Observations on life; particularly spiritual

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More discrimination against Israel Folau

Israel Folau’s appeal for financial assistance for his legal fight against Rugby Australia has been shut down by GoFundMe Australia.

On 18 June 2019 a crowdfunding campaign was launched to fund Folau’s legal fight against Rugby Australia. Folau said, “I decided to take legal action when Rugby Australia terminated my employment contract and ended my playing career after I expressed my religious beliefs on social media. Sadly, Rugby Australia have said that they will devote significant resources to fight me in court. This shows I have a long and hard battle on my hands, which is why I am asking for your support.” (Also see, Appendix).

Today (24 June 2019) the crowdfunding campaign was shut down by GoFundMe after raising more than $750,000 in a few days. They said, “We are absolutely committed to the fight for equality for LGBTIQ+ people and fostering an environment of inclusivity”. The company also said it would not tolerate the promotion of discrimination or exclusion. Except (in this case) the promotion of discrimination or exclusion against Bible-believing Christians!

Culture watch

According to Bill Muehlenberg’s blog, this is “a full-fledged war on Christianity, and on any believers who boldly stand up for their faith.” There have been relentless media attacks designed to vilify and demonise Folau. There is hatred of Folau and God. And the media continue to attack both him and his wife with false information.

The legal significance of this case is very high. This case is our case if we are Christians, or people who have politically incorrect beliefs. It is unjust, and it threatens to set a precedent which could bring about the same injustice upon many employees, professionals, and others in the Australian community. Folau did no wrong, but he is being punished as a wrongdoer.

Religious freedom

It is ultimately about religious freedom – and the war against it. It’s a crackdown on Christianity. To what extent is religious expression protected in Australia?

NSW One Nation MP Mark Latham, who defended Folau in his maiden speech to parliament earlier this year, said GoFundMe’s decision was “excessive use of corporate power”. He tweeted: “Lefties scoffed when I said the absence of religious freedom protections would lead to a reign of terror against Christians. In all aspects of the Folau matter, it’s easy to see what’s happening.”

The main point

If you can’t express your religious beliefs without losing your job, then you don’t have freedom of religion.

Appendix: Statement on crowdfunding site

“Thank you to all those who have given to my Legal Action Fund so far. I am humbled and overwhelmed by the support I have received, for which I am very grateful. Unsurprisingly, I have been criticised by Rugby Australia and some sections of the media overnight.

I decided to take legal action when Rugby Australia terminated my employment contract and ended my playing career after I expressed my religious beliefs on social media. I have received thousands of messages from supporters who believe discrimination in the workplace is wrong and has no place in Australia or anywhere else.

Sadly, Rugby Australia have said that they will devote significant resources to fight me in court. This shows I have a long and hard battle on my hands, which is why I am asking for your support. The money that is donated will be used to fund my legal battle, which could take years. While the attacks against me have shown I have a big fight on my hands, I will stand strong.

Your support and my faith will give me strength. For those of you who have chosen to donate within your capacity, I am very grateful of your support for my legal case. For those not in the position to donate, I value your prayers and messages of support so much. Every little bit will help.” Israel Folau.

Written, June 2019

Also see: Selective tolerance: Folau verses Rugby Australia
Is the Bible “hate speech” because it’s not “inclusive”?
Protection of religious freedom

Who should praise God?

Psalm 148

In the Christmas carol, “Joy to the world”, “heaven and nature sing” at the coming of the King (Jesus Christ). But how can nature sing?

The final five psalms in the book of psalms (146-150) have a theme of praise. Each of them begin and end with “Praise the Lord”. In this post on Psalm 148 we see that all creation (nature) praises God.

Psalm 148 has been categorized as a nature psalm. These psalms praise the Lord as the creator and sustainer of the physical universe. God is separate from nature because He created it. This made Jewish beliefs different to the common beliefs of ancient times that various objects in nature are divine. Just think about the gods of Egypt, Canaan, Greece and Rome. The theological description is that God is “transcendent”, which means He is independent of the creation. But the creation (nature) is also sustained by His mighty power; He sustains “all things by His powerful word” (Heb. 1:3NIV). And the creation (nature) declares (shows) God’s greatness (Ps. 19:1). Psalm 148 says,

 “1 Praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord from the heavens;
praise Him in the heights above.
Praise Him, all His angels;
praise Him, all His heavenly hosts [angels].
Praise Him, sun and moon;
praise Him, all you shining stars.
Praise Him, you highest heavens
and you waters above the skies [clouds].

Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for at His command they were created,
and He established them for ever and ever—
He issued a decree that will never pass away.

Praise the Lord from the earth,
you great sea creatures and all ocean depths,
lightning and hail, snow and clouds,
stormy winds that do His bidding,
you mountains and all hills,
fruit trees and all cedars,
10 wild animals and all cattle,
small creatures and flying birds,
11 kings of the earth and all nations,
you princes and all rulers on earth,
12 young men and women,
old men and children.

13 Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for His name alone is exalted;
His splendor is above the earth and the heavens.
14 And He has raised up for His people [Israel] a horn [king?],
the praise of all His faithful servants,
of Israel, the people close to His heart.

Praise the Lord.”

