Why My New Church Might Just Be A Real Estate Agent

NEWCASTLE, NSW – The minister of a small, Presbyterian church in the Newcastle suburb of Wallsend has gotten much more than he bargained for when he posted this message on his church billboard earlier this week.

A church spokesman confirmed to the Newcastle Herald that the billboard was in response to the introduction of two separate bills to legalise same-sex marriage in federal parliament on Monday.

The billboard out the front of Wallsend Presbyterian Church, as it appeared earlier this week.
Local opinion on the Herald website about the billboard has been fiery. From “I take offense to this as a tradie!”, to “Keep your religious views out of my life. If God created me, he should accept that he made me gay!”

I especially liked this one. “I’m gay, I’m Christian, I’m a tradie and I guess I’m stuffed in the eyes of that particular church. I’m also proud that the church I belong to includes and welcomes my partner and I for what we are.”

I am wondering how I find out where that couple worships. Sounds like a place I’d like to visit.

It seems that some were not content to just leave online comments. Later this morning, the Herald updated the story. Here’s how the billboard now appears, after someone took exception, and a spraycan, to it. And to the church building.

 

Oh dear.
I Googled the church in question in order to get their email address. I wanted to send them a picture of something I wondered if they’d recognise. This – as any tradie will tell you – is a universal joint.
What I found on their website – besides the email address, was a picture of the front of the building, (appearing as it was before they had to paint over the last lot of graffiti, which occurred the last time they posted a similar message on their billboard) including the business next door, presumably for reference purposes.
I wonder if you see the irony here.
So *that’s* where it all went.
*****
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Good Girls Never Change The World

Of all the stories surrounding Jesus that appear in the Bible, one of my favourites would have to be the account in John chapter four of the Samaritan woman who speaks with Jesus at the well. Now, I’ve heard many readings of this passage, most which focus entirely on Jesus’ words and actions – mostly lauding His marvellous condescension at lowering himself to speak to a woman, and a Samaritan at that. I realise that it is indicative of Jesus’ nature that he seemingly wasn’t bound by sexist or racist conventions. But why are we so surprised? Why would he be bound by sexist or racist conventions?

Er, Son of God, people.

I’m not that surprised Jesus was prepared to speak to the Samaritan woman. (And just as an aside, I’m trying to imagine what it would be like to be identified in your most defining moment throughout the ages not by your name, but instead by two words representing your ethnic group and your gender. “Hi everyone, you may know me as the ’Samaritan Woman’, but my name is really Pamela Jones……” )

No, I’m not surprised Jesus was prepared to speak to a Samaritan woman. Jesus never was one for conventions. What I am surprised about is the fact that the Samaritan woman was prepared to speak to Jesus right back. Because women – especially Samaritan women – just didn’t do that sort of thing.

Not only did she speak with Jesus, at length, about theology (what was she thinking?), she went back to her town and told everyone there what they talked about. And as if it wasn’t bad enough to fess up to openly conversing with a Jewish rabbi in order to tell people about Jesus, she also had to blather quite a bit of personal information about herself. Not that they probably didn’t already know of her shadowy past, but nevertheless, it was pretty brave of her to bring it up. In public. “I just met up with this man…” (I can hear them – “Oh, really?”) “…who told me everything I ever did.” she reports. Which part? “Oh, just the part about me being married five times before, and how the guy I’m living with now isn’t even my husband.” Oops. Embarrassed much? Apparently not.

“Come see a man who told me everything I ever did.” Come on! Don’t hassle me now about all that living-in-sin crap. Come and see him!

Come meet the guy who read me like a book. Come see the man who exposed my shameful actions and didn’t flinch. Come listen to the rabbi who shouldn’t have spoken to me, but who did, and to whom I spoke back.

Funny thing is, they did come.

And the Bible says that “many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I ever did.’” The Samaritans went off and sought Jesus out, and had him come stay with them for a few days so they could learn more. And because of that, many more believed.

