True North - Christian
From hiking to ethics, politics, spirituality, psychology, relationships, in all areas of life in which decisions about reality are important, we really need a true reference point. We need the compass needle to point north so we can align ourselves with reality as it is, and not get lost. A reliable reference point.
For societies to function well together, a primary reference point needs to be agreed so we can all avoid conflict as much as possible. When I visit Indonesia, I know the local reference point is largely Islam, so I know how to get along. Even if I don't agree with Islam personally, I can accomodate wherever possible in good conscience. At Australian Federation we chose a generally agreed reference point in Judaeo-Christianity, the Bible, "under Almighty God." The consensus was that we all go along with this same reference point as a society. Besides, part of that Christianity was that "secular" meant non-sectarian, open to all, regardless of creed. So Christianity provided a good reference point for public ethical decisions and the moral conduct of society.
Spinning Compass - Agnostic
But from mid twentieth century, Australia's general population became less certain of Christianity, and even the idea of objective truth. With growing multiculturalism, the magnets of other ideologies made the public discourse agnostic: "we don't know what our public reference point should be." But instead of really thinking this through, broadcast technology rushed through the shallow, political-correct (ie. wrong in the real world) idea of "each to his own, you do you, I'll do me." Public media and politics mostly ignored the matter of truth, ultimate reality, and an agreed reference point.
This sounded democratic: "let's leave it as a private matter and not have a public reference point as such." And no doubt most Aussies still think that's what we have today... but not so!
Self-Aligned Compass - Naturalism
Most of us didn't even see it happen! Most assume we're back at Agnostic. But to the degree that we excluded religious / spiritual worldviews from the public square, one worldview took over the reference point. Naturalism asserts there is only the natural, physical world, and no super-natural, no spiritual or other dimensions. No God to answer to, no higher power, so do anything you want - but keep religion private. "Secular" has come to mean, "no religious views." In practice this became Australia's public reference point! Naturalism is now unofficially determining all our national, ethical, political decisions. Marriage, gender, religious education, terminating babies, the old and infirm, public narratives about science, climate, races, power/victim status, are all decided squarely on Naturalism as the reference point.
We were not asked if we wanted to shift our public reference point, let alone shift it to Naturalism. It just happened by excluding the other options. If we had been asked, "Do you want Naturalism as our new public reference point?" we would have certainly voted against it. Why?
1) Partly because more of us do experience spiritual realities than do not.
2) Also because with a little thought it soon becomes obvious that Naturalism is a really bad reference point. It inevitably leads to the Law of the Jungle, with everyone pulling for their own interests, and the most ruthless grab power to eliminate the competition. That's been the result in all socialist / communist governments, which are always based on, yep, Naturalism. We know where that road leads, and we don't want to go there.
The question now is, will we become publicly wise enough to thoughtfully choose our reference point before we descend into naturalist chaos? I know most Aussies think our reference point is agnostic, but in practice it's already been hijacked by Naturalism - is that what we want? Or do we want to choose a better reference point?
Which reference point would you choose and why?
- Which worldview actually produces freedom of conscience? (Not merely allows it.)
- Which has a proven record of producing moral societies, with humility and civic service?
- Which encourages separation of powers, and the idea that all of us are accountable under the Creator?
Even honest atheists admit that Christianity has yielded the best moral code for societies, and the safest freedoms for others to disagree. A Christian public reference point best serves everyone, including agnostics and naturalists.
Agnostic Jordan Peterson knows this: as a psychologist helping people to align their lives with reality, he says, “I live as though God exists, and I’m terrified that he might.”
That’ll work for Australia too.
(PS. After returning to the climate of freedom that Christianity brings, maybe we can also remedy that agnosticism about evidences for the Creator. But that’s another story.)
