Australia’s “boat person” issue is complex. I
understand the arguments of my Christian friends who see the issue as
completely one of social justice and providing hospitality to those in need. I
also understand the issue of the business of people smuggling driven by profit
and responsible for untold deaths at sea. I understand those whose loving heart
simply wants to embrace need. I also fear the reality that money triumphs need and
those who arrive are not necessarily the most in need. I understand the plea
for compassion. I know however that sometimes love must be tough.
Some time back I determined to react to the
issue in two ways. Firstly I determined to stop thinking about the politics as
frankly whatever I thought made no difference. Secondly I determined to pray. I
admit my prayer was driven by desperation; what else could I practically do? I
determined to pray especially for those in authority, as I knew behind all the
rhetoric men, women and children continued to drown.
On taking up the role of a Chaplain in the
Royal Australian Navy I forfeited my right to express a political point of view
on this topic. I determined to keep praying.
Then a few months ago I was shocked to
receive a posting for 2014 as Chaplain to Fleet North, the Patrol Boat Fleet
based out of Darwin. I realised that God cared little for my politics but maybe
cared a little more about what I was practically doing to make a difference.
Then a couple of weeks ago I was crash posted as Chaplain on a major warship for
9 weeks from mid October this year to assist in what the new government is
calling Operation Sovereign Borders.
I still don’t know about the politics. I do
know that young men and women in the Navy are the meat in this political
sandwich. I know that they are doing it very tough rescuing people at sea. I
know their job is to serve their nation and government and my job is to serve
I invite you to pray too.
“I urge, then,
first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for
everyone — for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and
quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.This is good, and pleases God our Savior”
Some time in the next week will mark a rather
unusual anniversary.For the best
part of 30 years I have been a preacher. In the early days I preached monthly,
for most of the time I preached weekly, and in more recent years normally three
times a week. A year ago I preached my last sermon as a local church pastor
before joining the Royal Australian Navy as a Chaplain. As a Chaplain I engage
in all sorts of ministry but don’t really preach. So what has God taught me
over this last year when the preacher has not preached.
Firstly, looking back I probably
underestimated the privilege that people afforded me by turning up to church to
listen. Sure they were ultimately turning up to listen to God’s Word, but by
turning up where I was the preacher they were making a decision to listen to
me. Maybe over the years I underestimated that incredible honour.
Secondly, I am a little fearful that I may
have caused too much suffering and too little blessing. Now as a listener, when
I nod off I am reminded of my previous preacher’s ‘self-righteous judgement’,
convinced that inattentiveness was always the listener’s fault. As the listener
I am conversely convinced that the preacher is not always worthy of my
Thirdly, I do miss preaching but in a rather
unusual way. I had the joy of being the pastor of three wonderful churches, where
increasingly preaching became a dialogue where we corporately struggled to
relate our faith to life. Question times after preaching was a regular feature
for me for over 20 years. These questions (and often the unsaid questions made clear by expressions, grimaces, dropped heads or even
the odd walk out) made me engage in many struggles, fears and doubts. It made
me question my faith to see if it really stood up. In a strange way I am sure
my faith was personally stronger by having to preach. To be truthful I am sure
at times my preaching sounded more like the ‘party line’ than a genuine
reasoned defence. However, mostly
the people who listened helped me to preach genuinely and honestly in a society
where growing secularism causes even the most devout to doubt.
Finally, I am learning afresh that you don’t
have to be a preacher to preach. In the Navy every day I deal with blue
collared (well, grey actually) men and women who are a long way from
traditional Christian belief. Some have church backgrounds, most don’t. Almost
all of them would be probably not make much sense of what I use to preach. But
in all sorts of ways they come to me, or I come to them, where essentially I
listen and occasionally have a few words to say. Surprisingly, by and large
they appreciate that I listen and warm to what few things I have to say. Much
like church the dialogue continues and I hope they are as blessed by these
encounters as I am.
If I am not incorrect, the original word in
the Bible we translate ‘preach’ has little to do with standing up in a church
and teaching. It has more to do with proclamation – telling people the good
news, the important news that God loves them outrageously in Christ.
Ironically the Navy refers to a public talk
you give to impart information as a ‘brief’. As a church preacher I fear I was
too seldom brief.
So maybe even though I am preaching less I
may actually be proclaiming more.
Rom. 15:20It has always
been my ambition to preach the gospel
where Christ was not known ….
Changing careers and joining the Australian
Defence Force at age 52 was always going to be difficult. Amongst the many,
many challenges I faced was the technological one. Now readers may interpret
that and think of the challenges of facing the cutting edge technology in a
military environment, but in my day-to-day work the challenge is quite the
opposite. As an original Mac-man I knew my first technological hurdle was going
to be using a PC for the first time in my life. It felt like abandoning the light
and embracing the dark side! With the courage instilled in me by my military
training, I overcame the early challenge of clicking on ‘start’ to shut down.
Simple things like selecting a printer caused issues. Then I discovered last week
that hiding behind ‘start’ were the previously unfound Word, Excel and
PowerPoint programs. Surviving the initial pain however only softened me for the
major subsequent technological shocks to come.
