We regularly awaken to the news of another mass shooting in the USA. Several people have recently been shot for simply arriving at the wrong house. They were mistaken or lost and killed or seriously injured. Add to that the mass shootings in schools, churches, and shopping malls, and it appears that America is highly unsafe.

My main concern in this blog is the people who follow Jesus, claim the Christian faith, are staunch defenders of gun ownership and the Second Amendment, and use the Bible to endorse their point of view. How does this align with the teachings of Jesus?

Self-Disclosure

I want to be transparent about my emotions on this topic because I feel very passionately about it. It is also a cause of enormous frustration to me as the US appears unable or unwilling to act on this significant problem. While I am not anti-firearms per se, they should be strongly regulated. I acknowledge some people love hunting, but I’m not one of them. I struggle with the concept of killing animals and calling it a sport. I understand that sometimes culling is necessary, but there’s a big difference between culling and killing for fun.

I greatly appreciate our government’s decisive action to reduce the number of illegal firearms in Australia. After the Port Arthur massacre in 1996, our new Prime Minister, John Howard, introduced a gun amnesty in which 600,000 firearms were handed in. Gun deaths by homicide and suicide plummeted, and Australia has not seen the likes of Port Arthur since. The same cannot be said for the US.

Back in the USA

There were 647 mass shootings in the US last year. A mass shooting is where four or more people are shot or killed, not including the attacker. With this definition, shootings of under four people are not included.

In 2022, there were only 97 days when a mass shooting was not recorded. So far, in 2023, there have been 185 mass shootings. Last weekend saw eleven mass shootings, but we only heard about the worst one. There are so many that it’s not worth reporting on the smaller ones.

Why’s it Getting Worse?

The trend has risen sharply in recent years. In 2022, there were 44,290 gun-related deaths, a 31% increase on 2019. Nine of the ten deadliest mass shootings in the US occurred after 2007. There are several reasons for this:

Gun ownership is on the rise. And no wonder, there is so little regulation that even a 13-year-old can legally buy a gun. If you don’t believe me, watch this short clip from Bryant Gumbel’s Real Sports. US gun laws are lax, irregular, and ineffective. For example, US Federal law does not require that background checks be made on private sales of guns, including at gun shows or online. Regulations on the safe storage of firearms are also lax in some states.

A fractured society. America was already politically divided well before Covid-19. The Pandemic only made things worse.

Rampant Conspiracies. I know this firsthand as I’ve watched some dear friends descend the rabbit hole of ridiculous plots. They believe in a Deep State Cabal that controls the government. They love Trump because this Cabal does not govern him, so they want him back in power. They believe the Port Arthur massacre was a false flag operation, an excuse for the government to strip Australians of firearms so the government can control the masses. Senator Pauline Hansen peddled this rubbish just a few years ago. Many Americans (including Christians) buy into this and fear it is happening in the US.

Toxic masculinity. 98% of shooters are men.

Financial or personal hardship. Undoubtedly, the gap between the haves and have-nots is getting wider. And this resentment can fuel frustration and anger that can lead to violence. But people face these things in Australia and other countries without resorting to shooting others.

The Second Amendment

Christian Nationalism, a perversion of the Bible and the gospel, is sadly rising in the USA. I know several conservative American Christians who love their God and their guns. They view the US Constitution as sacred and defend their beliefs from Scripture.

The Second Amendment states, A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. The militia refers to the American people.

The Second Amendment needs to be amended. It was first enacted on 15 December 1791, long before semi-automatic weapons. Muskets were the order of the day. Muskets were inaccurate, had a 30-second reloading time, and couldn’t shoot as far as 100 metres.

Misquoting Scripture

Christian gun activists quote Luke 22:36 & 38 to defend their beliefs. Jesus told his disciples, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.” “That’s enough!” he replied. There you go. Jesus told his followers to buy weapons to defend themselves, so we should own guns. But is that what Jesus is teaching here?

Jesus is speaking to Peter and John just before his arrest. When Judas betrayed Jesus, his followers saw what would happen and said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” And one of them struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. Jesus said, No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him. (Luke 22:49-51).

Why did Jesus tell Peter and John to ensure they had weapons if they weren’t supposed to use them? Because those arresting Jesus came fully armed with swords and clubs (Luke 22:52-53), but Jesus didn’t want his disciples to behave that way. Impetuous Peter misses the moment and the message and gets it wrong again.

Jesus wanted to show that they weren’t leading an armed rebellion, so Luke 22:36 is not teaching American Christians that they should own guns. Jesus teaches the opposite by telling Peter, “Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” That could be a prophetic word for the United States, a nation living by and dying by the gun.

I invite you to pray for the US and the American church. I wonder what will need to happen before the nation and some sections of the church come to their senses and act in unity to stem the shedding of innocent blood. How many more people will need to die before a change is made?

