livelihood depends on sensationalism that people believe. It is a different, more dangerous, kind of entertainment.

One person who has made a living from fake news said:

Honestly, people are definitely dumber. They just keep passing stuff around. Nobody fact-checks anything anymore – I mean, that’s how Trump got elected. He just said whatever he wanted, and people believed everything, and when the things he said turned out not to be true, people didn’t care because they’d already accepted it. It’s real scary. I’ve never seen anything like it.

So what does all this mean? Democracy in the United States is in trouble, because democracy relies on an informed public.

What appears to be happening through the advent of Social media and the Internet is that people surround themselves with messages from people who agree with them, rather than challenge them. It is too easy to live in a comfortable echo chamber than to be open to truth which is often uncomfortable.

In a world where “truth” has become loosed from reality, the simplest way to avoid conflict is to let everyone do whatever is right in their own eyes. The bible doesn’t let us get away from that.

We are not called to blind trust, we are called to strive for truth.

The book of John was the last gospel written, and it was written in a context where there were lots of competing stories about what was true. The word “truth” appears 43 times in the books 21 chapters. It seems that truth is not something we should take lightly.

Jesus tells us that truth has to be at the very center of our worship:

But the time is coming-indeed it’s here now-when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way.  For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.” John 4:23-24 NLT

It is interesting that at the crucial moment where Pilate hands Jesus over to death, he sounds like a modern politician, making it blatantly clear that political expediency rather than truth is what makes his decisions for him::

Pilate said, “So you are a king?” Jesus responded, “You say I am a king. Actually, I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.” “What is truth?” Pilate asked. John 18:37-38 NLT

It is also in John (chapter 20) that we see Thomas who wouldn’t believe till he saw evidence.

The bible isn’t scared of truth, and Christians also shouldn’t be scared of the quest for truth, in fact that is what the purpose of the Holy Spirit actually is:

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future. John 16:13 NLT

So learning to listen to the Holy Spirit is an essential part of discovering truth.

Jesus gives another clue about how to discern truth, particularly about people by pointing at what is produced by their lives:

A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit.  A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions. Matthew 7:15-20 NLT

The Apostle Paul gets specific about what kind of fruit we are to look for, on both sides of the equation:

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures,  idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! Galatians 5:19-23 NLT

We are called to discriminate between truth and lies, between character that produces life and character that produces death.

For the foreseeable future, we cannot just assume that people who proclaim themselves to be authorities are telling the truth.

We need to continually be ready to “test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God” like 1 John 4:1 tells us to.

As we do the work of stepping out of the echo chamber and into truth, Jesus promises the Holy Spirit will help us, and that if we open our eyes, people’s character will be a strong clue to tell us who to trust.

The seeds of destruction were planted in the American declaration of Independence. You can thank the founders for Trump and Hillary.

The seeds of destruction were planted in the American declaration of Independence. You can thank the founders for Trump and Hillary.

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24 hours after an acrimonious debate, the candidates were sitting down to dinner together

I, like many people, have been watching what has been unfolding in the American presidential debate over the last 12 months with an increasing sense of bewilderment.

In July I wrote that, sadly, we have seen christians on both the left and right-wing, being more influenced by their culture than by the gospel.

As I wrote in July, at the very foundation of the American dream, the seeds of this tension were sown. The American declaration of independence established core values that shape American consciousness more than the bible does, and it is the clash of these extra-biblical values that we see being worked out today.

The core American value is individualism and  captured in the “inalienable rights” of  “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. Christians and non-Christian Americans seem to assume that these words have an authority that is unquestionable.

These sentiments, however, run directly counter to the gospel.

The idea that all men have a right to life is intuitively true. We are all created in the image of a creator, and murder is wrong, however the core image at the heart of our faith is that death leads to life. In fact, seeking first your own life is the biblical recipe for death. ( I wrote a little bit about this back in March).

Probably the biggest heresy at the heart of the American ethos is the second inalienable right of “liberty.” America and freedom are almost synonymous words. For Americans Freedom and Personal Autonomy are one and the same thing. For the Apostle Paul, freedom is not about you at all. He writes:

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.  For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:13-14)

If personal autonomy is your goal, then it will be impossible to love. In fact, unless you are prepared to sacrifice your personal freedom, you will not achieve much in life at all. (I wrote about this back in 2010).

The final “inalienable right” is the “pursuit of happiness.” This is possibly the most dangerous of the three American myths, because it leads to short term thinking on the basis of emotion. As Victor Frankl pointed out:

“It is the very pursuit of happiness that thwarts happiness.”

Paradoxically, it is the pursuit of something bigger than happiness that actually produces happiness. An article in the Atlantic magazine points out:

By putting aside our selfish interests to serve someone or something larger than ourselves — by devoting our lives to “giving” rather than “taking” — we are not only expressing our fundamental humanity, but are also acknowledging that that there is more to the good life than the pursuit of simple happiness.

It turns out Jesus might have been on to something when he declared we were to seek first the Kingdom of God. (Matthew 6:33)

Toss into the mix a statement in the declaration of independence that says that if the Government interferes with these inalienable rights, then “it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it”, an organisation that promotes gun ownership as part of the remedy, and you have the seeds of the current political climate.

People divide on issues where they perceive “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” are being violated. For Democrats, we see this myth in  hot button issues like abortion (it is about a woman’s right to liberty) and marriage equality (people’s right to happiness). For Republicans it is gun control (liberty and lack of trust in the government), immigration (people taking away my opportunities) and taxes (government making my decisions for me). Neither party wants too look too closely at what the bible says.

It is true that it is almost impossible to justify abortion and gay marriage from the bible (although some have tried), and so some Christians have grabbed hold of these issues as the litmus test of who they will vote for.

