My Blog

March on the Deniers!

I am pleased to announce that my short story ‘March on the Deniers!’ is being published.

FICTION on the WEB

Excited, or what? You guessed – I’m excited!

The story will appear in FICTION on the WEB, which is run by Charlie Fish, a short story writer and screenwriter – thanks, Charlie! I will let him tell you about his site:

FICTION on the WEB is a labour of love. Every single story on here is hand-picked and carefully edited by me. I don’t have a staff, and I don’t make any money. I do this because I want to give authors a chance to get their work out there, and I love sharing great stories with the world.

FICTION on the WEB has been online since 1996, which makes it the oldest short stories website on the Internet. Hundreds of stories have been enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of readers. This new incarnation of the site aims to take advantage of the latest trends in connectivity while keeping things nice and simple.”

If you want to support Charlie you can do so on his Patreon site.

What’s it all about?

‘March on the Deniers!’ is set in the delightfully-named suburb of Nudgee, near Brisbane, Queensland. It is a climate-fiction (“Cli-Fi”) piece, but I’ve used humour to try and avoid being preachy. The humour is quite dark, and this is not a ‘G’-rated story.

I find having a definite location for a story helps, so the image at the head of this page is a little map of Nudgee after some sea-level rise and storm surge. As you can see, nearby Brisbane Airport is long gone! The flood map is generated by firetree.net, and you can find it here.

Monday, June 3rd

Yep, ‘March on the Deniers!’ will appear on this date, so go and have a read – and leave me some comments, please!

Best Regards, Simon

P.S. Sign on for regular, free speculative fiction Stories here!

Strength and Authority

A message contrasting God’s pure, unblemished strength & authority with the way humans corrupt these blessings, based on Matthew 23:1-12 (Proper 26A).

Introduction

After the Pharisees had finished arguing with Jesus he was able to teach the disciples/people.

  • The key to understanding the Pharisees is that they were politicians!
  • Many people justifiably fear human power and authority, from experience; sadly, they assume that God will be like that, so they fear or reject God.

Teaching on Authority 

Jesus teaches us to obey the religious leaders, but not to live like them.  They have compromised their principles to gain and keep power.

  • Instead, we are to avoid worldly power and status, seek service and be modest.
  • Yesterday was All Saints Day, when we traditionally celebrate the heroes of the Faith.  Some were powerful leaders, some suffered terrible things.  All served.
  • How do we understand this?  What should we do? Is there a balance?

A Poem about Strength

The Prayer of an Unknown Confederate Soldier:

I asked God for strength that I might achieve.
I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health that I might do greater things.
I was given infirmity that I might do better things.
I asked for riches that I might be happy.
I was given poverty that I might be wise.
I asked for power that I might have the praise of men.
I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things that I might enjoy life.
I was given life that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for, but everything I hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am, among all men, most richly blessed.

Conclusion & Application 

So, human power is not the answer. This is good news for us who are powerless!  Yet we are not powerless, we: 

  • Have the power to build up or tear down with our words.
  • Can welcome or reject new people.
  • May smile or frown, encourage and sympathise or ignore.
  • Can pray, lift others to God for blessing, or fail to do so.

We are still responsible to God for our attitudes, words and actions.

The Israel Folau Controversy

Israel Folau is an Australian of Tongan descent. Until recently he was best known as a talented rugby player. He has won 73 caps playing for Australia, has been the Wallabies’ Player of the Year for a record three times and he is the fourth-highest try-scoring Australian international player ever.

However, Folau is also a Christian, and his social media posts have got him into trouble in the past. This month posted a message saying “Drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolators – Hell awaits you.” This prompted Rugby Australia to terminate his contract, and the Australian Rugby League banned Folau from any NRL team in the future.

These events have been widely reported, both nationally and internationally. His comments are usually reported as being “anti-gay” or “homophobic”, something that Folau himself denies.

A Personal Reaction

My personal reaction is that Folau’s comments are simplistic and negative.

The Bible says “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, my emphasis). It emphasises that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). One of the most famous of all Bible verses states “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, again my emphasis).

In my view, the problem with Folau’s judgement is that it sounds like he wants sinners to be punished. This is the exact opposite of the Christian message. From the first disciples to this day, Christians have sought to spread the ‘Good News’ (Gospel) of forgiveness.

