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17 November 2019

Praying through present darkness, expecting a coming glory…

You may have heard about a public discussion going on in our state of Victoria at the moment. In February of this year, the Victorian Government committed to prohibiting what they term “harmful LGBT conversion practices.” Now note right up front, this is not a commitment to consider the issue, this is a commitment to prohibit anything that, in our Premier Daniel Andrews’ words, “perpetuates the idea that LGBTI people are in some way broken.” At present, the state government has circulated a discussion paper on how best to undertake this prohibition, including the determination of what exactly should fall under the category of “conversion practices.” This is an important discussion, with potentially big implications for us as Christians.

Now there are at least two aspects here to think about. On the one hand, likely much damage has been done by folk in the name of Christ in this area. If anything like the use of force, physical harm, manipulation, abuse, or the like is used in “conversion therapy,” then of course that is to be roundly condemned. This is not what Christ calls us to do. On the other hand, if you call sharing the gospel with someone “conversion practices,” then we’ve got a problem. As you read the discussion paper released by the Victorian Government, it certainly seems that standard Christianity could be in the firing line in the not too distant future.

In broad terms, the government defines conversion practices as: “any practices or treatments that attempt to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity... including efforts to eliminate sexual and/or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same gender, or efforts to change gender expressions.” In specific terms, the discussion paper says that “many modern LGBT conversion practices are religious rather than medical in nature in that they involve, or consist entirely of, pastoral and prayer activities.” While the paper recognizes that religious practices fall under the right to freedom of religion, it also suggests that “The impact of a ban of conversion practices on the right to freedom of religion may be justified.”

When you put all these things together, it doesn’t take much insight to connect a few dots. What might this mean in the years to come? Could simply expressing your view as a Christian on this issue classify as criminal activity? Could preachers come under criminal charges for preaching Scripture? Could the Bible itself come under fire in some way? Based on what we read in the document, the call to “Repent and believe” could well classify as “conversion therapy.” I would certainly encourage you to prayerfully make a submission to the Victorian Government on this issue, as maintaining gospel freedom in this country is definitely for the good of Australia (submissions close 24th November, here’s the link: https://engage.vic.gov.au/conversion-practices-ban).

Now my point here is not to harp on about this issue particularly. I did want to bring it to your attention because it’s important, but I don’t want to “hound” on LGBT people as such. Yes, we as Christians classify homosexuality as a sin – as does God in the Bible. But we also classify adultery as a sin… and lying, and pride, and watching pornography online. Perhaps the Church hasn’t emphasized this enough. Perhaps we’ve even embraced our own pride without a peep, and all the while we loudly condemn the sin of others, and that is about as Pharisaic as it gets! Certainly much of the rhetoric on homosexuality in recent decades, including much from Christians, has been far from patient, loving, kind, compassionate, Christ-focused or balanced. “Homophobia” itself too is an unfortunate modern term, because we as Christians neither fear nor hate homosexuals. On the contrary, we love them, and we want to share Christ with them so that they too can have fullness of joy in Him. They are, after all, people created in God’s image who need Christ.

I did want to bring this issue to your attention, but I also wanted to use a real concrete example to highlight that this present darkness is indeed very real. Satan is actively seeking to suppress the cause of Christ in this world, and Australia is no exception. The current hotspot of conversion therapy in Victoria just happens to be a key battlefront at this point in time. But we see the battlefronts everywhere really, even in the darkness of our own hearts as our sin blinds us and we feel the terrible pull of our own corrupt desires. In Colossians 1:13 the Apostle Paul thus speaks of “the domain of darkness.” This world is a place of darkness, there is no question about that (Jn 1:5). The second petition of the Lord’s Prayer presupposes this as well: “Thy kingdom come,” supposes that the kingdom is not yet come or at least not yet fully come.

Brothers and sisters, this is my real burden in writing: we really are in a war zone, and as such we need to be prepared. Life is no picnic, it is not a trip to the beach, or a snooze on a warm afternoon. In God’s grace, we may well get to enjoy those things, and thanks be to God for those good gifts. But life on a whole is much better understood as a war. There is a cosmic war raging between the domain of darkness and the kingdom of light. The fight is on even in our own hearts as our sinful desires wage war against our souls (1 Pt 2:11). It rages in families, churches, and – yes – nations as well. In light of this, we must see very clearly our desperate need to be prepared through prayer and reliance upon the Lord.

You see, prayer is no sedate religious activity. It is the swinging of swords and the clashing of shields. It is the desperate cry of an outnumbered army, calling out to the Mighty King who is able to fell all our foes. Prayer is kingdom warfare. Because while we were born into the domain of darkness, “He has delivered us… and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Col 1:13). And so as a first application and prayer lesson, let me remind you and exhort you to pray. Pray! Pray! Pray!! If we are not in prayer, we are simpletons who have walked into the heat of a battle with no armour on!! We can expect no growth in ourselves, no grace in our families, no converts in our church, and no stop to the corruption of Australian culture without God’s help, and His appointed means for obtaining that help is prayer. Christians and churches without prayer are like lost and scattered sheep wondering in wild lands full of wolves.

And yet, even as we may feel trepidation in the face of this present darkness, let me remind you of another truth in prayer: we cannot fail. When God calls us to pray that “His kingdom would come,” He’s calling us to pray for a certain outcome. The darkness is passing, and the light is already shining. In Isaiah 11:9 we read that “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” Did you notice the certainty of the kingdom of God? The earth will be filled… As we pray that His kingdom would come, we look forward by faith with the absolute certainty of the outcome.

Governments and nations may legislate to protect sin, but He who sits in the heavens laughs. Their plotting and policies are vain (Ps 2:1), and their efforts are futile. God’s kingdom rolls on, an unstoppable tide. It casts out the darkness, it transforms us wounded and needy sinners into Christ-bearers. Homosexuality is not the unforgivable sin, it is not even particularly unique. Sin is sin, and we’re all buried in it without Christ. When it comes to LGBT folk, the first and most important thing that they need is not a change in behavior, but a meeting the risen Christ. Here is a faithful and true saying: that Christ died to save sinners. That’s you, me, and everyone else on this earth. The gospel call goes out to everyone, and all who believe in Christ will be saved. As you pray that His kingdom would come, then, pray with full confidence that the Kingdom of God is coming. We pray by faith, expecting all things, hoping all things, and knowing that – in Christ – all will be well.

Soli Deo Gloria!