Advance Australia? (part 1)

Advance Australia Fair. These are the words of the National Anthem of Australia. January 26 is Australia Day. We celebrate a relatively new nation that can rightfully pride itself in beauty, diversity and prosperity.

At the same time, Australia is all over the news in the world for what has been one of the worst fire seasons in history. The positive and upbeat tone of a nation that is prospering and advancing is also overshadowed by a lot of bad news.

Advance Australia! Advance! The word “advance” sounds very upbeat, optimistic, progressive even, doesn’t it? It’s an offensive term used a lot in many different contexts. In sports, for instance, to advance means progress, victory. Advancing in life means that things are moving in the right direction.

Jesus Himself had quite a lot to say about ADVANCE. His central message was about His Kingdom that would advance as an unstoppable force and rule over the whole earth. Jesus invited his first followers into that story where they would proclaim and demonstrate that same rule of God over everything.

That wasn’t just for 12 simple guys; it is also for everyone who calls Himself a Christian. Being a Christian means to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. He is our example and role model for the Christian life. In his last words before He ascended to heaven Jesus gave his followers an important commandment on which He also attached His presence and power. He commanded His disciples to make more followers of Christ until the whole world, all nations, peoples, would come to the acknowledgement of Him as Lord and Saviour. In the process, Christ promised His presence and power to accompany His disciples wherever they would go.

So in a town far far away, almost 2000 years ago a small community of believers started taking His words seriously. A small group turned into a bigger group and grew, and grew, until after some decades it started to permeate many spheres of the till then predominant culture which was Roman. The first, in human eyes, so insignificant movement of believers grew and expanded into the biggest religion on the planet. It truly advanced into the four corners of the earth.

It is safe to consider Australia as one of those remote areas in the world where the gospel has spread over time. Modern-day Australia is a country of immigrants. Many immigrants brought their Christian faith and for many years Australia was, like many other Western nations, considered a “Christian Nation”.

Fast forward now almost 2000 years. We are now in a different time. Australia, like many European nations, have largely moved beyond Christianity. Australia is now post-Christian in the sense that many Australians do not consider themselves necessarily a Christian. The biggest group according to the latest census is “without religious affiliation”. It does not mean that all Christian influences are gone. There may be some remnants of the old Christian ways that may pop up at occasions in the culture, but on the whole, many Aussies have relegated faith to a private matter that doesn’t necessarily influence the business of the real world out there so much.

It is in this context that many good-hearted Christians in Australia ask themselves: how would Australia need to advance? How do we go forward in this all?

Is Advance Australia about:

  1. Preserving the Judeo-Christian heritage, morals and values, holding on to all the rights and privileges that Christians had when they were in the majority?
  2. Lobbying against all liberal (some might even say “anti-Christian”) influences that affront sacred, God-given institutions like the traditional family, marriage, the definition of gender etc.?
  3. Retreating into Christian communities, schools, clubs, where the influence of the big bad world can’t influence the next generation any longer?

Regardless of your point of view on how Australia should advance on a spiritual or social level, we always need to allow the Word of God to have supremacy over the matter.

Jesus Himself taught His followers a great deal about how His rule, which He called the Kingdom of God, would manifest itself. Didn’t Jesus teach us all: “Let your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”? The Kingdom of God was the message that Jesus brought to earth. Australia is part of a kingdom as it is part of the Commonwealth of nations of the United Kingdom. Queen Elizabeth II is the ruling queen and even though the influence of that empire may have weakened over time, the influence of that rule is still noticeable.

I would like to suggest that if we come to an answer to the question “what would Advance Australia look like for today?”, we would be wise to take Jesus’ words on the Kingdom of God.

The foundational story for us to understand the Kingdom of God and how it advances is the parable that Jesus told His disciples about the 4 soils. We can find the story in Matthew, Mark and Luke. I will use the story as it is written down in the Gospel of Matthew. We find it in chapter 13. It says:

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.” Matthew 13:1-9 ESV

I sometimes wonder why Jesus couldn’t teach us in simple stories that we could all understand, but here’s the thing with Jesus; it’s not about the information and knowledge only, you also need to receive the story by faith into your heart. That was the whole point of telling spiritual stories, called parables. Parable stories drew from common knowledge and well-known life examples, which at that time was largely rural and agricultural.

Jesus speaks of 4 soils of which 3 would not produce the expected harvest. The seeds that fell by the wayside never sprang up but simply withered and died and were left to be snatched away by the devil. We all know people that have been exposed to the good news of salvation, but for some reason, it doesn’t seem to enter. Instead of taking this personally, we need to understand that Jesus had foretold us all that it would be so. Not everyone will receive the Good News.

The second soil is characterized by ‘rocks’ in the ground. Rocky soil is not the soil that will grow crops, because it will lack soil. Good soil is always needed to grow crops. Soil provides the nutrients that will allow the seed to grow. In Australia there are many areas where the soil is unfit for growing crops. Rocky soil is no good. Jesus explains His disciples in greater detail what rocky ground means in the spiritual sense. He said that it characterizes people that receive the Good News perhaps for a season but then let it go due to tribulation and persecution. Persecution is different from tribulation! Both have the meaning of hardships and difficulty, but tribulation does not necessarily have to be caused by people that attack, sneer or offend others because of their belief in God. Persecution goes always deeper and the root of it is found in the Word of God. Jesus is the Word. He is the living Word. It’s Him that they are persecuting.

Many people don’t advance in their faith, or rather regress because they simply don’t grow into maturity. Growth is not optional. It’s a given fact. Seeds grow and when they are planted in good soil, they will produce growth. Period! So what’s wrong here? Why don’t they grow? Well, Jesus said that they don’t want to face the difficulties that will come with being a Christian. You see, when you start following Jesus, at some point, you will be misunderstood, not appreciated or worse. C.S. Lewis once said that becoming a Christian doesn’t mean that it will give you perpetual happiness and bliss. A bottle of good Scotch could give you that for a while…Christianity will give you a joy that is not dependent on outward circumstances, but seasons of hardships are also part of the package. Unfortunately, some people have embraced Christianity merely for its benefits. Not going to hell, a comforting thought of peace in the afterlife. It may even have promised them health, wealth and prosperity, but it never told them about the hardships that would also come.

The third soil that Jesus mentions is summarized by the word ‘thorns’. It’s the type of Christian that on the one hand wants to follow Jesus, but at the same time lives a compromised life that is also concerned about the good life, money and the concerns of the world. It’s a hard place to live in because on the one hand this person has tasted to a certain extent to the goodness of God and experienced some growth, but it compromised by other allegiances that will eventually choke the very new life of Christ in them, sooner or later.

Finally, Jesus talks about the good soil and the seeds produced grain all according to its capacity. It’s the good soil that we want. Australia isn’t necessarily just hard soil or rocky soil or full of thorns only. There are many people that are ready to receive the Good News. Wouldn’t it be amazing to see Australia advancing because these people that can actually receive Jesus would come to that understanding that they need Him in their lives?

So, the basic premise for understanding God’s Rule (His Kingdom) here on earth is by understanding this parable. The problem is never the word because if it is planted in good soil, it will produce what it promises.

In order to see Australia advancing in God’s way, we have the Word of God hidden in our hearts and that Word will produce what it needs to. We are God’s love letters in a love-starved world full of people that are looking for purpose, love and direction wherever they may find it.

Jesus did not leave His listeners (that includes us too!) here in the story. He moved from seeds to…weeds. But that is food for thought for my next blog.