Lockdown and Liberty: Is Australia Still a Free Country?

This is a free country.

It’s a phrase we’ve all used, even from schoolyard days—often to stand up to a bully trying to exert their control over us. “This is a free country” are words I repeated countless times as a child, long before I understood the concept of liberty.

I guessed it had something to do with the opening line of our national anthem, which I knew by heart: Australians all let us rejoice, for we are young and free.

Whatever we know about liberty, the idea of freedom and a free country has certainly been brought into sharp relief over the last month. Because of the covid19 pandemic, previously unheard-of rules now limit our interactions, trade, worship, travel, and much more besides.

“Australians all let us rejoice, for we are young and free.”

We know that these are temporary measures aimed at addressing a public health emergency—and our government has provided a cohesive rationale as to why they are needed.

You might agree wholeheartedly with the restrictions we currently live under; you might be an outspoken critic, like the recent protesters in many American cities. Either way, there is something we can all surely agree on: freedom is precious.

At least I hope we can all agree on this.

If I’m honest, I have been surprised at how quickly Australians have adapted to these stringent new rules with almost unquestioning obedience. In my heart of hearts, I hope this is because of widespread goodwill—the desire to protect the vulnerable among us from the spread of disease.

“Freedom is precious.”

I can’t help but wonder, though, if we might have grown apathetic about our freedoms. Do we actually know which liberties are protected in Australia? And if so, do we value them?

The most fundamental truth for us to grasp is that freedom is not something provided to us by the government. Liberty-loving nations have always understood that individual freedom is part of the very fabric of the universe. In other words, humans are born free, regardless of what any person or parliament decides.

In the words of the American sage Benjamin Franklin, “Freedom is not a gift bestowed upon us by other men, but a right that belongs to us by the laws of God and nature.”

“Humans are born free.”

The idea of individual liberty has a long and rich history in the West. Major movements such as the Renaissance and the Enlightenment made important contributions to this. But Christianity—with its insistence that each person has been made in God’s image—has played a leading role in the West’s emphasis on freedom.

The role of our governments, then, is simply to protect the freedoms that are already ours.

The United States has famously enshrined many freedoms in their Bill of Rights. These first ten amendments to its Constitution include freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to bear arms, protection from cruel and unusual punishment, and many others.

In Australia, we have no Bill of Rights. Our Constitution protects a limited number of liberties such as freedom of religion, trial by jury, and the right to vote. As Aussies, many of our freedoms are actually safeguarded by common law—decisions that have been made by the courts in the years since Federation.

“Christianity has played a leading role in the West’s emphasis on freedom.”

Some of our rights are also protected in legal documents, old and new, to which Australia is an heir or signee. The Magna Carta and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are two examples.

So what are the freedoms that have currently been restricted in Australia due to the pandemic?

Freedom of assembly: With ‘non-essential’ gatherings now limited to two people, the freedom for us to meet together in person to share, discuss and debate our common interests has been severely restrained.

Freedom of movement: The right to freely travel from place to place within Australia and to leave our nation has been temporarily revoked. While returning Aussies are welcomed home, most Australians are not allowed to leave the country or even cross state borders.

“The role of our government is to protect the freedoms that are already ours.”

Freedom of religion: There are aspects to this liberty that have not been affected by current rules, such as the right to freely change our beliefs. But our freedom to gather for communal worship, either publicly or privately, does not exist for the time being.

Freedom to peacefully protest: Under normal circumstances, Australians are free to meet for peaceful, public protest. This freedom has also been suspended for now. To peacefully protest would, in many parts of the country, result in severe fines as the law currently stands.

Freedom from arbitrary detention: This liberty, sometimes referred to as security of the person, normally relates to arrest and punishment. It is presently the case, however, that Australians have been told only to leave their homes under very limited circumstances, regardless of whether they are sick or healthy. This, it could well be argued, is a form of arbitrary detention.

There are many other freedoms that could be listed that are impacted by current restrictions, such as the right to trade freely, the right to work, and the right to self-determination.

“We live in an incredible country, even in the midst of a partial lockdown.”

If you have read through this list of liberties, fearing that I am about to call for a riot in the streets, you can breath a sigh of relief. I am not suggesting that.

But if you have read through this list of freedoms and not once thought, “I am grateful to live in a free nation like Australia,” then you may need to check if your heart is still beating.

