Merry (Clayton’s) Christmas!

Have you ever heard of a Clayton’s Christmas? It’s a Christmas you have without having a real Christmas.
Seasons greetings
Back in the 1970s and 80s Clayton’s was a heavily marketed non-alcoholic, non-carbonated Australian beverage that looked a bit like whisky. Its boast was it is “the drink you have when you’re not having a drink”. It was aimed at reducing drinking among those who drank to excess.

Although it hasn’t been advertised for years, the idea of having a “Clayton’s” has entered into Australian vernacular. Today you can have a Clayton’s anything – a Clayton’s Tax: a tax that doesn’t raise any revenue; a Clayton’s marriage; a Clayton’s football team; even a Clayton’s Cake Stall! This is a fundraiser where you ask people to donate what they would have spent on baking the cake rather than baking it.

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Religion and Politics

Writing in The Mercury’s TasWeekend recently (Nov 14), columnist Charles Wooley commented, “That’s the principle of the separation of church and state. To be less highfalutin, I think that just as we try to keep politics out of sport, our politicians should try to keep religion out of politics. It’s annoying to the large numbers who don’t share their particular faith and, besides, it only makes politicians look stupid.”

Religious Candles and Cross

“This is freedom OF religion, not freedom FROM religion”

Wooley’s view no doubt reflects what many Tasmanians think, although how many it is hard to say. It is hardly an original suggestion and rather clichéd, yet in today’s society, it is somewhat naïve.

Despite what some might believe, the Australian constitution does not preclude religion in politics. What it does stipulate is that “The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion” and “The Commonwealth shall not make any law … for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion”. The aim is to ensure no one denomination or religion becomes the official national church, and no person, no matter what their religious belief, will be barred from participating because of their religion. This is freedom of religion, not freedom from religion.

The argument that religion has no place in politics stands on a fallacy and an assumption secularism is somehow “value neutral”, while religion remains “value charged”.  Read More >>>

The Inward Drift

Slowly, subtly, and almost unnoticed it happens to the best of churches. It is detectable in churches in the Bible; it is found in churches across Australia.

Missional-Church-2

Jesus called his disciples to go and make disciples. We are all called to be missionaries.

Quietly we drift away from our core calling. Rather than focusing outwardly into the world of the lost, the lonely and the broken, we gaze inwardly at each other. Rather than caring and praying for those who don’t know Jesus, we spend our time and money caring for ourselves. Church members and church buildings become our focus.

Jesus called his disciples to go and make disciples. We are all called to be missionaries. Wherever we live or work or go to school that is the focus of our mission. For those of us who live in Australia, that means being a missionary right here.

Here in Tasmania, and within the denomination of which I am a part, regaining a healthy mission focus in our churches is the heart of Tasmanian Baptists’ desire to be a “mission shaped movement”.

It’s not as easy as it might sound. Once a church has become inwardly focused, there is a tendency to cling to the traditional ways of doing things and change becomes difficult, sometimes seemingly impossible. Quite often the process of refocusing a church outwardly, and bringing mission to its heart, is a very painful process. The tension between adopting new strategies for mission and maintaining . . .
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“Silence those Christians!”

Events in Australia over the past couple of weeks give one cause to wonder . . . will Australia remain a safe place for Christians to publicly express our views, especially when they are contrary to what some people want to hear?free speech

American Troy Newman, head of the anti-abortion organisation “Operation Rescue” was due to speak at events run by Right to Life Australia. However, Newman had his visa revoked at the last minute because of fears his visit would “pose a risk to the community”. Some of what Newman has said may be provocative, however, he is on the board of “The Centre for Medical Progress” which recently accused the America organization, “Planned Parenthood”, of selling organs of aborted foetuses in the US.

In addition, Tasmania’s Catholic Archbishop, Julian Porteous, will face the anti-discrimination commission for distributing a booklet to the parents of children in Catholic schools. The booklet asserted marriage should be between one man and one woman – a position of marriage which was, until a few years ago, was the policy of all our major political parties. When the Labor/Greens government introduced new anti-discrimination legislation in 2012, it specifically said they would not inhibit discussion about same-sex marriage. Yet it is being used here to attempt to do just that.

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Is the Aussie Church Facing Challenges? Or Opportunities?

Karl Faase

Karl Faase

Last week Karl Faase, Australian Christian communicator, media presenter, and social commentator, was in Hobart speaking at Family Voice events. The former senior pastor of Gymea Baptist, is well informed about the challenges faced by the church in Australia today.

Faase suggested that the average Christian attending church regularly on a Sunday has lost confidence in what they believe. The sad result is an unwillingness, even an inability, to engage in conversations about Christianity during the week.

However, he encouraged Christians not to be silenced by the media’s caricature of the irrelevancy of Christianity, its heralding of the Church’s demise and its increasing hostility both. Rather, he said, it is time to regain hope in the gospel and boldness in our proclamation. “We need to move from fearful silence to positive engagement.”

Citing research by Olive Tree Media (his company) and McCrindle Research, Faase explained how Australians show significant “warmth” to Christianity contrary to what is commonly assumed. When asked, “What best describes your current beliefs and attitude towards Christianity?” 25%, who don’t consider themselves as Christians, are warm towards Christianity. This is on top of the 33% who described themselves as Christian (whether they are or not is another matter). What this shows is that nearly 60% of Australians have an open stance towards Christianity and are willing to talk about it.