Other Reactions

Some will post or tweet “hate speech shouldn’t be allowed”. I’ve seen this simplistic and negative reaction on social media. Others will point out that social media is full of simplistic and negative statements, so why is this any different? Folau is just another troll: ignore him.

Many Australian rugby and football players have been in the news for the wrong reasons. Posting lewd videos of themselves on social media doesn’t get reported much anymore. Players have been in the news accused of drink driving, rape, sexual assault and domestic violence. Folau’s lifetime ban for making a controversial statement looks harsh compared to the sanctions that others have suffered.

The Core Issue

Now Folau’s comments are, IMHO, misguided, but are they ‘hate speech’, ‘anti-gay’ and ‘homophobic’?

The first thing to note is that Folau isn’t just stating a personal opinion. He is reporting what is in the Bible. The Bible doesn’t spend much time talking about gay sex, but when it does it forbids God’s people from practising it. Jesus himself said “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them” (Mathew 5:17).  It’s worth noting that when Jesus found people being punished for their sins he never said that they weren’t in the wrong. Instead, he forgave them.

It’s also worth remembering that other world religions and cultures take a similar view to Folau’s. Western, liberal views are not commonly found elsewhere. Even in Australia, when we had the vote for same-sex marriage, 38% voted ‘NO’.

Same-Sex Marriage in Australian Politics

For the benefit of readers outside Australia, it’s worth briefly explaining why this issue is not just controversial, but a party-political football (no pun intended).

Back in 2004, the government of Prime Minister John Howard changed the law so that “Marriage means the union of a man and a woman” and “A union solemnised in a foreign country between: a man and another man; or a woman and another woman; must not be recognised as a marriage in Australia.” Understandably, this move enraged the LGBT community.

Now, the Australian left hates John Howard, and his legacy, with a vengeance. He has a similar stature to Margaret Thatcher or Ronald Reagan. All three leaders took their countries to the right of politics, and all three were very successful, repeatedly humiliating their left-wing opponents in popular votes.

Same-Sex Marriage Vote

I didn’t know any of this when I came to Australia in 2012.

I was puzzled. The Liberal Party (‘Liberal’ means right-wing in Australia) had promised this vote in their manifesto, they won the election, and then they tried to hold the vote. The Australian left did everything they could to prevent it.

‘Why?’ I wondered – the left are bound to win! (Maybe they weren’t so sure.)

Eventually, the Liberal Prime Minister found a way to hold the vote, despite opposition from the right wing of his own Party. In the run-up to the vote, there was a positive campaign for LGBT rights. However, there was also simplistic and negative campaigning on both sides.

Some LGBT pressure groups sought to suppress or eliminate any kind of debate, and they were very effective. Anyone who disagreed with them, however politely or respectfully, risked being labelled a bigot, being reported to the police or having their business boycotted.

Even when we voted decisively for same-sex marriage, this vengeful spirit persisted. As the Prime Minister celebrated (he would probably have lost his job if he had lost the vote), some on the left sought to deny him any credit. This was ironic, even hypocritical, seeing as they had tried to prevent it in the first place!

A Different Standard

So when Folau fired his Instagram broadside against “Drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolators” he was kicking a hornets’ nest.

Interestingly, he hasn’t been taken to task for lambasting the other groups – that barely gets a mention. Don’t their feelings count?

I also note that Christians are frequently insulted and derided by atheists and secularists. (Some in Australia are calling for all churches to have their charitable status revoked, even though they raise their funds through voluntary donations and do valuable work in the community, just like…a charity.) Nobody is suggesting that these critics should not be allowed their say, or that they should be fired from their day jobs.

Whether we agree with him or not, Folau might think that he is being judged by a different standard to many others in Australian society. He is.

Forgiveness

As I write this it is Easter weekend, when Christians commemorate Jesus’s death on the cross to win our forgiveness: forgiveness we don’t deserve. Jesus said, “do not judge, or you will too be judged” (Matthew 7:1) Perhaps this is good advice for Folau, the rugby authorities, the PC bullies, and for many of us on social media.

The Game Changer

A message about Jesus, the game changer: Matthew 11:2-11 reminds God’s people which side of history we are on (Advent 3A).