I love the Samaritan woman. She didn’t have anything else to report except “I met Jesus, and he knew all my crap.” That was all she had to say, and it was more than enough to bring the Way, the Truth and the Life to a people who would otherwise have avoided Jesus like the plague, and who would not have had a disciple come within a stones throw in a pink fit.

Good for her. I guess that’s why she’s in the Bible – someone obviously thought what even with all the things she had done wrong, something the Samaritan woman did was very, very right.

 

Why Jesus Doesn’t Want Your Smooshy Love

There’s no doubt in most Christians minds that that Jesus was – and is – the kind of guy that just loves people to bits. After all, according to John 3:16, He did die on the cross for our redemption. A heck of a lot of people love Jesus right back too, and rightly so. After all, Jesus is not just the savior of mankind, He was pretty amazing as a human being, too. It’s fully appropriate that we regard, respect and admire Jesus, as we do all the amazing people we know of, especially ones who do great things for us personally, and for the collective good of mankind. But there’s something weird going on with Christians these days, particularly Christian women. It seems it’s no longer enough to love Jesus Christ as God, as a great person, as a savior, a brother, or a friend. People – men and women – are falling in love with Jesus. That’s falling in loveromantically – like they do in movies, like you do with your first crush, like you do with your boyfriend or girlfriend, husband or wife, like with Johnny Depp or Orlando Bloom or Aragorn. Christians are falling in love with Jesus – and encouraging others to do the same –  just like teens at a Twilight movie. Like swooning fans of Justin Beiber and his ilk, they’re falling for Jesus in churches and gatherings everywhere, quickly, obsessively, and sometimes even with a great big mob of their screaming friends.

Am I the only person who isn’t totally comfortable with this?

This is actually a veeeeery sensitive topic for me to broach. Many of my dearest friends enjoy what seem to be deeply intimate and even romantic relationships with the person of Jesus Christ, and I have no wish to criticise or alienate them. But I don’t share their feelings, and the whole falling in love with Jesus thing just makes me feel very uncomfortable. I’ve tried to do it, and I’ve been strenuously encouraged  – by the usual methods; socialisation, sermon, and song – to push my relationship with Christ to it’s utmost emotional and spiritual limits, for as long as I can remember. But after all these years loving Christ and being loved back, I think I’ve found those limits, and they’ve stopped way before I could ever consider myself to be in love with Jesus. I consider Him my brother, my friend, my master and my Lord. But my lover?

Ew.

You see, I already have a lover. His name is Ben. I married him 23 years ago, and we have 4 children together. We’ve had our troubles, but at this time we are more in love than ever we have been. God gave us to each other, we believe, and we seek His help and guidance in our marriage every day. And we enjoy a level of physical intimacy with one another we don’t share with anyone else. This love we have is God-ordained, and absolutely appropriate. The Bible describes this love in Greek as eros – sexy love – and according to the Bible it’s for the enjoyment of people who are married to each other.

Ben is also my friend. We’ve been friends for a little longer than we’ve been married, and we are best friends. Literally, best friends. I don’t have a female best friend – I gave them up a few years ago. Female best friend making and keeping caused so many problems in my marriage, I stopped trying to keep Ben and the female best friends, and decided just to keep the one friend I promised to love forever in front of God and everyone. I have a lot of friends, people I love, admire, respect and have history with, and like my marriage, this is a God-ordained kind of love. The Greek word is philio – brotherly love. I love my husband as my friend and brother in Christ, and he does the same for me.  I also love my male and female friends that way, and this is entirely as it should be.

I have these other people in my life I love better than friends, but not in the same way I love Ben. My family – my parents, my children and my biological brothers. The Greek word for this is storge – familial love.