My intention in writing this blog is to point out something that I hope will be helpful to us all in recognising potential unhealthy behaviour and adjusting our lives accordingly. Also, that we would all would continue moving in grace and compassion with those we encounter.

Over the last few years, I’ve noticed that when someone begins communicating in an edgy, argumentative way, there is ALWAYS something going wrong in their life. It could be a loss of a job, health, a marriage, or a ministry.

I always reach out privately to such people. Sometimes I get a response. Rarely does it change anything. So, I’ll repeat, every time someone is edgy, argumentative, or aggressive in the way they speak or interact on social media, something is going on in their own life that is causing frustration.

So, What’s Really Going On?

A helpful article published by the University of Montreal on conspiracy theories sheds some valuable insights into this phenomenon.

In summary, the authors address “significance loss” and how a person behaves to satisfy this need. The article speaks to why people embrace conspiracy theories to recover significance. The dopamine hit they used to get from their importance as a preacher, a husband, or their job is replaced by the audience they gain on social media. They “feel good” again because they have an audience, a platform, a voice, influence and allies. Significance has returned. Sadly, they lead others down a poisonous rabbit hole into a dark world of imaginary schemes where others are simply gullible sheep.

In all of the examples, I am aware of; the person has experienced loss: loss of ministry, relationship, job, house, or health. We all have lost something this year, especially freedom, but most people can rationalise this and not allow their behaviour to become toxic. But some, for whatever reason, do not possess this capacity. So, they attempt to recover from their loss of significance.

Something Else

In psychology, projection is an understandable self-defensive mechanism. When we don’t like what is going on in life, we are tempted to project our frustrations on others. Invariably this will be somebody we love or a person in authority who we perceive should do something to help us.

While projection is understandable, it is not healthy or godly. Projecting your frustrations on others only causes angst in friendships and relationships. I have held onto some friendships “by the skin of my teeth” over the past couple of years.

Rather Than Ranting, Try Talking

Firstly, if you are a person of faith, talk to God. Allow God to be a circuit breaker for your frustrations. Confess what is vexing you to him and invite the Holy Spirit to refresh and heal your wounded soul. Make a covenant with the Lord that you will not say or write anything in the public space when you feel irritable or anxious.

I have found it very therapeutic to write an email when I’m feeling frustrated and then put it in the drafts folder for a day or two. Note: DO NOT put the person’s email address in the “To:” line just in case you send it by mistake! After a day or two, I either delete the email entirely or rewrite it in a much gentler tone. But the action of writing the email can be a tonic.

And talk to someone you know and trust. It could be a professional such as a pastor, counsellor, or psychologist, or maybe a faithful friend. Tell them what you’re going through and how you are feeling, and ask them if you can chat regularly and for them to hold you accountable.

A Final Example

I did this recently when I had watched a guy I had known for years being extremely edgy on my Facebook page. Here’s my message to him, “You and I have known each other for a long-time. I have always respected you greatly. I am concerned about the way you’re engaging online. Of course, you are totally free to post what you like on your own page, but when you’re commenting on mine, could you please keep it respectful? I’m asking, kindly, could you please use some self-control when commenting on my page? Thanks so much.”

He wrote back, “I’m sorry Rob I should not have replied to that comment, although they were laughing at my opinions, I just should not have bitten back anyway. I’m needing to change my social media approach 100%…as hard as it is to bite my tongue I simply must now. I’m sharing that with you so you can hold me accountable if you feel like I’m stepping over the mark please feel free to poke me. Bless you heaps.

That was a good outcome. But it’s rare. I encourage us all to be like that and, if we are feeling frustrated because life is tough, we need to find a healthy outlet by chatting with God and a friend. Let’s tell them what’s REALLY going on.

It’s a Christmas classic.  Baby, It’s Cold Outside was written 74 years ago, back in a day when the “Party Piece” was a highly respected form of entertainment (you know, before we all sat around tables each checking out our social media likes).

In 1944, Frank Loesser wrote, Baby, It’s Cold Outside for his wife, Lynn Garland, and himself to sing at a housewarming party in New York City.[i]  It became an instant hit that has, since that time, been featured in movies and recorded by many famous artists.  The song is always sung as a duet, usually with a man and a woman, and sometimes with the woman in the “lead” role.[ii] The lead person is trying to convince their date to stay rather than go home and, what follows, is a tongue-in-cheek exchange of reasons to stay and reasons not to.

Song Gets Cold Shoulder

But over the past few years, and more recently in light of the #MeToo movement, there have been increasing concerns about the song.  There are some lyrics that, when sung by a woman, raise concerns.  For example, “Say what’s in this drink?” And, “I ought to say no, no, no sir.”

Now don’t get me wrong, I am in no way trivialising the #MeToo movement, or what countless women have been subjected to at the hands of men, especially those in powerful roles.  I am also very aware that, as a white man, I have not had to deal with a lot of the things that others (women, people of non-white races, LGBTIQ people, etc) have been subjected to.  If someone is offended by “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” then they’re better not to listen to it.  But should it be banned as it has happened at some radio stations in the USA and Canada?