For some reason, the ADF uses Word version
2004. Personally I resist updating to the latest version, but Word 2004 was
released when I was still a young man. Then recently I unpacked my brand new
ADF issued phone, which can best be described as a very dumb phone. It is
actually made by a company called Nokia, who I was not even sure was still in
business. Unlocking the thing, entering contacts and generally using it is like
driving an EH Holden when your current drive is a 2011 Subaru Forester. Of
course driving a column shift EH has a certain charm, but adjusting back to a
dumb phone has none. Somehow, sitting on my desk next to my iPhone, the Nokia
even looks dumb. Once you have tasted a technological advance it’s hard to go
As a Christian one of our joys is to help
people experience the love and grace of God, sometimes for the first time.
Knowing God is in many ways an emotional, intellectual and spiritual
breakthrough. The thrill of technological advancement is minor compared to the
enlightenment of a living, personal relationship with the creator and designer
of life itself. Knowing you are loved, forgiven and valued by God changes
To the believer there is no turning back to
the dark side. Tragically in the darkness many are unconvinced that the
promised light is either real or worth the effort. Knowing God involves the
realisation that our systems and senses are defective and we need a better way.
Once you have tasted the goodness of God, the
world’s pleasures simply seem a little ‘yesterday’.
Once you have seen the glory of God there can
be no turning back to old ways.
Taste and see that the Lord is
good, blessed is the one that takes refuge in him.Psalm 34. 8
Am I the only one lamenting
the recent announcement that Holden Commodores and Ford Falcons will cease
production in Australia in 2016? Actually I am not really lamenting the demise of Falcons. My
father drove Holden’s (except for one Ford that would never start in the rain)
and for most of my driving life I have followed the family tradition. The
statistics explain the demise of these once loved cars. In 2000, actually the
production year of my current Commodore, over 90000 were sold. That year about
70,000 Falcons tried hard to compete with Holden superiority. (To be fair Ford
did have a rare win at Bathurst that year). In 2012 Commodore sales dropped to
30,000 and Falcons below 15,000. Logic would suggests that more economical
smaller four cylinder cars replaced big Australian six cylinder cars .
Statistics suggest that even bigger 4 wheel drives are the real reason behind
the demise of an Australian motoring institution.
In business you don’t want
to be a sunset industry, one that has seen the peak and boom and is now facing
terminal decline. Running a video shop is obviously tenuous. Some even fear that retail in general is
facing an uncertain future in an online world. With a recent 30% drop in its
share price some are even suggesting the mighty Apple Computer Company, post
Steve Jobs, is looking shaky.
A question many also ponder
is whether the Christian Church is a sunset industry in an era when faith is in
terminal decline. Certainly the stats are not encouraging. One commentator
recently claimed that not only do the majority of Australians not attend church
but now the majority of Australians don’t even know anyone who attends church.
A little understanding of
history might give a little more hope. The church’s history is longer than any
product and most industries. Since its founding over 2000 years ago the
gathering of Christians into groups called churches has waxed and waned. Repeatedly,
the external threat of many kinds aided by self-inflicted wounds of corruption
and abuse threatened the church with extinction. Renewal however has often
sprung from the most remote of places, working at times through the most
unlikely of people as the side effects of godlessness and the despair of
atheism are painfully discovered.
Faith is not a fad but a
The church is not an
industry but a gathering of a remnant who dare to stand against the predominate
culture of unbelief.
The sun will set, but the
God who created it neither sleeps nor slumbers.
“He will not let your foot slip — he who watches over you will not
slumber; indeed, he who watches over God’s people will neither slumber nor
sleep.” Psa. 121:3-4.
Australians discuss gun violence and the need for legislation, we become a
little self-righteous. At the time of the Port Arthur massacre in 1996, when 35
people were killed and 23 injured, Australians possessed about 3.2 million
firearms. Due to fast political action at that time, a million of those guns were
surrendered and destroyed. The drastic reduction in the number of firearms
resulted in a safer country, or so the theory went. The lesson was simple: reduce
the number and ferocity of guns to ensure a massacre never occurs again. It
worked for us so why can’t the USA just face this issue: change the law, reduce
the guns and reduce their risk. Simple!
maybe not! A Sydney University study revealed this week that the number of guns
imported into Australia has grown steadily over recent years and estimates now
suggest the number exceeds the number held in 1996. The ban on automatic, semi-automatic
rifles and handguns led people to replace these incredibly lethal weapons with
less lethal (but still lethal) single-action weapons. The article pointed out
that as the majority of gun related deaths are domestic and suicide, then
tragically one bullet is still one too many. Of course at these levels gun
ownership in Australia is still about 80% less per capita than gun ownership in
the US. Legislation does have a part to play, but culture may be way more
ingrained than most of us can appreciate.
- the view that I am much better than you - remains very popular, especially
amongst the religious. The conviction that I am better than you, more holy than
you, more worthy than you and more deserving of God’s love, too often becomes
the default religious conviction. Though popular, self-righteousness has three
self-righteousness is so unattractive and at times downright ugly. So many
people are inoculated against faith for life, because of unappealing and
self-righteousness simply does not match the evidence. The religious are often
no better than anyone else. Those who think they have solved all their moral
dilemmas often find themselves exposed by their own weakness. He who thinks he
is without sin is simply involved in a cover up!
the message of the gentle Nazarine was anathema to self-righteousness. The
realisation that we have all fallen short of God’s glory and all need a saviour
is indeed our only hope. Humility, not self-righteousness, is the great virtue
of a life of faith.
do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention
to the plank in your own eye?”Matthew 7: 3