The other kind of love – one the Bible talks about in relation to God and us – is agape. Agape love is selfless, sacrificial, unconditional – and it’s the love God has for us. This is the most difficult kind of love to practice, because it cuts the strings of expectation and obligation and just gives itself to it’s object expecting nothing in return. I try to love people with agape – and we’re all encouraged as Christians and worshippers of God to love others as God loves us – but I’m not very good at it. Agape is God’s special kind of love, and it’s a miracle working kind of love. In fact, the only miracles I have ever seen or known of are the ones where agape love was practiced or experienced in its simplest and purest form.

In church, as far back as the eighties, congregations have been encouraged to fall in love with Jesus. I recall songs we sang, such as I Keep Falling In Love With Him, Jesus – Lover Of My Soul and Falling In Love With Jesus, and I know they made me squirm a little. We used to sing this song that went Jesus, you have stolen my heart, I’m captivated by you, and I just couldn’t bring myself to sing it. I tried, but to be honest, it just felt weird talking about Him this way. I used to sing, Jesus, you have all of my heart, but even that seemed off, and was actually quite untrue. Jesus didn’t have all of my heart, hadn’t stolen the part He did have, and I wondered why we needed to use these images to describe what was meant to be the most natural, healthy thing for me to do in the world – have a relationship with Christ, and love the people He gave me to.

Besides, I didn’t want to see Jesus as someone I could just fall in love with. I didn’t want my relationship with Christ to descend into the kind of emotional quagmire other romantic obsessions had in my past. And really, that’s what falling in love means, isn’t it? Romantic obsession. I don’t know about you, but all my romantic obsessions had the following features. 1) They were based on an unrealistic picture of the person I was obsessed by  2) They sprang and were perpetuated from a place of deep unmet needs in me that actually needed to remain unmet for the obsession to continue 3) They inevitably ended badly, but always ended, because that kind of heightened emotional lust is simply not able to be satisfied, isn’t in any way sustainable, and most certainly is not healthy.

There’s another thing. The biggest problem I have with imagining myself to be in love with Jesus is the imagining part. Falling in love as a rule relies very, very heavily not on the wisdom, the will or the character of either of the lover or the loved – but on boundary breaking, fantasy and false expectation.

Do you really think Jesus wants us to do this? For Him?

I believe Christ loves me with philio love – I am certainly His friend. I also believe He loves me with what the Greeks called storge love – I am His sister, too. I have no trouble believing He loves me with agape love – His sacrificial love for me is evidenced in His actions on the cross on my behalf. But do I believe Christ wants me to express, feel or encourage anything other than these kinds of love toward Him?

I think when it comes to worshipping Christ, contemporary Christianity has kind of lost the plot. Instead of teaching reverence and the art of relationship, because that’s all far too traditional and pedestrian and not very sexy, we’ve instead created a physical and spiritual celebrity of Jesus Christ and then made ourselves into His silly, screaming fans. We imagine Jesus as our doe-eyed boyfriend and cast Him in our imaginations as a youthful, chisel-featured and ever chaste lover. We then paint ourselves in the role of perky-breasted ingenue in some broody teen movie based on Song of Solomon. But despite the fact the Bible describes Christ returning for His bride – the Church – that bride isn’t literally us, as individuals, as lovers. Jesus doesn’t want to be our boyfriend. He doesn’t want to be our lover, in the sensual, sexual or erotic sense, at all. Call me old fashioned, but the more I get to know Him, the more I know He has no interest in sweeping me off my feet. Sorry, but that swoony Jesus movie you and He star in is all in your head. All the romantic notions of falling in love simply go against everything Jesus ever said or did when He was here, and everything that was said about Him before He came, and after He left.

I actually think the depiction of Jesus as a romantic object detracts from our relationships with real people, and teaches us to remain spiritually and emotionally immature. I don’t want the kind of relationship in my imagination I have with my real-life husband. It feels erky. God gave me a husband made of flesh for a reason. Because I am made of flesh. I don’t want to be chasing after an imaginary, pin-up Jesus when I have a real life Ben and a ring on my finger.