The psalm is framed with “Praise the Lord”, which is like a refrain (chorus). The key words in the psalm are “praise” (13 times) and “all” (10 times). It’s an inclusive song of praise as it includes everyone.

The key feature of Hebrew poetry is parallelism. The first section gives examples of praise “from the heavens” (v.1-4). While another section gives examples of praise “from the earth” (v.7-12). These verses say who is praising God.

The other verses (v.5-6, 13-14) give the reasons for the praising. Who are they praising? The Lord who created everything at His command (Ps. 148:5).

Context

The psalm was probably written when there was a king in Judah (Appendix). It seems to be a time when the Israelites were a distinct nation and not in disarray. It’s written to Jews who were probably living in Judah.

Praise from the heavens – v.1-4

The heavens are described as “the heights above” the earth. From this section we see that the psalmist uses the term “heaven” to describe the atmosphere, the universe, and the abode of angels. This is consistent with the rest of scripture.

Who is praising God from the heavens? The angels (v.2). The universe of the sun, moon and stars (probably including the planets) (v.3). And the clouds (v.4).

Angels are God’s invisible agents. They praised God at Christ’s birth (Lk. 2:13-14). They continually praise God’s holiness and eternity (Rev. 4:6-8). And after they have finished their earthly ministry, numerous angels will encircle God’s throne and sing in a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb [Christ], who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” (Rev. 5:11-12).

The universe of sun, moon and stars can praise God because He made it immensely huge to demonstrate His massive power. From the Bible we know that the cosmic world didn’t begin very small and simple and grow to be more complex like in the idea of the big-bang. God “stretched it out” when He created it. So it was created to be mature and well-developed from the beginning, and not primitive.

Praise from the earth – v.7-12

In ancient times, the other part of the universe was called the “earth” or the “land” – either English translation of the Hebrew word erets (Strongs #776) is appropriate depending on the context. In this passage it includes the ocean, the atmosphere, the landscape, vegetation, animals and people. It seems  unusual to include the atmosphere as part of the earth as elsewhere in the Bible, the sky (atmosphere) is included as part of the heavens. But of course events in the atmosphere can have a significant impact on the earth and its inhabitants.

Who is praising God from the earth? The marine life and the ocean depths (v.7), lightning, hail, clouds, and strong winds (v.8), mountains, hills and trees (v.9), animals (v.10), rulers (v.11), and people (v.12).

The landscape can praise God because He sculpted it during the flood in Noah’s day, rearranging the surface of the earth by laying down thick layers of sedimentary rock, and then displacing, distorting and eroding them by lifting up parts to form mountains and causing other parts to descend to form the floor of oceans. And there was also horizon movement that formed continents (continental drift). Then volcanoes formed more mountains. After this, ice carved out glaciers in the ice age.

The atmosphere of clouds and storms can praise God because in the beginning He made the gases that comprise it. And He made the laws that govern it’s motion across the earth (the winds) and the laws that control the water cycle (clouds, lighting, hail, and snow).

The plants, animals and ecosystems of the earth can praise God because He created them to be mature and well-developed from the beginning, and not primitive. From the Bible we know that the biological world didn’t begin very small and simple and grow to be more complex like in the idea of evolution.

Together the heavens and the earth describe everything in the universe. Every created thing is invited to praise the Lord. Nature is to praise God.

A person went to a restaurant. They sat down and admired the décor, including the lighting and the paintings on the wall. They were pleased with the table settings; the delicious smell of the food; the well-dressed waiters; and how efficiently the restaurant was being run. But they didn’t have a meal, which is the main reason to visit the restaurant! Many enjoy the décor of the universe, but they don’t enjoy the God who made it. Our purpose is to offer thanks and praise to God (v.11-12). To miss out on this it to miss everything.

Why praise God? – v.5-6, 13-14

There is praise from the heavens because God created them (v.5) and their existence is secure (v.6). Verse 6 probably refers to the boundaries or limits God placed on all creation. The laws of nature are constant and reliable. (God’s moral laws are also constant and reliable.) It’s predictable (rather than chaotic) and science is possible.

There is praise from the earth because God’s splendor is above the splendor of the universe (v.13). He is greater than His creation. He is unique. And God is praised because “He has raised up for His people [Israel] a horn [king?]”. This figure of speech can mean that Israel was strong or that it was ruled by a king (Appendix). It also shows God’s saving power (He saved faithful Israelites) and could be a prophecy pointing to Jesus Christ.

Personification

Personification is a figure of speech in which a non-human thing is given human attributes.

In this psalm animals (great sea creatures, wild animals, cattle, small creatures, birds), topographical features (ocean depths, mountains, hills), meteorological parameters (clouds, lightning, hail, snow, stormy winds), celestial bodies (sun, moon, stars), and trees (fruit trees, cedars) praise God. This is an example of personification that covers all the main spheres of God’s creation. Of course, angels and people also praise God (v.2, 12).

Personification of nature occurs in 15 psalms (19, 50, 65, 66, 69, 76, 96, 97, 98, 100, 104, 121, 145, 148, and 150). This includes four nature psalms (19, 65, 104, and 148). Two other nature psalms don’t have personification (8, 29).

