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Allan Chapple makes the case that ongoing personal meditation on the words and works of God is an integral part of the Christian way of life, and teaches us how to approach it. Allan is Senior Lecturer in New Testament at Trinity Theological College, Perth.

More and more I find myself the odd man out. Whether it’s on the bus or the train, or even walking down the street, more often than not I am the only one not gazing in silent adoration at a shiny flat rectangle over which the head is bowed reverently. However, I don’t mind being an oddity here, because I still enjoy thinking! What does trouble me is the fact that all of the devotees around me don’t seem to do any. Somewhere at the back of all this, mixed up with the old fogey within, is the awareness of how much importance the Bible attaches to thinking—enough to expect that I will do some every day.

Willing to be persuaded, you pull out your much-thumbed concordance and look up ‘think’—only to find that the first two New Testament entries say ‘do not think …’ (Matt 3:9; 5:17)! So where do we find this alleged biblical imperative to put thinking on the daily agenda? Have look at Joshua 1:8 and Psalm 1:2, where it is hard to miss ‘day and night’! And then look at Psalms 77:11-12 and 143:5: in company with remembering and considering, ‘meditation’ has to be a kind of thinking. This means that the Bible is heading in a very different direction from mystics of all stripes, for whom meditation means stilling the mind and even shutting it down in order to experience a deep inner reality beyond cognition. The Bible, by contrast, is talking about a way of filling the mind and stirring it up to do its job, so that I live my life every day with God and to honour God.

So what thinking does meditation involve? The Bible wants us to be recalling and reflecting on the works of God (Ps143:5; 145:4-6): primarily what he has done to save his people (Ps 77:10-15, 20), but also his work as creator and ruler of all (Ps 104:34, referring to the whole Psalm). I am also to remember and consider God's word. This is made especially clear in Psalm 119, which can be read as an extensive meditation on meditating. Because there are so many riches waiting for you there, I won’t spoil it by telling you what they are—but I will list where the Psalm focuses, with each item in the list needing another careful read through all 176 verses to find everything it says on that topic. Psalm 119 registers the fact that God speaks words of many kinds, all of them important; it gives many reasons that make meditating on these words necessary; it identifies how I will come to regard them as a result and also what else I should be doing with them every day; it refers to a range of benefits I will receive by meditating on them; and it alerts me to the various ways this will shape how I respond to God.

This is obviously important, especially if I should be doing it daily—but how does it work? How do I go about meditating? Here is a method I can’t recommend:

‘Alarm clock exploded dead on 5.30 a.m… Crawled downstairs and knelt, bleary eyed, in the sitting room. Put my watch on the floor in front of me so as not to carry on past seven thirty. Started contemplating eternity at exactly 5.34 a.m. Kept my eyes shut and tried to concentrate on things going on for ever and ever. Not easy. Found my thoughts drifting off to holidays, and why don’t you see those wicker waste-paper baskets any more … I remembered what I was supposed to be thinking about. Clenched my mind and tried really hard. After about an hour, opened my eyes to check the time. It was 5.44 a.m.'1

So where can I go to get the help I need? One possibility is to look to the Puritans, who published many guides to meditating on the works and words and worth of God.2 While usually full of good things, these are often so thorough they can make it seem too complex and daunting for a novice. Then what about the Bible? If it tells us what meditation is, does it give us any tips on how to do it? Indeed it does—but before we go there, we must first make an important correction. It is the mystics who offer training for novices; the Bible does not need to do so because there are no novices: we have all been thinking for a very long time! What we do need to learn is where to direct our thinking and how to stay focused—and that brings us to the first tip the Bible gives.

We find it in Joshua 1:8, where meditating goes hand-in-hand with keeping God’s words on our lips. The Hebrew word behind ‘meditate’ here is the most frequent of the three the Old Testament uses. It refers to the sounds made by lions or doves, and also to human speech, especially muttering or talking to myself. In a world where silent reading was unknown, Joshua would mutter as he read God’s words of instruction to himself and also when he recalled and repeated them. Your meditating could be as simple as that: thinking your way into God’s words by muttering them so that you slow down enough to register them and consider them. But you might be someone who gets more clarity and depth in your thinking by writing it all down—or by both muttering and writing. Some of us will focus best on God’s words by looking at them in our Bible, while others will do better by seeing them on our inner screen with our eyes closed. What matters is not how we fasten onto God’s words but that we do so—and do so frequently. But why is this important?