Because of Trump’s promise to promote pro-life justices to the supreme court, people like James Dobson continue to support him despite his bewildering lack of a moral compass. In fact White evangelicals are one of his strongest power bases. Check out this graph:

 

What is happening?

On the other side of the coin though, it is also impossible to justify the love of guns (I wrote about that on July 22) and hate of the outsider from the bible. In these things Democrats generally are much more in line with the heart of the gospel.

An American Christian who wants to be true to the gospel and still vote is left with a real challenge. Because life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are the dominant values as opposed to the bible, they are having to choose which biblical values to overlook.

People like Ben Carson, Jerry Falwell Jr., James Dobson or Tony Campolo are not telling the truth when they make comments that the choice of who to vote for is simple. It’s not. All of these issues are real, and they all matter. These leaders lose their moral authority when they ignore the moral reality.

Americans need to stop pretending that America is a Christian nation or was founded on Christian principles.

American Christians need to open their eyes to the difference between their founding values and the values of the bible… and if they can do that then perhaps the best of America might be free to emerge.

As I engage with where I have come from, I find that I can relax a bit about where I am going.

As I engage with where I have come from, I find that I can relax a bit about where I am going.

Putting flags in the sand has been a gift in this moment for me.
Putting flags in the sand has been a gift in this moment for me.

I’ve been grateful for “flags in the sand” this week.

Next weekend I will be ordained as a minister in the Christian and Missionary Alliance, and this “moment” has been a cause for significant reflection for me.

As I approach ordination I have found myself feeling a bit lost.

The plan, in 2012, was to come to Canada for one year so that I could complete the residential requirements of my Masters of Theological Studies. Things changed.

I think God knows how I work.

He knew this moment would be a complex one for me.

It is not so much about ordination itself, but about the fact that with the Masters done, and now Ordination done, there isn’t another major personal goal on the horizon… and I think that is why I have felt a bit lost.

Without those major external goals, I have to find my bearings in a different way… and my feelings are not a good guide for me. This week I wrote a list of the things I feel powerless about and it was a long list.

I find myself wanting an external change to help set my personal bearings.

There is something confronting that happens when your external world is not setting your internal agenda… you have to face yourself. I am reminded of the passage from Lamentations which I first discovered in my early 20’s:

it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.
It is good for a man to bear the yoke
while he is young.
Let him sit alone in silence,
for the Lord has laid it on him
Lamentations 3:26-28 (NIV)

There is something actually very important about sitting in silence and having your identity challenged. In this place, I find myself seeing a lot of places where I can grow.

I am also finding myself going back and reading things that have been important for me in the past, and as I do I discover important insights that help me now.

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Sadly, we have seen Christians on both the left and right wing, being more influenced by their culture than by the gospel.

Sadly, we have seen Christians on both the left and right wing, being more influenced by their culture than by the gospel.

UnknownEver since I became addicted to the West Wing sixteen years ago, I have been fascinated by American politics.

There is a level of reverence and awe about American Presidents that simply doesn’t exist in Australia.

While almost everyone in the world knows that George Washington was the first President of the United States, probably only 10% of Australians would have a clue who our first Prime Minister was.

As I watched Barak Obama give quite a moving speech endorsing Hillary Clinton, it became clear to me that one of the primary benefits of being an American national leader is the clearly defined national “myth” or story. Theodore White wrote:

A myth is the way of putting together the raw and contradictory evidence of life. It lets people make patterns of meaning in their lives in the context of a larger pattern.

Obama repeatedly drew on the American myth, giving weight to the story he was telling about Clinton.

Myth is a reflection of the spiritual nature of human beings. There are phrases stories and songs that somehow are able to capture our hearts because of the place we were born, and the best communicators understand this.

The words in the American declaration of independence “All men are created equal” and “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” echo through history and have been re-enforced  at key moments in the nations history (think Gettysburg Address, I have a dream speech etc) in a way that has drawn new levels of committment and drawn the nation together. The most effective Presidents have been those who have been able to tap into these impulses.

Every national myth also has a dark side, and in America, there is a deep distrust of government that was established at the same time that the transcendent values were forged. The very same declaration of independence that talks about life and liberty also declares:

“whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government”

Throughout America’s history, political leaders have also tapped into this more negative side of the national psyche. A case could be put that this is exactly what Trump is doing.

It is actually this negative part of the American founding principles that best explains the nations love affair with guns. One of the things that I didn’t fully understand until I talked to a number of American friends, is that the deep commitment to guns stems from the belief that it is necessary to always have the capacity to overthrow the government if necessary. Although this seems crazy to an Australian, it is true.

So within the American psyche is a double edged sword: a veneration of their Presidents and a deep fear of government. It is this inbuilt tension, between the grand vision of “One Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all” and deep mistrust of government, which has produced America.

Culture really matters. In every culture there are points of transcendence where we see the best of what it means to be created in the image of God. In every culture there are points of darkness where we see the worst of human brokenness.

The service that America does for other nations is that they have taken the time to write down value statements in a way that makes a national myth obvious. Every other country also has a myth, but if there are founding documents, they very rarely capture the true “mythical story” that shapes the nation.

This is particularly obvious in Australia, where the song that captures our heart is not our national anthem but a story about a swagman that commits Suicide (Waltzing Matilida), and the military hero we choose (Simpson) is a guy that never fired a shot in a battle we lost (Gallipoli). These things are not the myth but are clues to what the myth is.

Australian leaders don’t have the same helpful documents that map the positive and negative sides of the myth, they have to feel their way and be students of history. Unfortunately most don’t, so when a speech “works”, it is almost a surprise.

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