One such radio station, Star 102 Cleveland, even asked their audience, “Should we play ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ during the holiday season?”  94% said, “Yes, it’s a classic.”  The station banned the song anyway.

Meaning & Context

So, what is this song really all about?  When you read the lyrics, the intent of the song becomes plain.[iii]  It’s a game.  They’re teasing and having fun, that’s the point of the song.  When she (or he) says, “What’s in this drink?” She’s using a phrase that was “pretty common to movies of the era, and was primarily used by characters looking to excuse their own behaviour.”[iv] There’s no inference here that a man is drugging a woman to rape her.  In fact, the woman actually wants to stay but is concerned about what others (her parents, the neighbours, her brother, sister or maiden aunt) would say about her if she did.  This much more accurately reflects the attitudes of the 1940s and the intent of the song.

If radio stations want to look for some songs to ban, how about banning The Rolling Stones’ Brown Sugar song for example?  The song is about a slave trader who enjoys raping African slaves.  And just a cursory look at the current charts is enough to curl your hair.  Almost half of the Australian Top 50 songs are marked, “explicit.”  In the USA three-quarters of the songs in the Top 50 are explicit.  These songs are full of sexual exploits and overtones, drug use and abuse, demeaning language towards women who are often portrayed as sexual conquests, and the foulest language.  Many of the current songs make Baby, It’s Cold Outside look tame and harmless by comparison.  So, why don’t we hear more protests about contemporary songs?  Why pick on a song written almost three-quarters of a century ago?

Sensitive or Desensitised?

Glenn Anderson, a host at the Star 102 station, blogged that although the song was written in a different era, the lyrics felt “manipulative and wrong”.  “The world we live in is extra sensitive now, and people get easily offended, but in a world where #MeToo has finally given women the voice they deserve, the song has no place.”

The world we live in is extra sensitive now?  Really? Are you sure we’re not becoming desensitised?

 

[i] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baby,_It%27s_Cold_Outside

[ii] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZtoW4aV-CIc

[iii]https://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=baby+it%27s+cold+outside+lyrics&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8

[iv] https://nationalpost.com/news/canada/is-baby-its-cold-outside-an-ode-to-rape-that-deserves-its-sudden-banishment-from-canadian-radio

 

WARNING: Please be advised that this blog contains quotes with explicit language.  

Dear Ariana,

I know that I’m not in your target audience but, because I’m the dad of three daughters I kinda am.  My eldest girls, Paris and Gigi, loved you as Cat Valentine on Victorious and so, being a great dad, I would sit and watch it with them.  They were 11 and eight at the time, and they adored you.  Our youngest was just a baby in 2009, but she’s now ten, and you’re a hero to her.  She loves your music, and herein lies the problem.

Ariana, you’ve achieved your fame (and accompanying fortune) on the back of adoring young female fans.  So, what’s the deal with the new album, Sweetener?  There’s very little that’s sweet about it.  Trinity, our youngest, was hanging out for your new album but, when it was released, we found that all but one track was marked “explicit” – as if there isn’t enough of that sort of stuff on the pop charts already.  Twenty-eight of the current Top 50 songs in Australia are explicit, and many of the others contain themes that are unsuitable for a 10-year-old to be exposed to.  Children’s innocence lasts for such a short period of time, why do we want to rob them of this amazing time in their lives?

Your current hit, Breathin’, is one of those 28 explicit songs in the charts.  The content of the song seems like an honest cry for help from someone who’s feeling overwhelmed by the stresses of life. So why include the line, “How do I know if this shit’s fabricated?”  Why not “stuff?” It starts with ‘s’ and has one syllable and wouldn’t detract from your song or its message.  But Breathin’ is tame compared to some of the other songs:

  • Blazed is about being high on drugs and is just one of the songs including drug references.
  • God is a woman is about a woman who’s going to “make love” to a guy “the way I like it, how I want it.” The boy will confess he’s been so blessed by the amazing sex that he will come to believe that God is a woman.
  • Sweetener is a graphic description of oral sex.
  • Everytime is about a girl who’s in an unhealthy, addictive relationship. She keeps leaving but always goes back to him, “Why, oh why does God keep bringing me back to you?” The song also includes references to drug and alcohol abuse.
  • Better off: “Let’s put them topics to bed and go fuck on the roof, just to say that we did it.”
  • Goodnight n go: “Lately, all I want is you on top of me. You know where your hands should be.”
  • The light is coming: “Ah, gonna break that shit down … can’t let an f-boy eff up my nice vibes.”