It needs to be done so God’s words can get to work as they should. When I am reading the Bible, and when I am hearing it read and explained, I am like a cow grazing. This is essential—but there is no point in making the trip to the milking-shed unless the cow goes from grazing to chewing the cud. And that is what meditating is: digesting the words I have taken in so that I am nourished by them—because God’s words give me life (Deut 8:3). The best way of chewing on his words is to question them, not like a sceptic determined not to believe but like a barrister intent on getting at the truth. Once I have understood the meaning of the words, I need to grasp their significance—so I will be asking such questions as these: Why does the Bible say this? What implications does this truth have? How is it meant to impact me? What changes should it make—and where should they happen? And perhaps most important of all, What should I be saying to God in response to these words of his?

While every believer needs to be doing this, it is especially important for the preacher—and it means that I should expect to prepare my sermon over two separate sessions rather than at one go.3 In the first, I find out what the passage means, and in the second, I work out how to preach it—and in between these sessions, I need to give myself at least a day to chew over what I have discovered. I do this by asking the significance questions we have just looked at. If I don’t do so, my sermons will impart lots of raw biblical data without showing why this truth matters and how it should shape us and change us. To prepare and preach a good sermon I need to preach the passage to myself first—which happens as I am meditating on it, taking in what I found out by doing my exegesis.

One last question: Is meditation really that important, when there are less than 20 references to it, and all of them are in the Old Testament? Since people who know and believe 2 Timothy 3:16-17 won’t have any difficulty in accepting the Old Testament as our tutor in Christian devotion, I think the question must mean, if meditation were important, wouldn’t the New Testament put it on our agenda? It would—and does, although it never uses this word. Here are some of the ways it does, with plenty more to be found once you see how to look for them.

Meditation is what Paul expects Timothy to do when he tells him, ‘Reflect on what I am saying’ (2 Tim 2:7). The ‘for’ that precedes the assurance that follows—'the Lord will give you insight’—indicates Paul’s awareness that Timothy’s meditations are the means by which this insight will be given to him.

Paul has the same expectation of the readers of Ephesians. When he tells them what he asks God to do for them (Eph 1:17-21), it is clear from all of the words and ideas the two passages have in common that the primary way they will gain this enlightenment is by chewing on what he has just said about the riches of God’s grace (1:3-14). He does not come right out and say it, but there is no doubt that his words to Timothy apply here as well: Paul prays for them because God will give them the understanding they need, and he teaches them because their meditating on his words is the primary means by which God will answer those prayers.

Meditating is also what Peter wants his readers to do. He is writing to remind them of crucial truths they must remember—and go on remembering (2 Pet 1:12-15). And remembering is not important for its own sake but because it leads to considering, the major part of meditation. Why, then, is Peter so concerned that his readers remember—and consider—what he says? They need to do so because the consequences of forgetting are very serious (1:8-11), because false teachers are bound to spread their poison among them (2:1-3, 18-19), because meditating on his teaching—'wholesome thinking’ (3:1)—will enable them to be stable and persevering in the face of ridicule (3:1-4, 11-14), because they need to keep growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus (3:17-18)—and because all that they need for doing so has already been given to them (1:1-4), and the way they appropriate those riches was by returning to Peter’s teaching again and again, recalling and reflecting on all that said about the grace and glory of their great Saviour.

Where does all of this take us? It is just too important to leave off my agenda every day, but if I am to spend time thinking—thinking with God about God, in order to live for God—I will probably need to put that shiny flat rectangle in the bottom drawer for a while.

Footnotes

1. Adrian Plass, The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass (37¾) (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1987), 89-90.

2.You will find information about these guides in chapter 11 of my book, True Devotion: In Search of Authentic Spirituality(London: Latimer Trust, 2014).