The Bible says that the heavens (sun, moon and stars) show God’s glory to us by fulfilling their God-given roles (Ps. 19:1-4a). Extending this principle to the rest of creation – each part of God’s creation shows God’s glory to us by fulfilling its God-given role (Job 26:14). By their order, complexity (intricacy), fine-tuning, power and splendor, each part of creation (nature) alludes to the far greater intelligence, power and splendor of their Creator.

When will they praise?

Obviously not all nations and peoples praised God when this psalm was written. And not all nations and peoples praise God today. Maybe this psalm looks ahead to Christ’s return to establish His millennial kingdom on earth. Certainly in a coming day everyone will praise the Lord when, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10-11).

Meanwhile, all creation praises God by being what He’s made them to be. Similarly we can praise God by being who He’s made us to be, where He’s put us and by doing what He’s given us to do.

Discussion

What has changed since Psalm 148 was written? Since then Jesus has come and fulfilled the promises in the Old Testament of a Messiah. And we have the New Testament. So believers have some new reasons to praise God.

And at the end of the psalm it alludes to God’s care for His people (v.14). At that time it was Hebrews living in the kingdom of Israel or Judea. Today it’s salvation of believers through Jesus Christ.

But in future God will still be praised in heaven because He created all things at the beginning of time (Rev. 4:11). And at the end of time, “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them” will praise God (Rev. 5:13).

Why not join the rest of creation and choose to praise God while you can? Don’t be shown-up by the rest of creation!

What else can we learn from Psalm 148? The folly of worshipping nature instead of the true God by attributing creative powers to nature. That’s worshipping creatures instead of the Creator (Rom. 1:25). The psalmist says that nature praises and worships God! So we should do likewise (v.11-12).

Conclusion

In Psalm 148 everything in the cosmic world, the atmospheric world, the oceanographic world, the topographic world, and the biological world praises God. This means that all creation praises the Creator. They can do this by expressing their order, complexity, fine-tuning, power and splendor, which alludes to the far greater intelligence, power and splendor of their Creator.

Let’s do this voluntarily now before it’s compelling.

Appendix: What does “horn” mean in Psalm 148:14?

The Hebrew word qeren (Strongs #7161) is translated “horn”. It occurs 13 times in the book of Psalms. The 12 occurrences of this word outside Psalm 148 mean:
– the physical horns of the altar (118:27)
– A symbol of a Davidic king (132:17)
– A symbol of strength (18:2; 22:21; 75:4, 5, 10twice; 89:17, 24; 92:10; 112:9). In ancient times the horn of the wild ox was frequently a metaphor for military strength. If an ox is charging, you want to stay away from its horns!

Psalm 148:14 says, “And He [God] has raised up for His people [Israel] a horn [king?],
the praise of all His faithful servants,
of Israel, the people close to His heart.” (NIV)

In this context, “horn” couldn’t mean the horns of the altar.

Could “horn” symbolize a Davidic king? Yes, because the horn is established by God as in 132:17.

Could “horn” symbolize strength? Yes, because the NIV text note says, “Horn here symbolizes strength”. And the NET translation notes say:
Hebrew: “and He lifted up a horn for His people.” The horn of an ox underlies the metaphor (see Dt. 33:17; 1 Ki. 22:11; Ps. 92:10). The horn of the wild ox is frequently a metaphor for military strength; the idiom “exalt/lift up the horn” signifies military victory (see 1 Sam. 2:10; Ps. 75:10; 89:17, 24; 92:10; Lam. 2:17). Another option is to take the “horn” as a symbol for the Davidic king, through whom the Lord gives His people military victory.

And the NET version of Psalm 148:14 is:
“He has made His people victorious,
and given all His loyal followers reason to praise – the Israelites, the people who are close to Him.”

So “horn” can mean that Israel was strong or that it was ruled by a monarch. In each case, God was protecting the nation of Israel. As the Jews were weak after going into exile in 586BC, this implies that this psalm was probably written before this date. So I disagree with the academic view that Psalm 148 is postexilic because of its location near the end of the book of Psalms.

This figure of speech also shows God’s saving power for His people – He provided leadership and strength to the nation of Israel. And, with hindsight, it could be a prophecy pointing to Jesus Christ, a descendant of king David (Lk. 1:69). Today God’s saving power is shown when someone is forgiven from their sin, rebellion and indifference toward God by trusting in what Jesus has done for them. They then have a special relationship with God.

Written, June 2019

Three reasons to praise God

Psalm 65

Telling somebody in public they are doing a good job when in fact they are doing a bad job is worse than saying nothing at all. Other blunders are to offer praise for something that’s unimportant and praising the wrong person. These are all wrong reasons to praise someone.

When do you praise of God? What reminds you of Him? When David was the king of Israel in about 1,000BC, the nation depended on agricultural production for food and many resources. So David praised God for lush pastures, flocks of sheep and bountiful harvests.

In this post we see that David had three main reasons to praise God. But did you know that these reasons have now been superseded?