Introduction

Matthew, the most Jewish of Gospel writers, has a lesson for impatient followers of Jesus.  John the Baptist asks about Jesus: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” [v3]

Then: is Jesus the Game Changer?

John the Baptist was so confident that he knew who Jesus was when he could see him face to face, when he baptised him.  Now he is in prison he is not so sure. 

  • Why is he there, waiting to die? 
  • Why isn’t Herod, that Roman puppet, in prison instead of me? 
  • Why aren’t his foreign masters gone? 
  • Why aren’t us Jews, God’s own people, free; why are we not well on the way to ruling the world?  

Jesus replies, reminding John that he is doing EXACTLY what was prophesied. 

Jesus reminds the crowd that John is more than a prophet: “Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written:

“‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.’ ”  [Mal 3:1]

Malachi was telling the Jews that God was fed up with their moaning, expecting to be saved, not because they were faithful, but just because they were Jews – born of women (not of God the Father).

Now: a Different Perspective

John the Baptist could not imagine that we could be followers of Jesus, could be God’s people, because we are not Jews.  We live twenty centuries after him in a country he never knew existed.  The Roman rulers of the world are a distant memory!

We do not see Jesus face to face and yet we know him, we believe and trust him.  We who are saved by his sacrifice and live with the Holy Spirit in us are born again – born from above; we may be the ‘least in the kingdom of heaven’ but we are greater than John, the prophet who baptised Jesus.

We have a different perspective!  So, in Advent, we wait.

Godless Foreigners!

A message about seeing with a fresh, Godly perspective (just like those Godless Foreigners), based on Matthew 17:1-9 (Epiphany, Year A).

Today we have a well-known passage that describes the wise men coming to see Jesus – now a toddler.  But there’s is more to it than that! This is satire, a set of jokes at the expense of the rich, powerful, religious and nationalistic.

Wise Men (Godless Foreigners) Arrive

  • The Messiah (God’s chosen one) born in poverty, not even at home;
  • Godless Foreigners (GFs) funny-looking people, who can’t even speak the lingo properly, tell God’s people that their new king is born;
  • The GFs come to worship the Jewish King!
  • Herod, a king who is not chosen by God but by the Pagan Romans (GFs);
  • Herod is so insecure, his moods are dangerous to his own people;
  • The clueless religious experts caught on the hop, answering the fake king and the GFs;
  • Sneaky Herod asks the GFs (not scripture or the religious) for information – for his own devious ends;
  • Only the GFs both see and understand the sign from heaven (a star), and only they get the joy;
  • They see a young mother and baby in a house and worship Him, giving him top presents (with dreadful meanings); and
  • Then God warns the GFs in a dream (like Joesph/prophets!) about Herod and they sneak off back home, job done!  

Some points to note:

  • It’s like it is all a big joke, but it’s the (second?) biggest event in history and deadly serious;
  • It is chilling to think that the Jews, God’s people had become racists – judging people on their ethnicity (they had their reasons, but…);
  • How should we avoid making the same mistakes, how we can avoid our status and security as God’s people from making us smug, blind?
  • How should we treat strange visitors (GFs or not)?  What message are they carrying from God? 
  • What is going on under our noses that God is alerting us to?

Application 

As we start a new year, let’s ask God to give us an epiphany: fresh insights, an open mind, eyes to really see, ears to really hear and renewed hearts to love.  Amen

Following Christ’s Example

A message exploring the true aim of life, no less, following Christ’s example in Philippians 2:5-11 (Palm Sunday, Years A, B or C).

Introduction

Today is Palm/Passion Sunday.  We have had five Sundays in Lent and now we turn to Christ’s final week before Easter.  Philippians 2:5-11 is not from that time/place, but it captures the essence of it.

Christ’s Example Then…

Paul is writing to a church that is doing good things, partners “in the gospel from the first day until now”.  Yet they are in enemy territory – a strongly Greek/Roman city (pagan).  Paul:

  • Urges the church to be of one mind, united in humility, working to complete their salvation as pure children of Christ “shining like stars in the universe” (v15), to ‘run the race’ if you will, so that his own efforts might not be for nothing.
  • Says “…Christ Jesus…did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing”
  • Describes how Jesus is humbled (vv6-8) then exalted (vv9-11).