3. I have made this case in my book, Preaching: A Guidebook for Beginners (London: The Latimer Trust, 2013).

In this issue we really do touch on evangelical essentials: evangelism, prayer and meditation on God’s Word. If evangelicals are to be about anything, and known for anything, let us hope it is that we are known for being thoughtful and active in sharing the gospel from the Scriptures and trusting in God’s power to save—even despite our hesitancy and doubt! Let us hope that we are prayerful, confidently, intentionally and habitually prayerful. Let us hope that we are engaged with the Scriptures, seeking in them to hear from and be made wise, made strong, made holy as we read, mark learn and inwardly digest them. So, in this spirit, David Ould shares a story of God’s unexpected power to save, bringing people to understanding, faith and repentance even from seemingly unpromising texts; Don West lays the theological foundations of prayer to the God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit; and Allan Chapple makes the case for meditation—reflection of the works and words of God—as a healthful and essential activity for the faithful Christian. It is always good to return again to ponder the basics of the life of growing and enduring faith.
We do not neglect to consider the world around us, and our own communal church life either. Essentials returns to the so-hot-right-now world of gender issues with Ben Smart’s exhortation to understand gender dysphoria sympathetically and properly, so that we can get our response to it right—so that we can properly love and properly speak truth in love when we encounter people affected by distress over their experience of incongruence between their bodily gender and their sense of their inner gender. Tony Nichols tells the wonderful story of the fruitful and persevering life of an Indonesian Christian friend of his, converted from a Muslim background as a university student in Sydney. And in the Caboose, Stephen Hale send us off with a call to think about our theology of church buildings. Why are we slow to renew our church facilities compared to how readily we might renovate homes or renew school facilities? What will help and what will hinder our mission and ministry when it comes to investment and re-investment in church buildings?
Before that, James Macbeth leads us to reflect on the world of risk and venture that God has made in his Bible Study on Ecclesiastes 11, and we have book reviews on books about rural ministry, pastoral care of traumatised people, transgender issues and Jordan Peterson’s best-selling and widely talked about 12 Rules for Life. I hope you find it all an edifying and encoraging read. Do write and let me know your thoughts.
Ben Underwood, Editor
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Concerned to say a word in favour of religious freedom, Allan Chapple took the opportunity to write to the Prime Minister’s Expert Panel currently tasked to consider the intersections between the enjoyment of the freedom of religion and other human rights in Australia. Here is the case he put.
Allan Chapple is Senior Lecturer in New Testament at Trinity Theological College, Perth, WA

I believe it is crucial to be clear about the issue that is at the heart of the review you have been asked to conduct. In my opinion, the fundamental issue is not whether—and if so, how—religious freedoms are to be protected; it is whether—and if so, how—Australia is to remain a genuinely democratic society.

What are the defining characteristics of ‘democracy’? While this is not the whole answer, I believe that the most essential feature of democracy is the protection of certain fundamental freedoms. And the clearest indicator of a nation's commitment to democracy is how well those basic freedoms are preserved when there are powerful reasons for disallowing any of them, at least for a limited period. So when we are at war, and must quickly build up military forces capable of defending us, conscription of able-bodied citizens is an obvious strategy. But when we are truly democratic, we have made provision for conscientious objectors, even when many believe that our national interest should over-ride their freedom of conscience.

That is what I believe is the most basic and important question we are now facing as a nation: are the freedoms that lie at the heart of democracy, and which have long been taken for granted in our country (even though they may not have been legislated appropriately), to be upheld? The freedom that is most at stake here is what has been known traditionally as ‘freedom of conscience.’ As in the case of the ‘conscientious objector’, the committed pacifist, this is not just a matter of holding private opinions; it is about living by one's fundamental convictions about what is good and right, even when doing so brings me into conflict with institutions and groupings in society and with key aspects of the national agenda. The majority of my fellow-citizens may disagree strongly with my convictions, and may well be very unhappy about the problems I cause by living by them-but in a democracy, my right to hold and live by my convictions is acknowledged and protected. [I understand, of course, that work needs to be done to distinguish genuinely held and proper convictions from fantasies and delusions, immoral dogmas and obsessions, and so on-but the big question is whether we do believe that this fundamental freedom must be granted and protected, even if it isn't always easy to work out the best way of doing so.]