We live in an incredible country, even in the midst of a partial lockdown. This can be said by the citizens of most Western nations. What so many of us have forgotten is that freedom, as we understand it, is historically peculiar.

“Will the restrictions we now face will reawaken in us a deep gratitude for liberty?”

Step back and survey the great sweep of history, and you will see that the period of time in which our liberties have been so strongly guarded is little more than a blip. We could measure it in just decades and centuries—though empires have been rising and falling for millennia.

Still today, many of the world’s inhabitants don’t know their rights, and don’t enjoy their freedoms.

Most of the world’s nations pay lip service to liberty, on documents both domestic and global. But “the free world” is a concept as relevant as ever, still limited mostly to the nations that make up North America, Western Europe, and East Asia.

“This is a free country.”

Many forces have caused us to grow apathetic about liberty. Surely a recent one is our culture’s increasing obsession with ‘rights’ and ‘freedoms’ that are unworthy of the name. Biological men competing in women’s sports, and people compelling their peers to address them with new and strange pronouns are several examples that come to mind.

Taking our freedoms for granted, we have become bored with what we had, and enticed by passing fads. The risk is that now, emerging generations can hardly see freedom’s forest for the trees.

The question for all of us then, is this: will the restrictions we now face will reawaken in us a deep gratitude for liberty? Will it wake us up to defend and protect our precious freedoms for future generations?

The Price We Pay To Follow Jesus

What price do you pay to follow Jesus?

Five hundred years ago, the people of Europe whispered of a mysterious ‘Garden of Eden’ across the seas. It was a distant utopia better known as the Spice Islands, the home of cloves and nutmeg. In London and Paris, these intoxicating spices were worth their weight in gold.

Many risked life and limb to track down this tropical paradise, but to no avail. Finally, an armada led by the explorer Magellan managed the first circumnavigation of the earth, uncovering the secret origin of the spices.

“These intoxicating spices were worth their weight in gold.”

The journey was harrowing. At its launch, 270 crew set out on five ships. On return, they were reduced to 18 haggard sailors on a single vessel. But their payload of cloves and nutmeg funded the entire journey and all of its financial losses many times over.

If spices were worth such a sacrifice, how much more should we willingly pay to follow Jesus? This is the theme of Luke 9:23-25.

Then Jesus said to the crowd, ‘If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed?’”

Here, Jesus confronts us with some sobering reality checks. Following him will cost us this life. But the alternative, he warns us, is far worse: rejecting him will cost us the next.

It all sounds pretty heavy until we understand Jesus’ underlying logic. It’s a simple lesson that we must learn again and again. It is a lesson I am still trying to learn. The only way we can truly gain life is to give it away.

Let’s consider these transcendent truths one at a time.

Following Jesus Will Cost Us This Life | v23

Then Jesus said to the crowd, ‘If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.’”

I have visited a mass grave at a village church in South-East Asia. Two hundred identical white headstones stand as a silent reminder of the day this Christian community was forever changed by a terrorist massacre. These saints really did ‘take up their cross’.

I cannot erase the memory of that cookie-cutter cemetery. It asks me what price I am willing to pay to follow Jesus today. In a lucky country like Australia, God forbid that we would ever pay in blood for our profession of faith. But there is a price to be paid all the same.

Following Jesus means forsaking our favourite sins. It means saving instead of spending, so we can be generous to those in need. It means saying sorry even when it hurts. It means stubbornly trusting God in the midst of our struggles, instead of surrendering to self-pity and despair. And it means many things besides.

“Would you be willing to die for Jesus?”

Every true follower of Jesus is characterised by a life of daily self-denial. Surely this is what Jesus meant when he said, “Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.”

Would you be willing to die for Jesus? It’s a confronting question to ponder. But maybe the cost is actually far greater to live for him. That decision is not a one-time event, but a constant call to put him first, others next, and yourself last. It’s a lifetime subscription—and that’s what makes it so costly.

Rejecting Jesus Will Cost Us The Next Life | v24-25

If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it… And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed?”

Beginning in the 1960s, we have conducted a massive social experiment in the West. Casting off our Christian conscience, we told ourselves and each other that the highest happiness would be found in living for yourself—so long as no one else gets hurt.

Decades on, we are now experiencing the fallout of it all. Broken families, an epidemic of sexual abuse and domestic violence, addiction on a scale never seen, and a mental health crisis that even our biggest budgets can’t afford.