I know we’ve been told that loving our spouses and families and friends must come second to loving Jesus. For me, I find there’s just no competition between them. In order for a competition to exist, I would have to shift Jesus Christ away from the God/Deity department in my head, and move Him across to the other part with the beings who won’t clean the toilet after themselves and who look funny naked. Maybe your head doesn’t work like that, but I suspect it does, and I happen to think loving Jesus and James Patterson with the same part of you is going to mess you up big time.

Jesus is not your boyfriend, and – male or female – I don’t think you should try to fall in love with Him. If you don’t have a part of you that can feel loved without needing to be pashed, pined over or pursued, you need to do some work on that. We were made to worship God, but worship is not what the world has taught us it is. It’s not appropriate to love God like a celebrity, a pop star, or that unattainable sex-god you drooled over at high school. Gods love is pure, and unlike romantic love, wants nothing from you. It cannot disappoint you. Your brother, friend and saviour Jesus Christ has transcended all that gushy, pop-star stuff, and what He has to offer you is vastly more interesting than anything you can think up, even in the most vivid imagination.

The final word, from the best known scripture on love.

“When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things.

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.

Three things will last forever–faith, hope, and love–and the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13: 11 – 13

A Friend Loves At All Times

A great friend of ours died this week. When I say Fred Ulbricht was a great friend, what I mean is that he was great, and we were his friends. Fred received a new set of lungs in a transplant in 2009, after falling ill with a degenerative lung disease. He’d been doing pretty well since then, but became unwell again recently, and passed away in a hospice early this week. He leaves behind a beautiful wife and six grown children, all of whom are some of the most amazing human beings you’re ever likely to meet.
They’ve had their share of tragedy, the Ulbricht family, and a lot of it has happened this year. Earlier in the year, their son Mark and his wife Jac lost their young daughter Indigo to brain cancer. She died suddenly, tragically before anything could be done. Then just weeks ago, Fred’s brother passed away after a long illness. Too many tears, too much sadness. Yet the dignity this family has shown is inspiring.
We have a lot of wonderful memories of Fred. He was an elder, and then a pastor, in our church when Ben and I were young parents ourselves. I remember there was talk at one stage that Fred and his wife Narelle would be going to London to plant a church, and Ben and I were invited to come and help them. I’d be the worship leader. It never happened, but I reckon it would have been a complete hoot if it had.
Freds final years were spent unlearning many of the things he’d learned about church, Christianity and pastoring for the thirty or so years prior to his transplant. We lost contact for a long time, and got back in touch around the time Ben and I reconciled and had started to rethink our faith as well. Fred was a militant revolutionary for change in the church in this country, and his reach did not stop here. Fred began to be known amongst progressive and emergent church circles across the globe as not just a leading thinker, but also a true pastor – someone who loved to lead people, and lead purely in order to love people better, to show them God’s love, to reveal His true nature and help them shed the shackles of religion and churchianity. I loved Fred’s guts, and he loved mine – he told me so.
I didn’t actually write this as a tribute to Fred, because I just don’t now how to even begin to do that. I wrote it to just tell people who Fred was to me, and what I promised him I’d do. I promised Fred I would continue to do what he did, to pursue this love revolution he so passionately believed in. And also to remind people that time is short. There is no time left to mess around. This is it, people. Get to it, and get busy. Those people around you now are the people God has given you to. Don’t keep looking out there, back there, over there for your purpose. It’s here and it’s now.
Fred loved people because God loved him. He knew what he knew about God’s love and grace was what people really needed to know. And I agree. It’s time to cut through the crap. Your family? Love them. Your friends? Love them, now. The people you don’t agree with? Love, love, love them. Without holding back, without puling away. Stay in peoples faces. There is no later. There is only now.

Oh my God, Fred, you were so right. You were so right.