Seen from this perspective, the key issue is not freedom of religion, for that could be understood as permitting people with religious beliefs to meet together: to go to the mosque or synagogue or church, and so on. But if that is all that this freedom involves, it necessarily defines religious belief as only private opinions to be expressed only in private gatherings and personal rituals. While some religious beliefs might be of this kind, the major religions in Australia have in common the fact that the convictions their followers hold are meant to be lived out, not only at home or at the mosque/church/and so on, but also in the public domain.

As a result, this matter has real personal consequences for me. I write as someone whose family was not religious, who became a Christian by conviction during my teenage years, and who still holds strongly, even passionately, to those convictions more than five decades later. Because of what lies at its heart, if I were to accept that Christian commitment is a merely private matter I would effectively be abandoning that commitment — and that I cannot do. So the question you have been asked to consider can be stated like this: will I be allowed to live out my Christian convictions, even when this means being a conscientious objector, out of step with majority beliefs and practices?

I thank you for the opportunity to put my views.

Allan Chapple

28 January 2018

Find out more about the Religious Freedom Review at -
pmc.gov.au/domestic-policy/religious-freedom-review

In the following piece, three Christians share stories of what their experience of a push to embrace diversity has been like for them, and how they have thought about and responded to the various sides of the coming of diversity into their work lives.

Workplaces and corporations have lately become more and more reflective and intentional about their culture and values. They spend more time and effort identifying the environment they wish to foster and the values they want their workforces to embrace and work by.

One of the values getting plenty of attention is diversity, and one of the diversities of human beings that is an especially hot topic is the LGBTQI kind of diversity. What effect is all this having on Christians in workplaces where such diversity is being championed, and where there is sometimes an expectation that an endorsement of all these diversities is the way to be on board in the modern workplace?

The following three Christians are probably far from alone in having to figure out how to navigate these waters. Different workplaces no doubt expect different levels of conformity to particular views, and also different Christians feel that their Christian integrity requires different kinds of response. Perhaps we need gently to help each other find our way through the shifting and varied challenges and opportunities that the focus on diversity brings.

Roger Coetzer, WA

I have worked for the same employer for the past 10 years and over this time I have seen an increased focus on the topic of diversity and inclusion. The diversity and inclusion agenda has mainly been driven through training courses and in particular through senior leaders and executives promoting diversity and inclusion in a number of forums.

The communication and messaging I have received on a weekly basis from senior leaders and executives in a number of cases has had a section dedicated to diversity and inclusion. What I found interesting is that even though we are talking about diversity and inclusion the majority of this communication and messaging mainly centres on the LGBTI community, which also encompassed marriage equality. The marriage equality debate especially received a lot of airtime when the government confirmed the postal survey. There has also been a small focus on culture diversity but there has been little to no mention of diversity and inclusion around someone’s beliefs or religion.

As a Christian in the workplace I have found this very challenging because I am fully supportive of promoting a safe work environment and having a better understanding of each other regardless of religion, beliefs, race, sexual orientation or cultural background. All communication and messaging came across that the only voice to be heard was from the LGBTI community. Now there have been some good aspects to the training—mainly getting a better understanding of the struggles and challenges that the LGBTI community face—but there has also been an assumption that off the back of this you will be an advocate and promote their way of life and this is where I as a Christian feel my integrity as a believer starts to be compromised.
I think a lot of godly wisdom is needed to navigate how we uphold our Christian values in a secular work environment and at the same time still have the confidence to share the gospel. The conclusion I have come to is that I will actively promote that everyone in the workplace, no matter what your background, beliefs or sexual orientation, must be treated with dignity and respected and that we cannot elevate one over the other. It is then through individual relationships, where questions are asked and respect is built, that I pray God will open people’s hearts and minds and use me to share the gospel.

Adrian Fry, WA

In early 2017 my employer issued a range of workplace values, formalising a slow movement that had been gaining momentum over the previous two years. Over the previous couple of years the staff had been invited to participate in Aboriginal awareness, disability awareness and LGBTI ally training; and so when diversity featured as one the corporate values it was hardly a surprise.