Ariana, you seem like a lovely person. The compassion you showed following the Manchester bombing was stunning.  I’ve admired you and your talent for many years, and I’ve been happy with my girls being “Arianators.”  But not anymore.  While my two eldest daughters are no longer in your target audience, my ten-year-old is.  She and I talked about your new album, and she was really disappointed when I told her it was all explicit.  She failed to understand why you needed to do that – and so do I.  It’s like Miley Cyrus 2.0.  You’ve let your young fans down.

I realise it’s too late to change your current album, but can I respectfully ask you to contemplate this plea from a dad who loves his daughters and wants to protect them (and other children) from the darker side of life for as long as possible?  Please consider your young fans who have made you famous, wealthy and influential and care enough to use these things to make the world a better place.

Kind regards,

Rob

 

Unfortunately, the belief in and celebration of Santa has been a somewhat divisive issue over the years in the church. 

While I totally respect people’s right to make their own choice on this for their family, it should, in my opinion, never be something we argue about. And certainly not contradict other people’s choices; like the Christian grandparents who told their grandchildren that Santa wasn’t real, infuriating the children’s parents (who were not Christians) and driving them further away from Jesus. 

It seems the “bah humbug” spirit is still alive and well amongst spiritual scrooges!

Reasons for Santa

Christie and I made a decision many years ago that Santa would be part of our Christmas celebrations.  We made this decision for two reasons:

Firstly, Santa IS a real person – or at least WAS.  Santa Claus is Saint Nicholas, born in 270AD to a very wealthy family.  He was a committed Christian who eventually became Bishop of Myra – part of modern-day Turkey.  Due to the many miracles attributed to his ministry, he was also known as Nicholas the Wonderworker!  He had a reputation for secret gift-giving; in fact, he eventually gave most of his family fortune away to those in need and thus became the model of generosity for the modern-day Santa Claus. 

Over the centuries fact and fiction have woven together (as often happens with historical figures) to create the picture of Santa Claus we have today.  While it’s likely that, as a Second Century Middle Eastern Christian Bishop, Saint Nicholas would have had a beard and worn a red cassock, today’s Santa has morphed from a poem written by Clement Clark Moore in 1822 called A Visit from St. Nicholas which we still love today:

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house,

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse …”

In the poem, Moore describes St. Nicholas as arriving on housetops in a miniature sleigh drawn by eight tiny reindeer.  The sleigh is full of toys that St. Nick brings down the chimney in a bundle on his back.  He goes on to describe the Santa we know and love – dressed in fur, sporting a beard as white as the snow, a broad face and a little round belly, “That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly. He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf …” Once his work of filling stockings with gifts was completed he rose up the chimney and went on his merry way with the exclamation of “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a goodnight.”

Since this delightful poem was published, various illustrators have drawn St. Nicholas according to Moore’s description.  The most famous of these was used in a 1931 Coca-Cola commercial to encourage Americans to drink it in the winter months (when it was less popular).  The advertising campaign was a great success, but Coca-Cola did not invent the modern-day Santa.

The second reason we include Santa in our Christmas celebrations is that children LOVE fantasy! 

Ever watched a child’s eyes light up as you tell them a wonderful story, or read a stunning poem like the one I’ve mentioned above? 

Fantasy and role-play are vital to a child’s healthy development.  It allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity and physical, intellectual and emotional strength. It is vital to healthy brain development as well as helping them engage and interact in the world around them. It allows children to create and explore a world they can master and conquer their fears.

Faith as a Catalyst for Creativity

The Christian faith has been the catalyst for so much creativity over the centuries including great inventions and discoveries, music, painting and writing.  Incredible creativity that has come out the God-given imaginations of men and women created in the image of God.

Fantasy has been used over the years as a powerful tool to communicate Christian truth.  Authors like JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis expressed their Christian faith through fantasy and have given us works like The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia that millions around the world are still enjoying and learning from today.

The Bible itself uses lots of imagery in an attempt to communicate spiritual truth to human beings.

Since the beginning of time, God has chosen to speak to people in dreams and visions, pictures, poems, songs, stories and imagery.  

Jesus taught in parables.  God could have given us a two-page document: things to do and things not do but rather, He chose to weave truth into creative writing so that our imaginations would be stirred.

For these two reasons, we have embraced Santa into our Christmas celebrations. 

While our two older children are now well aware of the mythical nature of the modern Santa, our eight-year-old is so excited by this tradition. She leaves Santa and the reindeer snacks and drinks on Christmas Eve.  Santa leaves her a note and gifts – and makes a terrible mess in the process!  She loves it – it’s a wonderful part of Christmas.

Of course, our children also understand that Christmas is the celebration of Jesus’ birthday.  They love the Lord and are growing in their faith.  Jesus is central to Christmas but that doesn’t mean that Santa has to be excluded.

There are over 100 references of the word “gospel” mentioned by several authors in the New Testament.  But it wasn’t a new word that they made up to describe what was accomplished and offered by Jesus.  It was a well-known word in classical Greek (euangelion) referring to a message of victory, or other political or personal news, that caused joy!  It was a word that was commonly used by people in the Roman Empire.

