Aug 30 2010

Put Not Your Trust In Princes

This morning I preached for the 4th and 5th times. It has been about 18 months since my first sermon and I could reasonably expect to be out of practice. Over that time I have done a bit of teaching and public speaking, so I’m much less nervous speaking to a group that I have been in the past. The preparation work was still a challenge.

I had around a fortnight’s notice that Dad would be away this weekend, so when I offered to preach I knew I had plenty of time to get ready. I have been planning a series on the implications of Jesus death and resurrection, but I wanted to do more preparation on the whole series before delivering any of it. Instead I planned to preach on the life of Stephen (no, Stephen the deacon from Acts 5-7).

Then came election night. In the early hours after the inconclusive election result, I decided to change the passage and preach on a section that I was pointed to after the last election in 2007. I have been a John Howard fan for many years, including tipping him to win the 1996 election when I was just 9 (although my opinion of him grew less rosy in his last term). So I took as my text, Psalm 146:3 “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal man, who cannot save.”

There is a hat tip to Mr Howard and a dig at New Zealand PM Helen Clark at the start (after the Scripture readings), but I hope they don’t detract from the substance of the message. You can listen to the audio or peruse my notes.


Aug 21 2010

Election Eve

My earliest political memory is the ascention of Alexander Downer to the leadership of the Liberal Party in May 1994. The Downer Months meant little to me except that the Liberals were willing to give a young man a go and, as I later realised, in doing so provided fodder for cartoonist and satirists for the rest of his political career.

After months of oh-so-serious political coverage, it’s time for a break. Here’s The Micallef Programme’s take on the Glory Day of the Liberal Party that was The Downer Months.


Aug 17 2010

At the Ballot Box

When you go to the ballot box, how do you decide who to vote for?

Hopefully, you won’t follow the recent advice from former Labor leader Mark  Latham and cast an informal ballot.

I’ve been following the coverage of the influence of Christian voters and their concerns again this time around. The assumption is that Christians are interested in a single set of issues, represented in publications such as the Australian Christian Values Checklist or the Australian Christian Lobby’s Political Party Position Summary (PDF). These each have their strengths, such as the research into policies and voting patterns that goes into the checklist. I’m very thankful for the work these groups to keep me informed of the issues they have prioritised with their limited resources.

However, as my friend Tim Malone points out, these are not the only issues to which Christians should seek to apply their faith. While a strong economy is an important part of keeping a society vibrant, it should not automatically overrule the effective use of our national influence and development aid on the international stage and the provision of services for the homeless and mentally ill. Our concern should certainly be more than which party will put more in our back pocket, as John Dickson writes.

A church historian may not appear that obvious choice to deal with this issue, but in his soon to be released book Republocrat: Confessions of a Liberal Conservative, Carl Trueman writes:

My purpose is merely to show that the situation should not be as simple as the gurus of the Religious Right or their opponents on the secular Left seek to make it. Indeed, the overall thesis of this book is not so much a political one; rather, it can be summed up as “Politics in democracy is a whole lot more complicated than either political parties or your pastor tell you it is; treat it as such – learn about the issues and think for yourself.” This is why it is strangely appropriate for a trained historian, rather than a philosopher, to write this little book. The task of the historian, as one of my good historian friends often says, is to make things more complicated.

Perhaps as a broadcaster I can use my own innate qualities to I oversimplify things by quoting only the exciting bits:

To cite the Greek apologists, Christians are to be the best citizens, and being the best citizens requires being informed and thoughtful on a whole host of issues that impact the civic sphere. As Christians, therefore, we need above all things to think carefully about politics, to engage the process and the issues in a way that respects their complexity, and to avoid the clichés, oversimplifications, and Manichaeism that bedevil electoral campaigns.

Trueman seeks to break the good/bad Manichaeism of politics by challenging the indentification of the Gospel with any political group or nation. I found this teaser for his book challenging on this point.

You can read a sample of the book here and listen to an interview with the Reformed Forum.

Let me challenge you to consider how you can put your vote to work for the best, not only for yourself but for the nation. Please read, pray and think about your vote.  On a practical level, you can practise how to vote at the Australian Electoral Commission website. I’ve been particularly impressed by a tool for creating your own how to vote card for the Senate by editing party cards at belowtheline.org.au.