If I’d realised for the past thirty years what I know now, I’d have been doing and saying what I’m doing and saying now a long time ago. Stop with the stupid, trivial shit. Stop hiding, pretending and trying to make people think you’re okay. Stop holding things up between you and your neighbour and saying “God said I have to hold this up between us.” Stop telling people God hates them because they do this, that and the other thing. Stop believing God hates you because you do this, that and the other thing.Time is short. Only love matters. Although I can’t believe I just wrote it, I actually really, really mean that.

It has been said that the glory of God is man fully alive. I knew Fred Ulbricht – I have seen the glory of God.

Please click here for details of the Charity Event for Indigo Piaf Ulbricht

The Opposite Of Love

I remember a few years ago there was this discussion in Christian circles about exactly what the opposite of love could be, because there needs to be an explanation for all the terrible things people do to each other.  If they’re not loving, what are they doing instead? What do they need to stop doing so they can be loving, as God is loving? What are the things that stop Christians, and those who are not Christians, from loving their neighbours, and anyone else in their world, for that matter? What is this key that could help Christians carry out 1 John 4:7 (Let us love one another) potentially stop wars, cure poverty and just generally make people get along with each other?

We’d all been assuming for ages that the opposite of love was hate. But then someone pointed out that you can hate someone and love someone at the same time, and that you can demonstrate hating behaviours directly towards someone you profess love for and vice versa. And we knew it was in fact possible to hold onto ones hate for someone or something and give all the outward appearances of love, or even to love just one sort of person and hate another sort for quite arbitrary reasons, if there were sufficient incentive to do so. So we stopped saying love and hate were opposites anymore, and resolved to just accept that in certain circumstances sometimes hating was unavoidable, and love impossible.

So after that, they said the opposite of love must be fear, because we only hate what we are afraid of, and once we know all about something and don’t fear it any more we are able to love it. For example, Christians were encouraged to learn about and understand varying religious practices and sexual expressions in the hope that this would lead to greater capacity to love the people engaged in them. But unfortunately, ‘others’ remained ‘others’ despite everything we knew about them, the only difference being that Christians now knew more about the people they hated and could object to them in more personal and informed ways than ever was previously possible. Fear, it seemed, could not be eradicated by love, but fear could be useful in helping us work out who God’s enemies were.

But then someone else said, no, it’s not fear that’s the opposite of love, it’s is actually indifference. And we all went “yeah…”, because we could all relate to being on the receiving end of someone else’s total lack of positive regard, or any regard whatsoever, be it positive or negative. We appreciated that what people aren’t aware of, they can’t have any feelings toward – they can’t love what they don’t acknowledge. Christians understood indifference – we experienced it when we tried to tell the world they were all dying in their sin and going to hell, and then refused to come to church or know and appreciate our Lord and Saviour. We were also well versed ourselves in demonstrating indifference toward people or issues we had no vested interest in changing or improving, or where we could effect no change favourable to our cause. We all agreed indifference had to be at the opposite end of the spectrum from love. The absence of any feeling or sentiment, empathy or interest in the other, whether feigned or inadvertent, surely had to be the opposite of what Jesus had in mind, except in the cases where one deliberately maintained one’s innocence, ignorance or naivety for reasons of maintaining good mental health or physical safety. We couldn’t be held responsible for loving those we went out of our way to avoid ever coming across in the first place.

Time has passed. The world is changing. Love in all it’s forms is needed now more than ever before. The older I get, the more I understand that the world, and by the world I mean the earth and all the people on it, has some fairly significant problems, and that I am one of them. I can tell you what I hate and what I’m afraid of, even though I know Christ teaches me to love, and tells me that love comes from God. I think about the pressing social issues in my part of the world and wonder at my own capacity for indifference when it comes to solving these issues, or even being part of the solution. I search for smiles. I stare into the blank expressions of the people around me in the street, and I think, surely, we are all as capable of love, even small expressions of it, small acts of kindness, as we are of indifference, of fear, of hate?

We are. But we don’t.