When Julius Caesar was assassinated on March 15, 44BC in the Theatre of Pompey, a period of political unrest followed.  The Roman Republic struggled for a time in civil war until Julius Caesar’s nephew Octavian (later called Augustus) took the throne in 31BC.  Caesar Augustus is the earliest figure of the Roman Empire mentioned in the New Testament as he was the emperor during the time of Jesus’ birth (Luke 2).

Caesar Augustus was called the “son of god” who was the great “Saviour” of the whole earth through bringing an end to civil war and ushering in the Pax Romana (200 years of “peace” to Rome).  The themes of freedom, justice, peace and salvation permeated his reign. Whenever the great deeds of Augustus were proclaimed, they were presented with the Greek term euangelion.  His deeds were celebrated with poems and inscriptions, coins and images, statues, altars and structures.

An imperial quote stated, “All the cities unanimously adopt the birthday of the divine Caesar as the new beginning of the year … the birthday of the god [Augustus] has been for the whole world the beginning of good news (euangelion) concerning him [therefore let a new era begin from his birth].”

Caesar is depicted as having been born, and therefore as human, but also in some mysterious way, he is also divine.  The poet Horace put it this way: “upon you [Augustus] however, while still among us, we already bestow honours, set up altars to swear by in our name, and confess that nothing like you will arise hereafter or has ever arisen before now” (Epistles 2.1.15-17)

So to summarise: Augustus was seen as a god in human form who ushered in a new era of peace. He was called the son of god and the Saviour. His birth changed the calendar and his deeds were celebrated as good news, or gospel, that brought joy to people.  In the midst of this, Jesus was born – the one referred to as the Saviour, the Son of God who would bring peace and good news that will cause great joy for all the people (see Luke 1:35; 2:10-14).

No wonder the introduction of the Christian faith brought such a clash of cultures that resulted in Rome persecuting Christians for the best part of 300 years.  Author Edward Gibbon put it this way: “By embracing the faith of the Gospel the Christians incurred the supposed guilt of an unnatural and unpardonable offence. They dissolved the sacred ties of custom and education, violated the religious institutions of their country, and presumptuously despised whatever their fathers had believed as true, or had reverenced as sacred.”

Throughout the centuries the radical teaching of grace and love by Jesus and His followers has continued to create a clash with the culture of the day – and life today is no different.  In this age of entitlement, the “like me” generation that is looking for its “best life” clashes severely with the teaching of Jesus to “love your neighbor as yourself.”  Emphasising only the internal aspects of the gospel has raised up a generation of selfish consumer-Christians who stop at Jesus being their “own personal Saviour,” while neglecting the fact that the gospel is not just something you experience – it’s something you live!  The gospel of Jesus is not just about “me” – it’s about “us” and it’s about “others.”

When Jesus began His ministry He did so by reading from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah in a synagogue on the Sabbath Day.  He presented the gospel – a message of victory that caused joy!  Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

Jesus taught that living the gospel message would mean that He and His people would bring:

  • Good news to the poor
  • Freedom for the prisoners
  • Sight for the blind
  • Freedom for the oppressed

He finished the reading by saying that the gospel was a proclamation of the year of the Lord’s favour.  Interestingly enough Jesus stopped reading halfway through a sentence.  The next line says, “and the day of vengeance of our God.”  Jesus announced that this was the time when God is willing to accept people.  The original word refers to an amnesty – a general pardon for offenses, often granted before any trial or conviction, as well as an act of forgiveness for, and the forgetting or overlooking of any past offense.  What wonderful news Jesus proclaimed for all people.  All of us who have been changed by the gospel are carriers of good news that should bring great joy to others.

One of the most loved Christmas songs started out as an advertising promotion. In 1939 Montgomery Ward commissioned advertising executive Robert May to write a poem that their store Santa Claus could give away to children who came to visit him. The result was “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and it first appeared in a little booklet published by the department store chain. More than 2.5 million copies were handed out. And by 1946 more than 6 million copies of the poem were distributed.

Rudolph’s story was put to music in 1949 by Robert May’s brother-in-law, Johnny Marks. The song was first offered to Bing Crosby and then Dinah Shore.  They both turned it down.  Third choice was Gene Autry, the singing cowboy, whose recording went to No. 1 on the Billboard pop singles chart the week of Christmas 1949. Autry’s recording sold 2.5 million copies the first year, and eventually sold about 25 million, and remained the second best-selling record of all time until the 1980s.