Psalm 65 has been categorized as a nature psalm. These psalms praise the Lord as the creator and sustainer of the physical universe. God is separate from nature because He created it. This made Jewish beliefs different to the common beliefs of ancient times that various objects in nature are divine. Just think about the gods of Egypt, Canaan, Greece and Rome. The theological description is that God is “transcendent”, which means He is independent of the creation. But the creation (nature) is also sustained by His mighty power; He sustains “all things by His powerful word” (Heb. 1:3NIV). And the creation (nature) declares (shows) God’s greatness (Ps. 19:1). Psalm 65 says,

1 Praise awaits you, our [Israel’s] God, in Zion [Jerusalem];
to you our vows will be fulfilled.
You who answer prayer,
to you all people will come.
When we were overwhelmed by sins,
you forgave our transgressions.
Blessed are those you choose
and bring near to live in your courts!
We are filled with the good things of your house,
of your holy temple.

You answer us [Israel] with awesome and righteous deeds,
God our Savior,
the hope of all the ends of the earth [or land]
and of the farthest seas,
who formed the mountains by your power,
having armed yourself with strength,
who stilled the roaring of the seas,
the roaring of their waves,
and the turmoil of the nations.
The whole earth [or land] is filled with awe at your wonders;
where morning dawns, where evening fades,
you call forth songs of joy.

You care for the land and water it;
you enrich it abundantly.
The streams of God are filled with water
to provide the people with grain,
for so you have ordained it.
10 You drench its furrows and level its ridges;
you soften it with showers and bless its crops.
11 You crown the year with your bounty,
and your carts overflow with abundance.
12 The grasslands of the wilderness overflow;
the hills are clothed with gladness.
13 The meadows are covered with flocks
and the valleys are mantled with grain;
they shout for joy and sing.

The psalm begins with God being praised and ends with creation (nature) being joyful. In fact, the songs of joy are widespread – extending from the east to the west (v.8).

The key words in the psalm are “you” (14 times) and “your” (7 times). It’s all about God.

Context

This harvest song may have been sung during a harvest festival like the Festival of Tabernacles. It gives three main reasons to praise God, which can all be related to a harvest. The Israelites are gathered near the tabernacle or the temple (v.1, 4). All the men of Israel were to attend three festivals a year in Jerusalem (Ex. 23:17; Dt. 16:16-17).

What about us? When do we gather together to praise God corporately with other Christians?

The three reasons for the Israelites to praise God are.

God answers prayer – v.1-4

David says that God answers prayer (v.2, 5). But what did they pray for? Maybe for a good harvest (v.9-13). And for forgiveness of their sins (v.3).

What about us? Do we have confidence that God will answer our prayers when they are in accordance with His will?

God’s power over creation – v.5-8

David acknowledges God’s role in forming the large-scale landscape of the earth. Mountains are massive examples of God’s power. As most of these mountains are composed of sedimentary rock, they were uplifted by huge tectonic forces in the recessive stage of Noah’s flood. Then the huge volume of flood runoff sculpted the earth’s topography.

The evidence of mountain ranges and large-scale erosion is visible across the globe. Last month I visited central Australia where the mountains are mainly comprised of sedimentary rock layers that have been severely deformed and eroded.

What about us? Do we recognize God’s power, strength and wisdom in designing and creating the universe? Or do we say it made itself via a big bang and evolution?

God’s care of creation – v.9-13

David says that at this time the earth was well-watered (v.9-10) and they had good harvests (9-13). He calls this an act of God. So God didn’t create the world at the beginning of time and then leave it to its own devices. Instead He continued to sustain it.

What about us? Do we thank God when we experience the benefits of a harvest? Do we thank Him for the food we eat (Mt. 15:36; Acts 27:35)?

Discussion

Israel didn’t always have bountiful harvests like those described in Psalm 65. For example, when they followed false prophets and idols instead of the true God the harvest was feeble because of drought and famine (Jer. 23:9-15). This punishment for disobedience was promised in the law given to Moses (Dt. 28:22-24).

What has changed since David wrote Psalm 65? Since then Jesus has come and fulfilled the promises in the Old Testament of a Messiah. And we have the New Testament. So believers have some new reasons to praise God. Now they can praise God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit because of all they have done (Eph. 1:3-14). And they can praise God because of His mercy in sending Jesus to be their Savior (Heb. 1:1; 1 Pt. 2:9-10). They can praise God because eternal life through Jesus is secure (Heb. 12:28). And believers can praise God for the “living hope”, an eternal inheritance in heaven, they have through Christ’s resurrection (1 Pt. 1:3-7). So the main reason to praise God today is to express our gratitude and thanks for all He has done through Jesus (Eph. 5:19-20; Col. 3:16).

Christ’s sacrificial vicarious death is the main reason for praise in heaven (Rev. 5:6-12). And at the end of time, everyone will praise Jesus for being “obedient to death” (Rom. 14:11; Phil. 2:5-11). But God will still be praised in heaven because He created all things at the beginning of time (Rev. 4:11).

Conclusion

The Israelites praised God for three main reasons – because He answered their prayers, because His power was shown in the universe He created, and because His care was shown in how He continued to sustain them and the creation. And today God answers a believer’s prayer, and is still a great Creator (Rom. 1:20) and a great Sustainer of creation (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3). So we can still praise God for these same reasons.