2) Noel had a way of dignifying normal life. We college boarders saw each others’ bad hair days, and once Noel asked my friend for a razor to shave because he’d left his at home. He was not embarrassed because he was genuinely humble. He knew that his little moments were just as significant as his global work. His gracious attitude was the same in all circumstances, everything was a gift from Christ. From the podium to the kitchen he was Christ's grateful servant. This inspired the community with integrity from top to bottom. Lk16:10 faithful in little things
3) Noel kept Christ at the centre of the community. Without this, communities inevitably drift. But Noel’s communities stayed true. He would often remind us that the college was to teach us to “think theologically,” because through Scripture we get to know Christ. Noel knew both intimately, which is why often you could tell he was led by the Spirit to say just the right thing, to have that gracious humility, to love that enlivening way. If everyone bathed in the Word and the Spirit like that, counselling services would become redundant. Eph5:26 washed with the word
Each house at this school has a theme, Courage, Character, Compassion, and that of Vose house is Community. This might surprise if you only knew Dr GN Vose from his Wiki page, looking at all his academic achievements and the Theological College he started. But that College was a Vose-like - no, Christ-like - community. It pulled people together. And I’ll warrant that same enthusiastic community was a hallmark of Noel's presidency of the Australian Baptist Union, and then of the Baptist World Alliance: he pulled people together. Noel regenerated discussions between Baptists and Mennonites in a way that hadn't happened since 1630! He planted a new church at 70! Community was his legacy. Back then we used to tease him about being "The Pope of the Baptists.” But he kind of was - in the best sense of “papa,” building up all of us who came to orbit around his truly Christian community.
Don't Squander Your Chance
For many this forced layoff is a chance to reset our priorities and activities. The decks have been cleared for us. So what shall we do with this time? First thought: have a rest! Yessss!!! Watch some movies, read some books, sleep longer…. Maybe get some jobs done, clean up, sort out… But after you’ve caught up, then what?
Well, what do you consider most important after all?
Now is a great chance to start doing what you really deep down want to do.
How about these top five practices for life:
5) Be generous with toilet rolls. If we don't share when we have, who can we ask when we need?
4) Spend quality time with the people in your household. Don't be isolated in your screens, make time to reconnect. Have dinner around the table; ask "what do you thank God for today?"; play a board game; do some craft; a jigsaw… google family fun ideas.
3) Reconnect with extended family and friends via calls or videolink.
2) Re-introduce yourself to God. Actually pray. Get to know him better. Day by day. (We can help with Core Stuff, and the Bookmark of HPOWER).
1) Meet for prayer, care and sharing around the Bible, in groups of 3-6, via videolinks if necessary, to actively grow in the Spirit, and share the love with others. (Cheers can help with this, and get you BOPping!)
This virus, now, is an opportunity for humanity to turn back to God. Let’s take it.
As Ferris Beuler famously said, Life moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you might miss it.
Apocalypse. It actually means uncovering, revealing, as in the Biblical book of Revelation. But ironically we have smothered the word with such fearful connotations that we covered over the very thing that was meant to be uncovered! We fear the dangers so much we miss the main point.
Since we apparently live in such apocalyptic times... it’s well worth asking: what was meant to be uncovered? Answer: the Ending to The Big Story.
What Big Story?
The overall narrative from the beginning of time to end. The Biblical Story. The Story within which all our life stories are contained! Which begs the further question, what part will you play in it? Using the Olympic Rings, here’s a graphic summary of that Story:
Just like all great stories, there's an Author, Evil, Salvation, Freedom & Community.
Author - Blue reminds us of Creation and thus its Creator. God creates, creation is good, humans are made in God’s image, very good. But then...
Evil - Black, darkness, selfishness, the sin that damages creation. We try to take over from God, to run our own lives but only ruin our own lives. This sinful fallenness is shown from Adam and Eve to every story in the Bible...
Saviour - Red, blood, the Saviour’s mortal battle to make things right.