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The Aussie Church, Compromised

Today in Australia, across large sections of the media and most State run education institutions, the Church comes into its fair share of criticism, some of it quite dismissive, but often hostile and some abusive.

Aust map and flagHowever this is nothing new. Things haven’t changed much since the First Fleet landed at Sydney Cove. Here, at Australia’s beginning, the church was represented by military chaplains such as Johnson and Marsden. Sadly they were estranged from convicts, who saw them as moral policemen; and shunned by the authorities as nuisances. From the beginning the church didn’t sit comfortably in the new colony.

In stark contrast, early America’s Christian leaders had a different position on the side of, not against, the general population. In Australia, rather than seeing the convicts as those who needed help, they were more often than not viewed as sinners who needed punishment.

When the authorities appointed the chaplains to act as Civil Magistrates, the already strained relationships were exacerbated. The association of chaplains with the imposition of authority, punishment and discipline became entrenched such that any compassion or care shown by the chaplains was lost in translation.

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Prayer Needed! The World Has Changed

Mk 9:14-29

“Jesus used this incident to teach his disciples a lesson: the ordinary, business-as-usual way of doing things, no longer worked”

In a series of messages on revival the great Welsh preacher-teacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones turned to the end of Mark 9.

Here Jesus comes off the mountain to find the disciples unsuccessfully trying to free a boy from a demon. After a quick rebuke, Jesus heals the boy and the disciples ask why they couldn’t do it. Jesus explains how this kind is only expelled by prayer. Lloyd-Jones suggested Jesus used this incident to teach his disciples a lesson: the ordinary, business-as-usual way of doing things, no longer worked. Different times calls for different measures.

Using the story as an allegory, Lloyd-Jones suggested the boy represents contemporary Western culture; the demon is its underlying assumptions, and the disciples are the church. His conclusion was that our past methods of evangelism, while perfectly good for their time, no longer worked in today’s world. The world had changed. The old methods no longer applied. We are dealing with a different, difficult ‘spirit’.

Although the Lloyd-Jones’ message was given in 1959, it is still relevant today.

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Boil a Frog?

Malcolm Muggeridge once asked, how do you boil a frog? His answer was not to drop it into a pot of hot water, as it will immediately jump out. Rather, you place it in a pot of cool water and gradually raise the temperature. Then the frog will remain in the increasingly hot water and die without even noticing.

"How do you boil a frog?" Muggeridge asked

“How do you boil a frog?” Muggeridge asked

Some suggest this is a good illustration of the church across the Western world. The world we live in has gradually changed and we have been caught unaware, and now, the situation is quite perilous.

Across the media the church is often portrayed as irrelevant in contemporary Australian society. Christian views are seen as relics of a bygone era, out of step with the community and even downright dangerous to the future.

That the majority of Australians still tick the Christian box in our Census is but a historical memory. The process of change, in areas such as science, technology, bureaucracy and the media, has pushed Christian ideas and ideals to the margins. Less than 10% of the population are ‘regular’ church goers (where regular means at least once a month), which leaves the vast majority of the 60% who nominate Christianity as their religion amongst those who regard the church as irrelevant.

In response it is not surprising to find that the Church is often tempted to respond by striving all the harder to be relevant. We see it throughout the churches, in our worship, in our literature and in our architecture.

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Brave New World (for Christians, anyway)

Barney Zwartz

Barney Zwartz

There are many implications for Christians in the increasingly secular and Christophobic Australian culture. The decline in comprehensive, considered and constructive religious reporting in our media is but one of those.

In accepting the Ridley Marketplace Institute and ETHOS Faith and Work Awards earlier this year, recently retired Age journalist, Barney Zwartz, lamented that the time is fast approaching when religion “will mostly be ignored in the news columns… and that will accelerate wider society’s dissociation and ignorance.”

In many ways his insights reflect an ignorance already at work in our community. Most Australians think of Christianity as outmoded and irrelevant to modern society, yet despite this 60% of them still tick the “Christian” box on Census night. Strangely they are willing to criticise Christianity while at the same time continue to label themselves Christian.

Such an ironic contradiction illustrates just how ignorant Australians are of what it means to be a Christian and to follow Christ.

The typical stereotyping of Christianity as a white, male, European, English speaking religion also adds to the misunderstanding. The reality is quite different.

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Taking Up Your Cross

Change is at the heart of the Christian life. It’s about repentance and renewal, commitment and character. It is a journey towards maturity and an embracing of God’s values all in the process of becoming more like Jesus. Yet, it is never easy.Change

The good news that God loves us, that Jesus died for us – that we are set free from sin, death and Satan – is made more wonderful by the reality that it comes to us absolutely free. It is God’s gift. We don’t deserve it, nor can we earn it, all we can do is receive it. But! Although our salvation is free, following Jesus is a different story, it costs everything.

Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). The challenge was not immediately understood by Jesus’ disciples. He’d just let them know for the first time that he was going to suffer, die and be raised again. Even at his crucifixion they were confused.

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