But the main reason to praise God today is to express our gratitude and thanks for all He has done through Jesus Christ (Eph. 5:19-20; Col. 3:16). And this will also be the main reason to praise God at the end of time and in eternity.

Written, June 2019

Protection of religious freedom

“NSW needs freedom of speech laws, even for its own MPs. And also new laws for the protection of religious freedom”, Mark Latham claimed in his first speech to the New South Wales Parliament.

“Many migrants came to Australia to escape religious persecution. Now they are saying the problems in their home country have followed them here.

I’m not a Christian but I recognize the vital contribution of Christianity to our civilization: its vast social and charitable work; its teaching of right and wrong in civil society.

I stand with Israel Folau. In his own private time away from his job playing football, he’s a preacher at his community church and naturally, he quotes the Bible. He believes, as millions of people have believed for thousands of years, that sinners go to Hell. As per his valid religious faith, he loves the sinner but condemns the sin.

Yet for his beliefs, his Christianity, he is not allowed to play rugby, to chase the pigskin around the park. How did our State and our nation ever come to this?

I was on Folau’s list of sinners, more than once actually. But as I don’t believe in Hell, there was no way I could take offence. Those claiming outrage have fabricated their position solely for the purpose of censorship.

This is not an argument about diversity. The Wallabies (Australia’s rugby union team) have no female players, no disabled, no elderly, no middle aged. They are selected from a tiny fraction of the young, fit, athletic male population. By excluding a committed Christian, they are making their game less inclusive.

And as for Folau being a role model for young gay men, one only needs to state this proposition to understand its absurdity. Footballers are not role models for anyone, other than in enjoying their sporting ability. I say to any young person: if you are looking for guidance and inspiration in life, study Churchill, Lincoln, Ronald Reagan and Roosevelt, not Todd Carney (a rugby league footballer).

I believe that no Australian should live in fear of the words they utter. No Australian should be fearful of proclaiming four of the most glorious words of our civilization: “I am a Christian”. No one should be sacked by their employer for statements of genuine belief and faith that have got nothing to do with their job.

The Folau case exposes the new serfdom in the Australian workplace: how big companies, the corporate PC-elites are wanting to control all aspects of their employees’ lives – their religious and political views, how they speak and think, how they behave, even in their own time away from the workplace. This is a stunning intrusion on workers’ rights. Yet far from condemning the new serfdom, Labor and the trade unions have been cheering it on.

As per our One Nation election commitments, I will be moving legislation for the protection of free speech, religious freedom and the privacy rights of workers.”

He also blogged: “Quoting the Bible should not be a workplace crime. The ARU should respect the rights of those who preach valid religious beliefs. They cannot make their game more ‘inclusive’ by excluding committed Christians. I will be moving Protection of Religious Freedom Laws in NSW Parliament later this year. The culture war on Christians must end.”

His motion on religious freedom –
“The House agreed to:
(a) support the basic human right of NSW workers to express political, cultural and religious opinion in their private time, away from their place of work, without suffering employment penalties; and
(b) support Article 18 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political rights, covering the right of each citizen to have freedom of religion.”

Acknowledgement: Extract from a speech by Mark Latham (Member of the Legislative Council) to NSW Parliament, Australia, on 8 May 2019.

Posted, June 2019

Also see: Selective tolerance: Folau verses Rugby Australia
Is the Bible “hate speech” because it’s not “inclusive”?
More discrimination against Israel Folau

Is the Bible “hate speech” because it’s not inclusive?

Rugby Australia have sacked their best player because of the religious views he expressed on Instagram. Since then Israel Folau has begun legal proceedings for unlawful dismissal. As his views were based on the Bible, the Court case could involve an assessment of Christianity and the Bible. It’s possible that parts of the Bible could be deemed to be “hate speech” or homophobic because they aren’t “inclusive”.

Hate speech

Hate speech is language that expresses prejudice against a particular group, especially on the basis of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, or physical or mental disability.

But who decides what is “hate speech” and what is not? This is a very subjective topic as the answer could depend on the worldview of the person making the decision. For example, my views which are influenced by what the Bible says, will be different from those of an LGBT advocate.

We live in a day where biblical truth is considered hate speech. Israel Folau says, “The word of God hurts, and that’s a good thing because it’s meant to turn us away from our sin and turn us to God” and “We should never compromise God’s word in order to make people feel comfortable!!!”

The legal debate

Rugby Australia claims the sacking was for a breach of their Code of Conduct (Appendix A) and Inclusion Policy (Appendix B), which are part of a player’s employment contract. But Folau claims his sacking was unlawful  because section 772 of the Fair Work Act prohibits terminating a worker on the basis of religion. Apparently there is no other law to protect religious freedom in Australia. Section 772 of the Act says that an employer must not terminate an employee’s employment for any one of a list of unlawful reasons, including “religion”. If the parties don’t agree to arbitration by the Fair Work Commission, the employee can make an application to the Federal Court to deal with the matter. In this case they may need to rule on the limitations of an employer’s power to prevent discriminatory expression.

The common understanding of the Fair Work Act is that workers cannot be sacked for expressing their religious views. But Rugby Australia must think that their Code of conduct can over-ride the Act. This is a case where an employer code of conduct appears to contradict an act of parliament. One possible outcome could be a ruling that codes of conduct must not contradict an act of parliament. But this is unlikely because it goes against the prevailing secular sympathy for the LGBT cause!