Most of the values were innocuous, or generally positive: requiring staff to be diligent, provide excellent customer service and act with integrity are good values for any organisation, however the organisation’s framing of their diversity value was a problem. The diversity value statement required all employees fully to accept and endorse the LGBTI sexual framework and ethics—as detailed to staff in the prior training. The LGBTI training had made it was clear that any act, belief or statement that did not accord with the LGBTI sexual ethic could be regarded as an act of harassment and discrimination—and any act found to be harassment or discrimination would be punishable by termination of employment.

As a Christian it seemed evident that there was an inconsistency between what I believe and the beliefs that were now required of me. The Christian faith already contains a robust sexual ethic, with such convictions as God creating people as male and female (which is an affront to the notion that people can create our own sexual identities—which is itself a key part of the LGBTI sexual ethic) or that sexual relations outside of a heterosexual marriage were sinful. Through the lens of the new value of diverity, such a claim or belief is seen as an example of the worst kind of homophobia and should be self-evidently incorrect to any reasonable person.

In spite of the subtle change in culture that had happened over the pervious couple of years I was surprised that any organisation would set the bar so high, rather than at a pluralist ‘live and let live’—which I would have been comfortable endorsing, as it would simply require respect for each other—rather than requiring all staff to take on a specific set of beliefs.

However, after confirming the precise details of the new values with the executive, it was made clear to me that any beliefs I had that did not square with the new values would be a problem for my ongoing employment with the organisation. So I found another job and quietly left the organisation about 8 weeks after my meeting with the executive.

After nearly a year after the events I have these three reflections:

1. When Jesus said not to worry about tomorrow and to trust him to provide for our needs, we need to take him seriously. It’s terrifying to be threatened with job loss because of your faith in Jesus, and perhaps just as terrifying to trust God in the midst of it happening, but it’s been amazing to see God provide for us over the last 12 months.

2. My greatest fear for other Christians facing a similar situation is that they will forget the gospel of grace as announced by Jesus, and choose silence and quiet acceptance over faithfulness to God. I fear that we will forget that God is capable of righting every wrong that is done to us, and instead we decide to defend our patch when really we’re called to love sacrificially as the church. It’s very difficult to tell someone that God loves them when you’re busy sharpening swords and preparing to fight the culture wars or battles in court.

3. It’s been a very long time since we had an obvious enemy anywhere, and I hope we don’t stop praying for and ministering to those who hate us. It seems that as the gospel has receded from our culture, we’re seeing the things that have always been there. In spite of my experience I’m not pessimistic about this change, for a long time it’s been difficult to see any difference between a middle-class Christian and their middle-class neighbour, and I think that will change, and I think that will be a good thing for our witness to people about the kingdom of Jesus Christ.

Tam Jonker, WA

Workplace diversity and its aid, diversity training, are becoming more prevalent in our workplaces, and I had some experience of these while working for a multinational organisation. It was an experience that irritated me and gave me heart, made me think and notice things about others’ reactions, led to conflict and started a longer conversation.

On the face of it, diversity within the workplace is a good thing. I know that studies show diverse workplaces are better able to make good decisions, have increased productivity, higher employee morale, greater innovation and creativity and the list goes on. Additionally from a Christian perspective, workplace diversity embodies a core Christian value of equality. If we naturally favour those like us and familiar to us, it does not surprise me that we would need to make a conscious effort to treat others with equity when they are unlike us and their ways might be unfamiliar and require us to learn and adjust to their diversity. And so I am basically well-disposed to diversity training, as it focuses on the practicalities of life in a diverse workplace, for example; the need for colleagues to be inclusive, understanding and patient with each other.

However, it is also true that many Christians feel threatened by diversity training. Why might this be, and and what can (and should) we do about it? Here are some observations that come from the diversity training that I attended in a multinational organisation.

My first observation is that there was conflict in the room in the training I attended. This conflict was caused by the change that the diversity training was aiming to bring about in the workplace. The changing nature of the workplace is no different to any other change – there are winners and losers with change. Some people were vocal about feeling threatened by diversity (if the company has gender targets, will I lose my job or miss out on the next promotion to a woman?). Others were vocal about the potential benefits (maybe I will get a promotion this year and won’t be overlooked just because I have young children). This conflict was uncomfortable. But uncomfortable conflict is not always bad – in fact, in this situation it was positive that people could voice their opinions and be heard. Despite the conflict in the room, a longer conversation started that day.