Today “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” is the highest-selling Christmas carol of all time. It’s a song that has resonated with people young and old for 65 years and is still going strong. Why has this little Christmas carol been so popular?  Apart from its very catchy tune, I believe it’s because the story is something we can all identify with.  It’s a story of grace. By grace, Santa chooses Rudolph despite the fact that he’s an outcast and reject because of his big, inconveniently shiny red nose: All of the other reindeer used to laugh and call him names; They never let poor Rudolph play in any reindeer games.”  But then it all changed, when what was considered a defect, a weakness, and a liability became the very thing that Santa needed: Then one foggy Christmas Eve Santa came to say: “Rudolph with your nose so bright, won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?”  The “weakness” that was considered a problem by Rudolph and his fellow reindeer became the “strength” that Santa used to accomplish his mission.

Christmas is a time when we celebrate the birth of God in human form.  Jesus, the Son of God, was well acquainted with weakness and rejection.  He had a dubious birth – born out of wedlock, born in poor conditions as an outcast.  He knew rejection from many throughout his life – even his closest friends.  The Prophet Isaiah said this of the coming Messiah: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.”

The fact that Jesus experienced these things is good news for us because we have a Saviour who “understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.”

This Christmas – and as we enter a New Year – remember that Jesus is the great redeemer.  His grace is unending – it even reaches to the things that we’ve considered unredeemable.  The things that we’ve considered as weaknesses, defects and liabilities he can turn around for your blessing and the benefit of others.

This is the third and final blog in which I discuss a Christian attitude to differences in race (ethnicity), culture and religion.  When it comes to race – embrace!  When it comes to culture – embrace the good!  What about the various religions?  What should our attitude be towards people of differing belief?

Over the centuries the attitudes and actions of people of various faiths have been nothing short of atrocious towards each other – and nothing much has changed.  Today Christians are the most persecuted people in the world predominantly by communism (North Korea is the worst) and radical Islam.  According to Open Doors, Overwhelmingly, the main engine driving persecution of Christians in 36 of the top 50 countries is Islamic extremism.”  In today’s world we see all manner of persecution enacted upon people of faith by people of faith.  Once again Acts 17 gives us some good insight into what a proper attitude should be.

In these verses Paul the apostle affirms that God is everywhere, that we are all His offspring or children (28-29) and that “he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.”  The apostle quotes two famous Greek philosophers (Aratus and Epimenides) in order to point them to Jesus, the one true God.

Aratus in his work entitled Phaenomena 1-5 stated: “Let us begin with Zeus whom we mortals never leave unspoken. For every street, every market place is filled with Zeus. Even the sea and the harbors are full of his deity. Everywhere, everyone is indebted to Zeus. For we are indeed his offspring.”

Epimenides, in his work Cretica, wrote, “They fashioned a tomb for thee, O holy and high one. The Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies!  But thou art not dead: thou livest and abidest forever, for in thee we live and move and have our being.”  Paul uses the poet’s words to introduce the Greeks to the death and resurrection of Jesus.

In the 6th century B.C., when the poet Epimenides lived, there was a plague which went throughout all Greece. The Greeks thought that they must have offended one of their gods, so they began offering sacrifices on altars to all their various gods. When nothing worked they figured there must be a God who they didn’t know about whom they must somehow appease.

So Epimenides came up with a plan. He released hungry sheep into the countryside and instructed men to follow the sheep to see where they would lie down. He believed that since hungry sheep would not naturally lie down but continue to graze, if the sheep were to lie down it would be a sign from God that this place was sacred. At each spot where the sheep tired and laid down the Athenians built an altar and sacrificed the sheep on it. Afterward it is believed the plague stopped which they attributed to this unknown God accepting the sacrifice.

Paul tried to convey to them that the unknown God was the true God, Jesus Christ: the God who created all things and every person.  He then goes on to give a gentle but firm rebuke of man-made religion. It is of “man’s design” and Paul refers to it as “ignorance” that God once overlooked – but no longer!  God is not looking at our religion – He’s interested in relationship.  His desire is that we would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.”  More importantly God has already reached out to us in the tangible person of Jesus Christ.

Christians are called to a life of love and tolerance towards others.  Jesus told the story of The Good Samaritan (Luke 10) to demonstrate that his people should love, respect, and help people regardless of their race, culture or religion.  But that doesn’t mean that we agree with what others believe or do.  Christianity is not just tolerant it is also exclusive.  Jesus made it clear when he said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).  Acts 4:12 also states this truth plainly, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. Paul makes it clear as well: God … commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man [Jesus] he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30b-31).

The Romans thought, “All roads might lead to Rome,” but all religions don’t lead to God.  As a Christian I strongly believe that Jesus is the one and only way.  But that doesn’t stop me from being respectful, kind, helpful and loving towards those who believe differently.  So …

When it comes to race – embrace!

When it comes to culture – embrace the good!

When it comes to religion – embrace the person!

That’s what Paul did on Mars Hill in Athens as he found some common ground with these highly religious people and shared the good news with them.  It would do us well to do the same!

In my last blog I outlined what I believe is a Christian response towards people of different races.  I summarised my thoughts in the statement, “When it comes to race – embrace!”  In this blog I want to answer the question, “What is a Christian attitude toward people of other cultures?”