There is also the aspect of an employer controlling people’s private life. An employer is entitled to regulate out of hours conduct of an employee when it has a relevant connection to the employment. But what if this action contradicts the Fair Work Act? The case has already been referred to the Fair Work Ombudsman by a Liberal senator seeking a ruling on whether an employer can sack an employee for expressing their religious beliefs on social media outside the workplace.

I have previously written about Folau’s Instagram post.     

Does the post target homosexuals?

The answer to this question is “Yes and no”. No, because it targets everyone (we are all “idolators”)! And yes because “homosexuals” are included in a list along with “drunks, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, and idolators”. As the post isn’t only addressed to homosexuals, it doesn’t specifically target homosexuals. So the post isn’t homophobic.

Why have there been no protests about the other categories of people mentioned in the post besides homosexuals? If it is unacceptable for homosexuals, then it should also be unacceptable for drunks, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, and idolators!

Does the post harm homosexuals?

The answer to this will depend on your worldview. I think it doesn’t harm homosexuals (or others) because it tells the truth according to the Bible. It warns about a destiny that can be avoided. It offers help, not harm. A warning isn’t harmful or hateful. So the post isn’t homophobic. But the response by Rugby Australia to the post isn’t in keeping with Folau’s intention.

However, an LGBT advocate, who is ignorant of the Bible or who disregards what it says, would probably think that it was criticizing homosexuals. But this view fails to take the context into account. The post doesn’t target homosexuals directly. Instead it targets everyone. In that case, everyone should be upset, not just homosexuals!

Test case for free speech

Some see the sacking as a threat to free speech and freedom of religion. Are we becoming more restrictive on religious views?

Next weekend the “Religious freedoms at the crossroads conference – The rise of anti-Christian sentiment in the west” is being held at Perth in Australia. As a sign of the times, Facebook has censored this legal conference because it violates their “community standards”! So Facebook refuses to allow anyone to post information about this conference. This shows that our freedom of speech and religious freedom is already under threat. Recently, Open Doors—the global authority on Christian persecution—predicted the end of religious freedom in western nations.

China blocks more than 3,000 foreign websites, including Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. And there is increased censorship of religious discussions on WeChat. In this way freedom of speech and freedom of religion is curtailed in China.

Now the Christian view is being censored. It’s a world where evil is called good and good is called evil. And Christians are like Daniel in Babylon because community standards are against those in the Bible.

Will this trend lead to the Bible being classified as discriminatory hate speech that’s homophobic and not inclusive? Will it be banned from usage in public and be restricted to private use? How ironic! The law of our land, which was based on laws of the Bible, could be used to condemn the Bible! And will Christians be persecuted for their faith like in some Muslim countries?

A similar matter arose in the UK in 2012 when an employee was demoted and lost 40% of his wages after he questioned on his Facebook page about whether churches should be required to perform same-sex weddings. In this instance, the High Court held that the workplace code of conduct could not restrict the employee’s free speech (Smith v Trafford Housing Trust [2012] EWHC 3221).

As you can see, this is a complex situation! And there can be conflicting views. But we can always pray for a good outcome that is fair to all concerned (if that’s possible!).

Pray for those in authority

Paul told Timothy, “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— 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, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all people” (1Tim. 2:1-6NIV). So we need to pray for those in authority “that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness”. If Folau loses his court case it will be difficult for Christians to live peaceful and quiet lives because their Christian views will no longer be acceptable by society. Instead they will be censored.

Conclusion

Rugby Australia sacked their best player because he quoted and paraphrased the Bible. He lost he freedom of religious expression. This could lead to further discrimination against Christians and the censorship of Christian views.

I wonder if Rugby Australia would sack a Muslim player for quoting or paraphrasing the Koran on Facebook or Instagram? They would probably celebrate their multiculturalism instead.

Appendix A: Extract from Rugby Australia, Code of conduct

“Treat everyone equally, fairly and with dignity regardless of gender or gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, cultural or religious background, age or disability. Any form of bullying, harassment or discrimination has no place in Rugby.”  (1.3)

Appendix B: Extract from Rugby Australia, Inclusion policy (August 2014)

Rugby Australia’s inclusion policy, which was adopted in 2014 and states, “Rugby has and must continue to be a sport where players, officials, volunteers, supporters and administrators have the right and freedom to participate regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race or religion and without fear of exclusion. There is no place for homophobia or any form of discrimination in our game and our actions and words both on and off the field must reflect this.” (1.6)

“The overriding objective of this Policy is to make our position on inclusion clear. By doing so, we are signalling our commitment, as the governing body of Rugby Union in Australia, to make a stand to eradicate discrimination in all forms, including harassment and bullying toward gay, lesbian and bisexual people, individually and collectively with other sports codes.” (1.7)

“While this Policy has a focus on homophobia and makes specific reference to gay, lesbian and bisexual people, the overarching principles and intention of the policy is to make a positive statement on the importance of inclusion for all, and the importance of eliminating all forms of discrimination in our game.” (1.8)

Written, June 2019

Also see: Selective tolerance: Folau verses Rugby Australia
Protection of religious freedom
More discrimination against Israel Folau

A major problem

Last week I climbed Uluru (Ayers Rock) in central Australia. On the way down there was a man who became very unwell around 3/4 of the way up the climb chain. He was being assisted by two off-duty police officers and two off-duty paramedics. This turned into a major problem when he suffered a heart attack. They performed CPR and used a defibrillator to shock his heart back into a survivable rhythm, saving his life. A few hours later the man was carefully moved down the steep face of the rock on a stretcher using ropes and pulleys. He was treated at Yulara Health Centre before being flown to Alice Springs Hospital by the Royal Flying Doctor Service, and then to Adelaide for specialist heart surgery.