… And it’s Opposite Today

The context for us today is just the same.  You are good people, better than the Philippians, even!  You’ve run the race of life, stuck with God and the gospel, you still shine like stars in the universe!

We, too, live in enemy territory, where things that are not god are worshipped:  

  • Individualism – it’s all about me and MY needs, MY feelings;
  • Consumerism – I am valued because I have $$; and
  • Materialism – ‘he who dies with the most toys wins’.

These three things work in an endless, aimless cycle, until we die.

Conclusion

We don’t have to reject the things of the world, just not worship them.

We have them AND the true, living God, who is alive in us.  Our aim is to be humble like Jesus, because we have a job to do alongside Him, and then we will be exalted with Christ.

Amen.

Meeting Our Needs

A message about allowing God to help us meet our needs, based on Exodus 17:1-7, John 4:5-42 & Romans 5:1-11 (Lent 3A)

Introduction

We are going to hear from three pieces of scripture today, but I only have time to read one – Exodus 17:1-7.

Old Testament Scripture

So God’s people are wandering in the desert and there isn’t much water.  They get annoyed with God and take it out on Moses.  At his wits’ end, Moses cries out to God, and He meets their needs – in style!  Moses doesn’t let the people forget their moaning…

We usually call this place the ‘desert of sin’, which makes it sound like it’s the people’s fault that they are there, but their rebellion and 40 years’ wandering in the desert is yet to come.  It may be that God took them that way for their own protection, to avoid conflict.

New Testament Scripture

In John 4:5-42 Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at the well and asks for a drink.  Rabbis don’t talk to women, or Samaritans and they certainly don’t get water from them!  Jesus is breaking down barriers here, and offers the woman ‘living water’, just what God did for Moses.

Finally, in Romans 5:1-11 Paul reminds the Roman church that Jesus was willing to offer us not just water, but to spill his own blood for us.  He dies to lift us out of the desert of sin and bring us close to God.

My ‘Needs’ – a Personal Application

Maybe you’re like me; I like my comforts and when times are difficult my first instinct is to grumble, instead of taking my concerns to God.  I like to be in control and solve my own problems, but the truth is that I can’t solve the big problems in life, and I only get angry trying to.  Perhaps I need to get closer to God and allow Him to help me.

“Therefore…

…since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…” (Romans 5:1) Amen

Witnessing with Confidence

A message about witnessing, based on 1 Peter 3:13-22 (Easter 6A).

Introduction

In Chapters 3-4 Peter told Christians, scattered around the world, to live in harmony, to do good and to live for God; at the same time, he also repeatedly talks about suffering.  If God’s people do these things, then why would we suffer?

I was talking to a Crows fan yesterday, who said the Team had the perfect game plan and won their first two matches, but that the other teams watched and learned how to beat them.  And that made me think:

  • We are on a team;
  • We have a coach, who we love and trust; and
  • There seem to be other teams, and some oppose us!

Peter’s Advice on Witnessing

Peter tells us to be ready to say why we are confident in Jesus, our coach, and trust him above all other coaches, but we are to do this humbly and with respect for the other people (and their coaches).

He also tells us to keep a clear conscience – to ‘walk the walk’ as well as ‘talking the talk’.  After all, if we speak gently and live holy lives, what could people say against that?

Message for Today

Sometimes I get annoyed at how some people want to have a go at our team, and say nasty things about us.  And I have to remind myself that people are free to trust whichever coach they want.  After all, our team has made plenty of mistakes over the years; we haven’t always walked and talked in a way that made our coach proud.

Our coach also reminds us that in the past, when our team built the ark, there was lots of time to for everyone else to see what they were doing, ask what was going on, and be saved.  But only eight people, Noah’s team, were saved (but ALL the ‘dumb’ animals were saved!).

Finally

Finally, let’s remind ourselves why we can trust our coach, why we “set apart Christ as Lord”:

  • Christ, the righteous died to save us sinners;
  • He has preached to the living and the dead – no one will escape from his Word;
  • Jesus is risen from the dead;
  • He has ascended into heaven and sits at God’s right hand;
  • All natural and spiritual power will answer to Him.

Amen, Jesus is Risen over all!