“We told ourselves that the highest happiness would be found in living for yourself.”

Not all of our social ills can be traced back to selfishness, but far too many can. It is a civilisation-wide illustration of what Jesus said would happen: gain the world and lose your soul.

It’s also a shadow of things eternal. According to Jesus, the decisions we make have consequences in both this life and in eternity. So the question is, are we willing to trade unending joy for a few decades of antics down here? C. S. Lewis puts it this way:

“We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Jesus is absolutely committed to our joy—it’s just that we don’t always see things from his higher vantage point. In truth, the choice before us isn’t, am I willing to forsake pleasure to follow Jesus? But rather, will I forsake fleeting pleasure to enjoy the pleasures of God without end?

Life is Gained By Giving It Away | v24b

“If you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.”

Don’t miss the incredible promise Jesus gives in the midst of his warnings. There is a way to find true life, he says—but it’s the opposite of what we might assume. The way to experience true, abundant, eternal life is to give our life away to him.

I love surfing, but there were a lot of counterintuitive skills I had to learn before I enjoyed it. One of those was the ‘duck dive’. Paddling out towards the break zone, you will inevitably face a wall of water, sometimes two or three metres high.

In that instant, you have a choice. Either you can back out and let the waves take you tumbling back to shore. Or you can size that wave up, power towards it and thrust yourself through. Nothing compares to the feeling of punching through the lip of a big wave into the sunlight, a second before it crashes behind you.

This is a powerful picture of the choice Jesus gives us. Our instincts tell us that if we want the good life, we should avoid difficulty, protect ourselves, and follow our momentary feelings—in a word, sin.

“Jesus doesn’t just tell us what to do. He shows us.”

But the way of Jesus is counterintuitive. He calls us to do the very thing we fear most. To abandon our instinct of self-preservation. To surrender our lives entirely to him, come what may. To give up our throne and let him be King. Only then do we gain true life and the everlasting peace that comes with it.

And here’s the best part about Jesus: he doesn’t just tell us what to do. He shows us, and at great cost. Jesus gave up his own way. He literally took up his cross. Hanging on that cross, Jesus gave up his life so that we could find ours eternally.

Now he calls us to give up ours.

Why Christians Clash with the Current Culture

It’s becoming more obvious with each passing year, and just about everyone in the West will agree: to be a Christian means to walk out of step with mainstream culture. 

It’s such a fixed feature of modern life that Christians have adapted a variety of solutions to this dilemma. Some believers relish the opportunity to cause unnecessary trouble. Others run scared—and in doing so, they compromise their stand for Jesus. Both extremes do damage to the cause of Christ.

So how can we walk the middle road? The answer to this begins with properly understanding our calling as Christians. Why do we clash with the current culture?

“To be a Christian means to walk out of step with mainstream culture.”

Following in the footsteps of Jesus certainly means acting with kindness, compassion and care. But don’t forget that Jesus was also a magnet for controversy. There is simply no way to avoid this. If we follow him, we will be too.

Acts 17:1-9 paints this picture precisely.

Paul and Silas are visiting the city of Thessalonica. They make a persuasive case for the gospel, and win many hearts and minds to the way of Jesus. And without intending to, they also cause a stir.

The fact is that if we are true to our calling like the early church was, we can expect the same as them. We should aim to be convincing; we can be confident of our message; and like it or not, we will be controversial in the process.

Called to be Convincing | v1-3

“As was Paul’s custom, he went to the synagogue service, and for three Sabbaths in a row he used the Scriptures to reason with the people. He explained the prophecies and proved that the Messiah must suffer and rise from the dead. He said, ‘This Jesus I’m telling you about is the Messiah.’”

Paul reasoned, explained and proved. These shouldn’t be dirty words for Christians. Following Jesus is a heart journey, to be sure. But it also requires our brains.

Like Paul, we are called to be convincing. Our aim is to help people see that the good news of Jesus makes sense in a world starved of meaning. We don’t need to know all the answers, and we certainly can’t argue anyone into the kingdom.

“Proclaiming Jesus is a Spirit-empowered activity.”

But God has entrusted to us the most relevant, reasonable and compelling way of life the world has ever known. Christianity isn’t a ‘leap into the dark’. It’s a very sensible step into the light. So let’s make our best case for that, as the apostles did.