The Law and the Prophets (>>) foreshadow and predict the Salvation to come. The Old Testament repeats stories of sin and salvation: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Israelites, Judges, Kings, Writings and Prophets: we ruin life, God saves it, repeat. There are always warnings, and then judgement for the stubborn and salvation for the faithful. The cycles repeat through history even to the present day. But then comes The Saviour...
(X) Christmas reveals the Christ, the Messiah. 'Jesus' means Saviour. He is none other than the Creator become human, Immanuel, God-with-us.
Love summarises his message and his actions, love God first, and people as yourself.
On the cross, Jesus has DONE what we can’t DO for ourselves: he himself bore all our collective sin, guilt, shame, griefs, sorrows etc. for us, on our behalf. Separated from God, he then dies for all of it - in our stead. This means that sin is no longer held against us, we are made right with God! Amazing gift of mercy!
His resurrection overcomes death with life. This proves he has overcome our sin with his purity.
For 40 days he appears, explaining all Scripture to eyewitnesses, offering His salvation to all. Then…
Freedom - Gold, the Spirit of resurrection, in us to set us free from the law of sin & death. Jesus ascends, then 10 days later sends His own Spirit into His people, whoever trusts him, helping us to live like Him. Amazing gift of grace! And this gift is still being given and received today…
Community - Green, Grow in these relationships now and forever. Go share this Big Story. Loving God and people goes on now and forever (>>), in fact The Big Story ends with a divine marriage, Christ receiving his Bride - us! The Big Story turns out to be a Divine Romance.
So for now we are supposed to Grow in those relationships: turn from our sin, trust the Creator-Saviour-Spirit, and live life his way. This trust is what determines our part in the revealed ending: will we receive His amazing gifts and be in the marriage for the faithful? Or will we refuse, ru(i)n our own lives, and face the judgement for the stubborn? Go share this Big Story to anyone who will listen.
So I’m now sharing this Big Story with you. May God give you ears to hear it and pass it on.
I'm convinced this Big Story is actually a True Story, for good reason: it is uniquely coherent, uniquely comprehensive from the beginning of time to the end, and it uniquely accords with all the data we have available to us - including scientific, historical, experiential, relational and spiritual. Therefore it is reasonable to expect that the revealed ending will also come true.
Yes, the Apocalypse (the Revelation) contains frightening warnings and judgements, alarming events to come - wars, calamities, plagues, martyrdoms at the hands of evil economic and political ideologies. The warnings and judgements will cycle some more - exactly what we see in our day - little re-tellings of the Big Story of evil, salvation, freedom and community to come. But then The Big Story will end as revealed, with a final judgement for the stubborn, and a wedding for the Bride and Bridegroom who is the Creator-Saviour-Spirit.
But if we only focus on the calamities, we cover over the main revelation to be uncovered:
the Ending to The Big Story. Don’t miss the main point... What part will you play in The Divine Romance?
What is Cheers doing during the CV19 lockdown? Meeting in cells of 3-6 in homes, (digital attendance is also ok as long as it is person to person interaction, not anonymous viewing.) In some ways we’ve been doing groups of 3-6 for years whenever we gather around the word. Now we just have to do it at home. You’re welcome to look through our crash course summary on how we provide a balanced diet in the groups with a simple bookmark. We call it the Bookmark Of Power (BOP).
We see the CV19 lock-in as being in solidarity with Christians in China who can’t meet in groups bigger than 5, so when they hit 6 it is time to split, and by then both triplets need to have someone who can lead. Thus it empowers and multiplies - it disciples. I can see why God might want to equip us all in such a way. So let's make the most of this time. Perhaps our BOPs will work for you in your own circles. Here's youtube's Cheers Playlist for the CV19 lock-in.
I'm not panicking because my worldview is not limited to Naturalism. COVID-19, bushfires, climate change, etc. merely remind me of our mortality, and the bigger view of life. But Naturalism, which dominates Western public discourse - news and entertainment media, social media, politics, law - across Australia, NZ, USA, UK and Western Europe, has no bigger perspective. As such it's a worldview that generates the very fear, depression, and hostility we see with every reminder of how fragile we are.