Surfing is Real

A few years ago, I moved to Australia, the land of sunshine, sea and surf.

Before emigrating, I was aware of surfing.  I had occasionally seen hardy souls, clad in neoprene wet suits, falling off their boards into cold water off the coast of the UK.  But, let’s face it, Britain’s bitty, choppy little waves don’t compare with those in Australia.

I can’t surf, by the way.

I don’t even know how it’s done.  Surfers don’t seem to obey the laws of physics like us mortals have to.  They balance on slippery boards, on moving waves that rise and fall and crash.  The surfers seem to have some strange connection with sea water, knowing where and when the waves will rise; they intercept and ride them, springing onto their boards with uncanny ease.  They twist and turn on the moving, slopes of water and even perform flips.  That’s not natural, is it?

Surfing is a big part of the culture here.  Most people in Australia live near the coast, and the beach is hard-wired into the Aussie psyche.  At the top of this continent-sized, sandy pile is surfing, king of beach sports.  Surfers are celebrities, and their champions are superstars.  Australians love a winner.  Surfing has big money from corporate sponsors, it’s on the TV every weekend; you could say it’s part of the Australian establishment.

Maybe that’s why the backlash started. 

Unsurprisingly, many Australian sports teachers love surfing. They teach a curriculum set by the government, teaching the children about all kinds of sport and fitness activities. However, some say that surfers are biased: they fill the kids’ heads with stories about surfing.  Curiously, other kinds of sports people aren’t taking this anti-surfing line – although they would love to have the kind of funding, attention and support that surfing gets.  No, it’s only non-sports fans who are critical.

Lately, this nastiness has reached a new low.

Shockingly, some individuals have attacked and even killed surfers.  They claim to be doing it in the name of their sport, but those sports reject this, and they say the perpetrators are not real fans.  Then some other people, who claim to be protecting the surfers, or the Sportiarchy, have attacked and killed other sports’ fans.  Again, the surfers reject these claims, and they reject those who do these things.  That’s not what surfing is about, they say.  Love and peace, man!

Now, some people are even denying that surfing is a thing.  If we can’t do it, they argue, then it can’t be real can it?  It must be a trick, a conspiracy.  It’s time to dismantle the Sportiarchy; it shouldn’t be allowed, they grumble.  Surfing charities shouldn’t get tax breaks.  Not that the critics are offering to fill the gaps left by the excluded surfers; they’re not offering to give any money or volunteer. All this makes no sense to me. 

I Believe in Surfing

Still, I love the ocean, and I can’t understand why we can’t all just play our sports, or just sit on the beach, and let the surfers get on with it.  I can’t surf, but I believe that surfing is real.

* * *


Credit: Photo by Ben Warren on Unsplash. I hope you’ve enjoyed my little allegory. Please feel free to leave comments below.

Stand Firm in the Lord

Encouragement to ‘stand firm’, in response to recent terrible events, based on Philippians 3:17-4:1 (Lent 2C).

Introduction

We’ve heard two awful things recently, that George Pell[1] abused children, and of the murder of 49 Muslims in NZ. How should we respond as Christians?

Scripture: Philippians 3:17-4:1

Paul has just cautioned believers: “For it is we … who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reasons for such confidence.

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more:  circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.”  Phil 3:3-6 (NIV)

Instead, Paul encourages the faithful to focus on the cross, Christ and heaven, and the transformation of our weak (willed) bodies in heaven.

Application: Stand Firm … in What?

Pell and the NZ killers had all fallen into the sin of pride.  They had so much confidence in their strength, so much zeal for their beliefs.  They did not fear God; we suspect they did not really know Him.  They had way too much confidence in the flesh, i.e. their own desires and their power to apply them.

Contrast this with the disciples’ advice to us in the Bible:

  • Paul: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,” Phil 2:3 (NIV);
  • Peter: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,” 1 Peter 3:15 (NIV); and
  • James: “…human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” James 1:20 (NIV).

This is the opposite of the terrible things we’ve seen.  

Conclusion

“Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!” Phil 4:1 (NIV)

We don’t dare stand firm in anyone else, certainly not ourselves!


[1] This is not a dig at the Roman Catholic church; no church, no institution, has been immune to abuse and abusers.