Acts 17 affirms not just the unity of the human race but also the diversity of ethnic cultures: From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries.”  This refers to God’s original command to the first people to “be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth!”  As groups of people settled in different parts of the earth, not only did different races develop but also distinctive cultures.

“Culture” is defined as “The collection of beliefs, values and customs developed by each society and transmitted to the next generation.”  As we examine the varieties of cultures we find two things:

They’re not all bad. All people are made in the image of God and thus all people reflect that image to some extent through their culture.  Some culture is rich in beauty and goodness.  Of the many things I love about our multicultural society in Australia are all the varieties of food we enjoy from different nations.

In the book of Revelation chapter 21 the apostle John sees visions of the world to come: The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it.”  The splendor and glory of the nations refers to the good things that emanate from each of them.  If culture will enrich human life and community in eternity then surely it can do the same now!  We can enhance our lives by experiencing the good in things – the tastes, the sounds, the colour – in various cultures.

The second thing we find when examining other cultures is they’re not all good.  All people are made in the image of God but that image has been marred by disobedience to God.  Because of this some aspects of various cultures are tainted and some of it is just plain evil.  An example of this is female circumcision.  The World Health Organization estimates that three million girls and women a year are at risk of mutilation (approximately 8000 girls per day). This occurs mainly in Africa and in a few countries in the Middle East, Asia and among certain ethnic groups in Central and South America.  Any aspects of a culture that lead to discrimination, alienation, poverty or a denial of basic human rights should be actively opposed.

The answer to determining whether culture is good or bad is to test it.  The Bible encourages us to “Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22).  So, when it comes to race – embrace!  When it comes to culture – embrace the good!

What about the various religions?  I’ll discuss that next week!

Divisions, wars and disputes often happen in our world because of differences in race, culture and religion. So what is a Christian attitude towards these things?

Acts 17 tells of Paul the apostle’s time in Athens – particularly his discussions at the Areopagus – the place in which the Areopagites, the supreme judges of Athens, assembled. It was on a hill almost in the middle of the city. Many accounts suggest that this was the most celebrated tribunal in the world. Its decisions were distinguished for justice and correctness. This court punished vices of all kinds – including idleness; they rewarded the virtuous; they were especially attentive to blasphemies against the gods; and to the performance of the sacred mysteries of religion. Paul was brought before this tribunal, being regarded as a teacher of strange gods and doctrines and introducing a new mode of worship.

Athens was a city of people from diverse ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds. When Athens was incorporated into the Roman Empire it became one of the leading cosmopolitan cities in the world. Paul referred to the Athenians as being “very religious.” This was an accurate statement according to Roman Satirist and historian, Petronius, who said it was “easier to find a god in Athens than a man.”  The city was crammed full of temples, shrines, altars, images and statues. Paul’s response to this multi-racial, multicultural and multi-religious city is a good response for any Christian facing questions or challenges over race, culture and religion today.

Paul affirmed the unity of the human race by recognizing two things: Everyone was created by one God and everyone was created from one man: “He himself gives life and breath to everything, and satisfies every need there is.”  In verse 28 Paul quotes some Greek Poets who wrote, “We are His offspring” – speaking of the entire human race. In a general sense, God is the Father of every person; since He created us we are all His offspring. That means every human being is our brother or our sister. One of my favourite writers, John Stott, put it this way: “Being equally created by Him and like Him, we have an equal right in His sight to worth and dignity, and therefore have an equal right to respect and justice.”  We would do well to remember this as we seek justice for every person, especially those who are unable to fend for themselves, like refugees and the 35 million people in modern-day slavery.

One God created everyone and everyone was created from one man!From one man he made all the nations that they should inhabit the whole earth.”  British Anthropologist Ashley Montagu wrote, “Concerning the origin of the living varieties of Man we can say little more than that there are many reasons for believing that a single stock gave rise to all of them. All varieties of Man belong to the same species and have the same remote ancestry. This is the conclusion to which all the relevant evidence points.”  This is backed up by the fact that the four human blood types are, in every respect, the same in all human beings regardless of ethnic background.

With this in mind there is absolutely no room for racial prejudice and there is no room for generalizations about races. On this the apostle James wrote these words, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.” (3:9-10).

The Christian community should be a place that brings heaven to earth, where we enjoy unity together in our faith regardless of racial background with persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.”

When it comes to race – embrace!

Next week we’ll discuss a Christian attitude to differences in culture and religion.

One "friend" didn't agree with me quoting a "secular" source and wrote, "Rob Buckingham, you have all the discernment of a lump of mud."  Nice hey?  I'm not easily offended and I chose not to be offended by this comment.  After all, Jesus healed at least two people by making mud out of dirt and spit, so maybe it was really a compliment – but I don't think so.