There is no opposite of love. There is love, and you do, or you do not. It’s within us to do it, all the time, to everyone. It’s how we were made. When it comes to how we were made to love, the gears work only in one direction, but at various speeds, including not at all if we so choose. They don’t go backwards. There’s no opposite to love. Hate, fear and indifference are different sets of gears, and let’s face it, running all your gears at once is exhausting; no wonder we pick only the ones that require least resistance. Hate and fear pull from their own momentum but move quickly once they get going, they feed off each other. Indifference gets busy and greases those gears. But love needs someone out front to throw the propellor before it can even get off the ground. With love, you’re the mechanic, the pilot the navigator and the passenger. Love is harder work, but takes you much further, and the view is better.

Why do we overcomplicate things? Does it help us in actually practicing love to think love has opposites? Or does it merely justify our own reasons for not doing it, or provide the ammunition to aim at someone else we think should be? I have been the recipient of an act of love perpetrated by someone who lacks the capacity to tie their own shoes, directed at me for no other reason than I was present in the room. Love is not quantum physics.

If fear, hate and indifference are anywhere in the equation, its perhaps only to demonstrate what poor excuses they make. The propensity for fear might not indicate a lack of love on our own part, but perhaps where there is a lack of being loved on someone else’s. If the fearful person were properly loved, would they be so afraid? Our tendency to hate stems less from our incapacity to extend regard than it does from our wish to keep the unknown far away from us. If a hateful person were properly loved, might they be less threatened by the society of others? Indifference comes not from inadvertent ignorance, but from deliberate self-centredness. If an indifferent person were properly loved, might they be more willing to see the world through others eyes, on purpose?

Love, therefore, is not so much the opposite of fear, hate and indifference as it is the cure for it. People who are properly loved will not be afraid, hateful or naive, and it’s our mission as Christians to love one another, because love comes from God.  When we have learned how to be loved properly by God ourselves, through Christ, we will release love’s alternatives, and seek to practice it at every opportunity. Our mission surely then as professors and disciples of Christ is to do what He did. Love people. And do it properly.

 

Why It’s So Hard To Love Others

I used to think alcoholics lay around on park benches in trench coats with brown paper bags clutched to their wheezing chests. Or that they teetered on bar stools until closing time while their wives, vacantly clutching a cigarette and staring at an empty dining chair, explained to the children daddy is working late again. I saw all this on TV, so it must be true. Alcoholics were not us; they were others. That was until my husband became an alcoholic.

My husband didn’t frequent bars or park benches. My husband did not even think he could have been an alcoholic before he went to an AA meeting. There he met people who were not park bench dwellers or bar stool teeterers. They were secretaries, real estate agents and builders with careers, families and home loans. They were not others. They were just like him.

We would all like to think we are not one of those “others”. But we are all others to someone. We all are good and bad, strangers and friends, aliens and natives. And because we all are others, when we judge others, we judge ourselves.

Jesus told us to love other people in the same way we love ourselves. When we do this, they stop being others, and start being one anothers. This phrase “one another” appears 43 times in the New Testament. One anothers are not the same thing as others. The very word “other” denotes difference. “One another” means simply another one of what ourselves are. If we can see everyone else as we ourselves are, in fact, as God sees us all, then it becomes much harder to judge who is worthy of our preference and regard and who is not.

The problem is not that we don’t know how to love people. It’s that we have this others mentality in the first place. Others has come not to mean other people, it has come to mean other sexual preferences, other religions, other genders, other ways of seeing and being which are different from our own. We look around us and see not one hundred people who need love and regard, but one hundred reasons not to love or regard people.

Why wait until people change to be more like you to love and regard them? Why wait until they put more on or take more away? Why wait until they walk your way or talk your way?

Jesus didn’t say “love others as I loved you”. He said “love one another as I have loved you”. In Jesus eyes, there were no others, only people, just like himself – one anothers.

Who are the others? In fact, we see people as we are, not as they are. When there is a mote in the eye, it makes the seer think the problem is a beam floating out there in space. No wonder the world looks like such a mess.