Naturalism in a nutshell:
Naturalism is both shallow and brittle.
It's shallow because it rules out other dimensions, and disregards all non-physical phenomena observed.
In contrast the Biblical meta-narrative is deep and robust.
Don’t be put off by the shallow dismissals on public broadcast. Examine the Bible properly without prejudice against spirituality, and you’ll see why it stands the test of time as uniquely reliable revelation from The Creator to us. Unique because no other volume or corpus of texts has anything close to the following qualities: Reliable because the archeological and manuscript historical evidence is peerless concerning the Bible's preserved transmission from eye-witnesses to us. Revelation from God, because the over-arching Saviour-centred story is uniquely coherent and comprehensive, despite the diversity of 40 contributing authors across at least a 1600 year period. Plus it contains hundreds, even thousands of specific prophecies, many of which were fulfilled in later parts of the Bible, some of which are yet to be fulfilled in the yet to be completed parts of the History. Plus it claims to contain, and be, God’s word around 3000 times. Plus the meta-narrative combines with the readers’ realities to change lives for the better, right up to the present day. (I mean people can relate with the God of the Bible in the present!)
The Biblical meta-narrative is deep in that it accepts other-dimensional realities and interacts meaningfully and substantially with them.
Naturalism is a shallow and brittle worldview that discords with reality, and fragments society.
The Bible gives a deep and robust worldview that accords with reality, and unifies humanity under God.
Our public discourse needs to break out of its shallow, brittle naturalistic worldview. Otherwise it will keep covering up the BIG Story that these apocalyptic events are meant to uncover for us:
- that we are mortal, sin/self/satanic forces are bad, we need a Saviour. Leaving God was not progress.
- and that we need to turn back, trust in, & tune in to the Creator, accept his salvation now and forever. In this true, deep and robust worldview, fear subsides, and we can live in courage & faith.
That’s why with all these fires, viruses, climate change... I'm neither panicking nor in denial. I know what to think when reminded of my mortality. Not only the creation, but we who have the first fruits of the Spirit also groan inwardly as we eagerly await our adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For we were saved with this hope in mind - Romans 8. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom - Proverbs 9.
My daughter is a 21-Pilots fan. Proof: today she bought pre-sales tickets to their December show, where they will play music she hasn’t even heard yet because their album isn’t due out until next month. What if their new album is a terrible disappointment? She might have to sit through a whole concert of terrible music...
But her purchase is an act of faith. The good kind: reasonable, not blind. The kind that makes for good relationships. There's not an iron-clad guarantee but there are enough reasons to make it worthy of trust.
Her faith is based on good reasons: their prior performances, the music she has already heard, the interactions she has already enjoyed in the fandom, their demonstrated trustworthiness as people to date. So she has good reasons to trust that the boys will deliver a concert worth the price of entry. So she bought in.
My faith is based on good reasons: God’s prior performances (in demonstrably reliable histories, writings and prophecies), the ‘music’ I have heard already in this life (the good, true, beautiful, life-giving ways that really work), the interactions with God I have already enjoyed alone and together with other believers, the demonstrated trustworthiness and wisdom of God’s character. I have plenty of good reasons to trust that God will deliver a Life worth whatever price he asks of me. So I bought in.
Some disparage “faith” per se as if it is blind, based on nothing. Some people seem to blindly believe cliches and assumptions, but these days I’d say that's far more likely among the agnostics of main-stream culture than among the Christians who go against the flow. Most Christians I know have had to challenge the mainstream cliches and assumptions, and have come to my daughter’s kind of faith, a reasonable and well-founded relationship.
When people actually examine the reasons for this kind of faith, they often become ready to buy in.
The Limits of Proof
The Phenomenal and the Noumenal - Noumenal realities are important and life-directing. Yet the more noumenal a reality is, the greater the need for good and sufficient reasons. Good reasons are there. Go get 'em.