The second and more prominent issue that arose for me was that the diversity training I did conflated diversity with an LGBTQI agenda. This included a harsh criticism by the diversity trainer of societies’ failure to accept LGBTQI people in the past and was expressed as a rant against religion, particularly Christianity – whose teachings are the moral foundation upon which Australia has historically been built.

As I listened to the diversity trainer and watched people’s reactions (again, some vocal in support, others more circumspect), I was irritated that the training was largely limited to the idea that all people should accept LGBTQI values. However, it got me thinking.

First, I strongly disagree with the idea that all people should accept LGBTQI values. Jesus calls us to love, accept all people and treat all people equally. He does not call us to accept all value systems. But, secondly, given that I disagreed with the trainer, I had to ask myself what diversity is actually about. I walked away with an appreciation that, at its heart, workplace diversity encapsulates the core Christian value of equality. Jesus treated all people equally and instructed us to do the same. If I have a problem with treating all people, regardless of age, race, gender or sexuality equally, perhaps I need to examine my own heart.

Then, thirdly, in the situation where diversity was confused and conflated with a demand for acceptance of LGBTQI values and a corresponding attack on religion, I realised that I had to accept and take some responsibility for the fact that many things done in the name of religion are racist, sexist and elitist. This is not just a historical phenomenon, it continues today. It became apparent to me that it was only by accepting those things, and apologising for them, that I could have a voice.

I then took heart that equality and inclusivity were on the agenda! This gave me the ability to say that despite the terrible things that have happened and continue to happen in the name of religion, criticising someone for holding a religious view is the antithesis of what diversity training is about. Far from being inclusive, it is exclusive and shows a lack of understanding.

Lastly, I also spent time observing the reactions in the room. Often the most vocal people are also the most wounded. I made a mental note of people to strike up a conversation with at a later time – without the gaggle of onlookers.

 

I suspect 2017 is a year in our national life we will not quickly forget. The changes to the Marriage Act have been supported and passed, and I suspect all sides of the question have found it hard in various ways. The LBGTQI community and their supporters went in apprehensive that they would be bruised by the debate, but came out celebrated and celebrating. Those who wanted to keep marriage as received also found the debate confronting, it seems to me, and came out with their fears confirmed—that they are the minority, and their views are implausible and their arguments unconvincing to the majority.

2018 may bring its own significant developments. The status of religious conviction and the freedom of believers to conduct their public lives, as individuals and through their institutions, according to the convictions of their faith-formed consciences is now on the agenda, thanks to the Prime Minister’s Religious Freedom Review. We can hope, pray and advocate for the continued embrace of such religious freedom, put together in our culture over such a long span, and so integral to the kind of society that we have enjoyed—a society that safeguards us against tyrannies large and small.

Our leaders by Rob Forsyth and Allan Chapple touch on these current affairs, and our first feature extends our engagement with these social concerns by hearing from Christians in the workforce as they encounter diversity training and the coming of corporately-adopted policies on diversity in the workplace. This can be a source of difficulty for Christians, even to the point that some Christians hear the message: ‘conform or get out’. If you want some insight on how some Christians are finding it, read on.

The Canberra-Goulburn branch of EFAC has generously provided written versions of presentations at their 2017 Preaching Seminars, and in this issue we feature Jonathan Holt’s analysis of the TED talk approach, and its grist for the preacher’s mill. David McLennan writes about preaching in a Prayer Book context. If you enjoy these you might like to find out more at the Preaching Seminars website:jonathan6412.wixsite.com/ preachingseminars.

Further along, Stephen Hale keeps our heads in the parish and looks to the changing nature of the ministry of small groups, and Gavin Perkins helps us meditate on the pronouncement of Jesus in the Nazareth synagogue: ‘Today the Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’. A clutch of book reviews and a railing against the poverty of philosophical materialism by Peter Corney rounds out the issue. But don’t forget to block out September 6-8, 2018 and come along to the Anglican Future Conference jointly hosted by EFAC and FCA Australia in Melbourne. Spread the word about this too. It’s not just for clergy. See the notice at the back of the mag.

Ben Underwood, Editor

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