In the process, there’s no need to trust our own prowess or persuasiveness. If there’s anything we learn from the book of Acts, it’s that proclaiming Jesus is a Spirit-empowered activity.

Called to be Confident | v4

Consider the extraordinary outcome in Thessalonica:

“Some of the Jews who listened were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with many God-fearing Greek men and quite a few prominent women.”

In the short time that Paul and Silas visited this city, a new church sprang up. The gospel is powerful. It transforms lives and whole communities. This is why Paul calls the gospel, “the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes.” It’s a message we can have confidence in.

“The message of Jesus has a power all of its own.”

My Dad is a very skilled gardener. I am not—but I have tried. One year when I was renting with friends, I decided to plant a vegetable patch. Dad happily shared with me with seeds and compost. I dug up the soil and planted tomatoes, carrots, beans and broccoli.

As time went on and my study commitments took over, I neglected to pull out weeds, and I watered my garden with less and less frequency. Eventually, everything I planted withered and died—if the bugs hadn’t eaten it first.

But then pumpkins started springing up everywhere, even though I had never planted them. Soon there were pumpkin vines crawling all over my garden, and even under the fence and into the carport. I deduced, of course, that there must have been pumpkin seeds in Dad’s compost.

“The gospel doesn’t depend on our faithfulness, but God’s.”

Through my little failed project, I learned that even if my gardening abilities are terrible, I can always count on compost from my Dad.

The gospel is quite the same. Like Dad’s compost, the message of Jesus has a power all of its own. Whenever and wherever it is proclaimed, God is at work by his Spirit to bring people to faith. We can have confidence, because the gospel doesn’t depend on our faithfulness, but God’s.

Called to be Controversial | v5-9

Look what happens next:

“But some of the Jews were jealous, so they gathered some troublemakers from the marketplace to form a mob and start a riot… ‘Paul and Silas have caused trouble all over the world,’ they shouted, ‘and now they are here disturbing our city, too.'”

More fascinating still is the crime these Christians were accused of: “They are all guilty of treason against Caesar, for they profess allegiance to another king, named Jesus.”

All this talk of caesars and kings can sound worlds apart from our own, but in fact it’s remarkably similar. In the Roman Empire, just like today, people were free to believe in and worship any gods they wanted to. Tolerance and diversity were the catch-cry of the day.

“We are free to follow Jesus, so long as we concede that Jesus is just one way.”

There was only one condition: whichever gods you worshipped, whatever you believed or practiced, you had to acknowledge Caesar as Lord.

It was common for Roman soldiers to march into village centres, carrying an altar with a clear demand: “Pay homage to Caesar!” One by one, under pain of death, citizens would approach the altar to sprinkle incense and solemnly declare, “Caesar is Lord.”

For refusing to make this confession in either word or deed, eleven of Jesus’ twelve disciples were killed, and countless more besides. Fortunately, the price most of us pay to follow Jesus is nothing like that. But the Christian’s clash with the current culture is just as real.

“There was only one condition: you had to acknowledge Caesar as Lord.”

As in Rome, we are free to follow Jesus, so long as we concede that Jesus is just one of many ways, and not the way, the truth and the life. In any age, when diversity and tolerance are prized as the highest virtue, it can sound like treason to declare that Jesus alone can save.

When we do—ironically—there is not much tolerance given to Christians.

Let’s be clear though: we shouldn’t go looking for trouble. Scripture says:

  • Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do.
  • Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.
  • Always try to do good to each other and to all people.

But Scripture also declares that Jesus is Lord. And if that’s true, then the Caesars of our day are not. Regardless of whether they are despots or dogmas.

When we accept this and give ourselves permission to be controversial—come what may—we’re actually set free. We no longer need to struggle for the world’s acceptance where we were never promised it.

“If Jesus is Lord, then the Caesars of our day are not.”

Next time you’re faced with hostility for following Jesus, be encouraged.

Like the early believers, you’re called to be convincing. You can be confident that the message you carry will change lives. And if you are controversial as a result, rest assured that Jesus is big enough to handle it.

He’s king, remember?

Angie’s Supernatural Stomach Healing

Like most westerners, I grew up somewhat skeptical of miracles. I was raised in the church and believed in God, but supernatural events seemed oddly stuck in the ancient world.

In a past post, I’ve shared how my views on this have shifted over the years. I have experienced a growing list of undeniable ‘encounters’ that I can’t explain by science or luck. But hands down, the biggest miracle I’ve witnessed is what happened to my fiancé Angie late last year.