This post looks at a major problem faced by a commander in the Syrian army, which is described in the Bible. We will see from this that God can deliver us from our major problem.

Text

Naaman’s problem is described in 2 Kings 5:1-15 (NIV):

1 Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram [Syria]. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the Lord had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy.

Now bands of raiders from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet [Elisha] who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”

Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said. “By all means, go,” the king of Aram replied. “I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten sets of clothing. The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: “With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.”

As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, “Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!”

When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: “Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.” So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.”

11 But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage.

13 Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” 14 So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.

15 Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. So please accept a gift from your servant.”

Context

Author – An unknown Jew wrote 1&2 Kings under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Pt. 1:20-21).

Audience – 1 & 2 Kings was written to fellow Jews who were in exile in Babylon.

Content – 1 & 2 Kings is a selective history of Israel from the time of king Solomon (970BC) to the Babylonian exile (586BC). This is about 384 years of history.

When written (or complied) – 1 & 2 Kings was written after the conquest of Judah in 586BC, probably during the Babylonian exile (say about 550BC).

Kingdoms of Israel and Judah – After the reign of Solomon, the Hebrew nation was divided into two kingdoms: Israel was in the north whose capital was Samaria, and Judah was in the south whose capital was Jerusalem. Israel lasted 210 years until it was conquered in 722BC, and Judah lasted 345 years until it was conquered in 586BC. They were conquered because of their idolatry and disobedience of their covenant with God (Dt. 28:32-37, 47-57, 63-64).

Aram (Syria) – Aram was a Gentile nation north-east of Israel whose capital was Damascus. It was an idol worshipping enemy of Israel.

Date of incident – Naaman was healed in about 850BC, which was about three years after the king of Israel (Ahab) was killed in a war between Aram and Israel.

What happened before? – The incident is preceded by examples of Israel’s sin (idolatry), which was followed by God’s judgment (defeat in battle and death). There are also examples of Israel’s faithfulness, which is followed by God’s reward (victory in battle).

What happened afterwards? – The incident is followed by Gehazi’s (Elisha’s servant) sin (greed), which is followed by God’s punishment (leprosy).

How did God usually communicate to people in those days? God communicated via prophets, whose message is recorded in the Old Testament.

What happened?

Naaman had a major problem – a skin disease like leprosy. This was a serious skin disease that covered his body for everyone to see. As this was incurable, he would have been dismayed and depressed. And he would have felt like someone who had terminal cancer.

But this isn’t the end of the story. The Biblical account describes how, with the help of God, Naaman was delivered from his problem. This involved traveling about 250 km (155 miles) from Damascus to Samaria to receive instructions from the prophet Elisha.

What did it mean then?

What’s the main point?

God healed a Gentile, who was outside the promises given to Israel! All Naaman had to do was to obey the Lord’s message given by Elisha. Jesus explained that when Israel rejected God, a Gentile received the covenant blessing instead (Lk. 4:24-27). For the Israelites, obedience led to physical blessings (Dt. 28:1-14). And disease was one of the punishments for disobedience (Dt. 28:21-22, 27-29). This was a lesson to the disobedient Israelites that they would only receive God’s blessing if they obeyed God.

This shows that God cared for people outside His special people (the Israelites). For example, God also cared for the people of Nineveh who were Assyrians, one of Israel’s enemies (Jon. 4:11). These Gentiles were “without hope and without God” (Eph. 2:11-12). But God’s kindness and grace is shown when He helps those like Gentiles who don’t deserve His help.

What other things did we notice?

There were a chain of people involved in Naaman’s healing: the servant girl-Naaman’s wife-Naaman-the king of Aram (Syria)-the king of Israel-Elisha-Elisha’s messenger-Naaman’s servants. We see that God uses people to carry out His purposes on earth. This includes both the godly (servant girl), and the ungodly (king of Israel). As God intended for Israel, she was a witness to God’s power (1 Ki. 8:41-43). Meanwhile, the king of Israel was worshipping idols.

There was only one way to be healed. Naaman had to overcome his pride and follow God’s instructions to be delivered from leprosy. Naaman thought his cure could be bought with wealth, but Elisha refused payment for what God had done. And Naaman thought that Elisha would heal him in a dramatic way, but it was clear that Elisha was not a healer but God’s messenger. Instead he was healed by the power of God.

After he was healed, Naaman changed from worshipping idols to worshipping the true God. This shows that he knew who had healed him and he was grateful and thankful.