You see, the quote was taken from an article that Jeff Kennett wrote called "Australians must embrace gay marriage."  My Facebook "friend" took exception to this concluding that any article condoning gay marriage must be all wrong.  But I didn't quote the whole article, I just quoted one section in which I thought Jeff Kennett was spot on – his desire for a compassionate, uplifting and exciting church – as opposed to uncaring, dull and boring churches that are a major turnoff even to Australian Christians.  That's why, in the latest census, two thirds of Aussies describe themselves as Christian but only 7% regularly attend church.  The rest have probably been to a church and decided they have enough problems in life without adding a boring hour on a Sunday morning!

But my unkind Facebook "friend" is missing an important truth and buying into the lie that there is some great divide between the sacred and the secular.  The Hebrew worldview (from which the Bible is written) saw the earth as the Lord's and everything and everyone in it.  In fact the Bible writers often quote from "secular" sources.

The apostle Paul quotes from a number of ancient Greek poets in his writings.  In Acts 17:28 Paul gives two quotations: "'For in him we live and move and have our being.”  As some of your own poets have said, “We are his offspring.” The first quote is from the Cretan poet Epimenides (c. 600 BC), while “We are his offspring” is actually quoted by at least two different poets, Aratus (c. 315-240 BC) and Cleanthes (331-233 BC) in his Hymn to Zeus.  That's right, Paul quotes from a Hymn written to a pagan god and relates it to the worship of the One True God. 

We also find Paul quoting secular sources in two of his letters.  In 1Corinthians 15:33 he warns, "Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” This is a quote from the comedy Thais written by Greek poet Menander.  In his letter to Titus, Paul quotes the Cretan poet Epimenides a second time, "Even one of their own prophets has said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.’” Paul goes on in the next verse to say emphatically, "This testimony is true.  Therefore, rebuke them sharply so that they will be sound in the faith …" This quote is why calling someone a "Cretan" is considered an insult even today.

Jesus used well-known sayings of his day and brought them into his teachings.  In John 4 he uses two such sayings: "You know the saying, 'Four months between planting and harvest’” (v. 35).  Then in verse 37, "You know the saying, 'One plants and another harvests.’” And it's true."

Jesus also used stories from everyday life – things that his audience would be well acquainted with – and drew spiritual truth from them, to take people on a journey from what they knew to what they needed to know.  We would do well to find modern day parables that are applicable to life in the 21st Century.  And that's what I was attempting to do by quoting from Jeff Kennett's article: not trying to be as discerning as a lump of mud but rather trying to find a point of identification with people who may be looking for a relationship with God and a church that is compassionate, uplifting and, yes, maybe even exciting.

Now I don’t doubt that some retailers are struggling and I understand their call for GST, customs charges and duties to be added to online purchases under $1000.  However, a Productivity Commission Report found the cost of tax collection would exceed revenue raised.  The Federal Government’s retail task force is still examining this issue.

Australians are not going to stop buying certain goods online.  Each household only has so much discretionary money and although we try and buy Australian, we also need to make wise financial decisions.  So, Australian retailers have some work to do to encourage us to buy from them.

In recent weeks I’ve needed to update my wardrobe for Bayside TV.  I’ve chosen to buy the clothes in local shops but it’s been a very mixed experience.  In general the department stores offered atrocious service.  One in particular had three staff members standing around talking while customers were waiting.  I asked them for help but was told they worked in another department and so could not assist me.  When I asked who could help me I was told that someone would be there shortly.  Fifteen minutes later a staff member arrived.  In the meantime customers had walked out.  I had planned to spend more in that store, but chose not to because of my experience.

The best service was given in the smaller boutique shops although that was not always the case.  One men’s clothing shop I went into had some really nice shirts but the girl “working” there spent ten minutes talking to a friend on her mobile phone.  She didn’t once acknowledge me. I had several hundred dollars to spend and I would have spent it in that shop but I walked out and bought the shirts elsewhere.

Good service has got to be the number one key to the survival of Australian retail.  No wonder Apple is now the world’s most valuable company.  You walk into an Apple store and a friendly person comes to you straight away, asks your name and how they can help you.  The service is amazing – and so are the products.  If good service isn’t offered why shouldn’t we buy online?  What value is added by shopping in a store?

And so, as a shopper, I give this advice to retailers:

• Train your staff well so they know how to serve well.  And give your staff incentives for good results.
• Give something for nothing – a discount voucher or frequent shopper bonus; buy two get one free or discounts for large purchases.
• Develop online buying yourself. If people want to buy your products online why not give them the opportunity.
• Keep up to date with current trends, innovations and technology. Remember Kodak, the company that pioneered the digital camera was eventually brought down by its failure to invest in its own ground-breaking invention.  It became a fossil because it came to a point of change and failed to make the transition.

It’s not good enough for retailers to complain about competition and expect the government to bail them out.  It’s time for all retailers to realise the world has changed and to do the hard work of remaining competitive and give us, the shoppers, good reasons to buy from you.