“Angie’s story was unpredictable and unique.”

Angie has given me permission to tell her story, knowing that it will leave a powerful impression on those who read it. I was there for much of the journey, and below I tell a faithful account of all that I saw.

One disclaimer before I proceed: I have come to realise that there is no formula for supernatural events. No one can twist God’s arm for a miracle, or craft a three-step plan for success. Angie’s story was unpredictable and unique, and the ending still surprises us today.

Angie Visits a Shaman

Three years ago, before Angie was following Jesus, she backpacked through South-East Asia with some good friends. While there, she visited a shaman made famous by a well-known book and Hollywood movie. Let’s call the shaman Dewi.

For good reason did Dewi gain Hollywood fame: on reading Angie’s palm, Dewi accurately described past relationships, heartbreaks and other major events in Angie’s life. She also had striking insight into a stomach condition that had been troubling Angie for some time.

A friend of Angie took notes as Dewi described her ailment and offered suitable remedies: be sure to cook your vegetables before eating them; drink lots of water; eat five small meals throughout the day.

Dewi even suggested that Angie had demons in her stomach, and that for an additional fee they could be cast out. At this point, Angie decided that her foray into the freaky had gone far enough.

“Angie’s condition kept growing more severe.”

Though this meeting with Dewi didn’t crowd her thoughts, Angie quietly took the advice of the elderly sage and modified her diet accordingly. Despite these changes to her diet, months later back home in the USA, Angie’s condition kept growing more severe. Even small meals could land her with serious bloating and stomach pain.

After many tests, Angie had an endoscopy that revealed a condition called gastroparesis: damaged nerves were causing a delay in the emptying of her stomach.

The doctor informed Angie that this was a disease without a cure. It could only be managed by changing her diet: drinking lots of water, eating small meals throughout the day, and being sure not to eat raw vegetables. Spooky, right?

Real Healing Begins

I met Angie long after these events—just over a year ago. She had since become a follower of Jesus, and was here in Australia deepening her faith in a Bible school.

How Angie and my paths aligned is a story all of its own, but I still remember our first conversation about her stomach. Angie told me in some detail about her gastroparesis diagnosis, the amount of discipline it took her to manage the condition, and how her body would punish her if she got lazy with her eating.

At some point, Angie also related to me her experiences in South-East Asia. I wondered out loud if she might have carried home some kind of curse after dabbling with dark powers on her travels.

She explained that since coming to faith in Jesus, she had renounced that chapter of her life and asked God to cleanse her of any of its effects. She had also received many prayers for healing, but to no avail.

“I wondered out loud if Angie might have carried home some kind of curse.”

Having talked all this out, we were both satisfied that her problems were purely medical. As Angie and I began spending time together, I modified my eating to mostly match hers. My sister who studied dietetics even helped Angie with a stricter diet that—if followed rigorously—helped her avoid those common bouts of excruciating pain.

This wasn’t a perfect solution. There were far less foods Angie could eat than those she couldn’t. Any time we were invited out for dinner, we had a range of terrible choices to make: suggesting recipes to our hosts; refusing what was served; or, most often, Angie going home in terrible pain.

A few months later though, something amazing happened.

We caught up with a friend of mine called Danny. Danny happened to have travelled to the same country Angie had visited. He told us his story.

For years, Danny had suffered with a severe skin condition that caused him to break out in an itchy rash in hot weather. Despite this, a few years ago he felt God had called him to tropical South-East Asia—so he took a step of faith and went. The day Danny arrived there, his condition disappeared, and has never returned since.

“In the days that followed, all of Angie’s symptoms disappeared.”

On hearing Danny’s story, Angie was filled with faith, confident that God could perform the same miracle for her.

And this might be hard to believe, but that’s exactly what happened. In the days that followed, all of Angie’s symptoms disappeared. She tried countless forbidden foods, full of sugar and fat, and high in fibre. No bloating, no pain.

Four days later, Angie and I went out for dinner. Without planning to, we ended up eating the cuisine of this particular South-East Asian country. Walking home, we were still rejoicing about her healing. But later that night, Angie’s stomach was afflicted again with terrible bloating.

We were confused, to say the least. Angie’s healing had been unmistakably real, but it only lasted four days. We decided to trust that it was a sign of things to come.