What does it mean now?

What has changed since when Naaman lived?

How has the Bible changed? We now have the New Testament. Since the time of Naaman, Jesus has come and fulfilled the promises in the Old Testament of a Messiah.

Who are God’s people today? They are believers in Jesus Christ who are also called Christians, or the church. They can be from any nation – Jews have no special privileges, and Gentiles have no special barriers. They live under the new covenant given in the New testament, and not under the old one given to Moses. The books of Acts to Revelation in the Bible were written to the early church.

Under the new covenant, God promises spiritual blessings to those who follow Him, and not physical blessings like those in the old covenant (Dt. 28:1-14; Eph. 1:3).

What’s the main point?

What’s our major problem today? Is it poverty? War? Terrorism? Global warming? The economy? Destruction of the natural environment? Overpopulation? Or, inequality? Like Naaman’s disease, these are all physical problems.

The Bible says that the root cause of all these problems is human sin. We have all sinned and the consequence is separation from God (Rom. 3:23; 6:23). So sin is our major problem. It’s all-encompassing. It’s like terminal cancer. And it keeps us from going to heaven, which is God’s perfect place for us. But unlike the other problems, it’s spiritual and not physical.

Naaman was healed after he humbly obeyed God’s instruction. At first, he arrogantly wanted to wash in the rivers of Damascus, instead of washing in the Jordan river in Israel. But after he changed his mind and washed in the Jordan river, he was delivered from the leprosy. Likewise, if we obey God’s instruction in the Bible, God can deliver us from our major problem of sin.

What’s sin?

The word ’sin’ can mean different things for different people including the following:

– Something naughty but fun (not too serious – like pornography – even adultery), or
– Something completely normal which religious weirdo’s think is wrong (like dancing), or
– A list of don’ts that an angry fictional God keeps score over, or
– Big ticket moral failures (like murder, theft etc.).

According to the Bible, sin is anything that we think, say, or do that displeases God or that breaks His laws. And it includes not doing what we know we should. Sin is a symptom of humanity’s rebellion against God.

Lessons for us

What’s the application to unbelievers?

Like Naaman, unbelievers have a major problem. It’s called sin. But they can be delivered if they obey God’s instructions by confessing their sin and trusting in Christ’s vicarious payment of the penalty. Like Naaman, there is only one way of deliverance. It’s good to know that God can deliver us from our major problem. But we need to seek His help.

We’re all rebels and God is entitled to hold us to account for our treatment of Him. But judgment isn’t the last word with God. The good news is that, whilst “the wages of sin is death [separation from God]” … “the free gift of God is eternal life [in heaven] through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23NLT). So, while there’s still time, stop and ask Jesus for help.

What’s the application to believers?

Like the servant girl, Christians know about God’s solution to people’s major problem of sin. But do we share God’s way of deliverance with others?

After Naaman was healed, he offered thanks and praise to the real God who delivered him from a major problem. Do we regularly thank and praise God for delivering us from the penalty of our sin?

Written, June 2019

Sin is not as much fun as you think

Why do we sin? Because it’s a chore – of course not! Actually, we do the wrong thing because it’s fun, satisfying or seems too difficult to resist. Why would we bother if it weren’t any of those things? Lowering the car window and letting rip at the stupid person blocking our way… how good did that feel? Revealing that choice morsel of information … everyone in the office deserves to know what happened! Mostly, our sin reveals a lot about the kind of person we really are.

Some years back a newspaper article named seven high profile males (mostly politicians) found to be adulterers. Collectively they had fathered 24 children. The article pondered the damage caused to those 24 lives and the sad ending to public careers.

Why did those men behave so destructively? It’s tempting to excuse their actions by finding fault with sexless or unsatisfying marriages. But let’s not forget the ‘fun’ part. They gave in to what the Bible calls ‘the fleeting pleasures of sin’ (Hebrews 11:25). And even if their marriages were rocky and difficult, was adultery the solution? Had they worked hard, with counsellors, to make their marriages work? Unlikely. But now there was a social stigma to be borne. And not just by them. Wives and children are always caught up as well. Life after sin can be an eternity of regret.

There’s another more important answer to the question, ‘Why do we sin?’ And it’s this. We haven’t taught ourselves to hate what is evil. Are we feeling downcast about sin because we’ve been caught out? There needs to be a better reason. We need to hate evil because it’s evil. And we need to care about pleasing God. If that’s our mindset then, when temptation presents, we’ll feel alarmed, even nauseous at the prospect of betraying God.

There’s a letter in the Bible written by the missionary, Paul of Tarsus to Christians in the city of Rome. It contains a great challenge.

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect (Romans 12:2).

A little later on in his letter Paul writes:

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong [evil]. Hold tightly to what is good (Romans 12:9).

None of us have the strength to do this perfectly. We need God’s help. Let’s pray to Him about this.

Prayer: Dear God, give me the strength to say, ‘No’ to temptation so that I can honor you and protect both myself and those around me.

Bible verse: Romans 12:9 “Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong [evil]. Hold tightly to what is good“.

Acknowledgement: This article was sourced from Outreach Media, Sydney, Australia.
Images and text © Outreach Media 2019

Posted June 2019

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