Our Return East

Fast forward two more months, and Angie and I set off on the same trip Danny took. Not in search of healing, but following God’s call there too. See, it was over there that I had originally met and become friends with Danny. It’s a place I have lived for several years, and Angie was eager to see it for herself.

This is going to sound bizarre, but on arriving in this part of South-East Asia, Angie’s symptoms completely disappeared once more. Her diet and disciplines were all over the place because of travel, but despite this, there was no trace of her dreaded condition.

“Angie and I set off on the same trip Danny took.”

And then, to our bitter disappointment, four days later Angie’s symptoms returned. Almost like clockwork. It was a head-scratching situation.

We chose once more to trust God that permanent healing was still up ahead.

A Total Break With The Past

Angie and I are currently in Australia. We arrived here at Christmas to spend time with family and friends, and to celebrate our wedding in a few short weeks.

Just before we came to Australia, back at Angie’s house in Wisconsin, she was packing for this trip. Looking through her memory box, she stumbled upon a scribbled sheet of paper. It was the notes that Angie’s friend wrote on their visit to Dewi!

Angie ran downstairs and showed it to me. I asked her, “You repented of all of this, right?” Angie told me that of course she had.

But just to be sure, I suggested that we take that piece of paper outside and burn it. It was a cold winter’s night, so we only went out as far as the garage, taking a big kitchen pot with us and some matches.

“Looking through her memory box, Angie stumbled upon a scribbled sheet of paper.”

Tearing the sheet up and setting it alight inside of the pot, we prayed. “God, everything represented by this piece of paper has been confessed and renounced. Now we pray that you would break any remaining power over Angie, in Jesus’ name.”

From that day until this, Angie has been 100% healed.

Over two months has gone by since that cold night in America, and Angie has tried every food she could possible crave since that time. Her gastroparesis is gone. There is only one explanation for what Angie has experienced: Jesus has completely healed her stomach.

God is real. Questions might remain, but one thing is certain: we live in a supernatural world.

As Ephesians 6:12 says, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

Though this is true, we have a greater promise from Jesus himself: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Angie and my adventures are continuing in 2020. If you’d like to stay updated every once in a while by email newsletter, let me know here.

Pornography is a Public Health Crisis

In an effort to normalise pornography, there are people who point out that porn has been around since ancient times. That might be true, but porn today is like nothing the world has ever seen.

Pornography is now everywhere. It’s available on almost every screen and smartphone on the planet. In the West, what was once scandalous and shrewdly stocked in the newsagent or video store is now fodder for billboards, and makes for vanilla viewing on primetime TV.

Would you believe that pornography is a US$97 billion global industry? Porn’s unstoppable popularity might be why so many in the mainstream are unwilling to talk about the damage it’s doing.

“Porn today is like nothing the world has ever seen.”

Like so many aspects of the sexual revolution, our decades-long experiment with porn has provided us with mountains of research about its culture-wide impact.

Its links to mental health problems, sexual dissatisfaction, infidelity and even crime have led American lawmakers to declare porn a public health crisis in 16 states. 

“Porn’s not hurting anyone” has to be one of the biggest lies ever told. In case you needed convincing, consider these ten reasons that pornography is tearing us apart.

1. Porn makes people miserable

Like so many other vices, people often turn to pornography to relax and relieve stress. But a growing body of research links porn to a cluster of concerning mental health outcomes.

A survey of almost 800 college students found a significant link between regular pornography use and depressive symptoms, including low self-worth. Strong correlations between porn and loneliness were uncovered in another study.

“‘Porn’s not hurting anyone’ has to be one of the biggest lies ever told.”

A meta-analysis of fifty studies found that men who consumed pornography were much less happy not just with romantic relationships, but with their relationships in general.

Many porn users, whether male or female, report relationship insecurities, body-image issues and anxiety in connection to their habit. Worse still, one study revealed that 70% of the partners of porn users presented with all the symptoms of PTSD.

2. Porn is effectively a drug

Unlike alcohol, tobacco or other addictive drugs, pornography isn’t a physical substance—it’s power is a passing image, video or idea.

But brain scans reveal that its effect on users is almost identical to a heroin or cocaine hit. Pornography hijacks the brain’s reward system. When users keep going back for more, it puts the amygdala under stress so that it enlarges, affecting emotional processing and decision-making.

Cambridge researcher Dr. Valerie Voon studied this phenomenon in depth, comparing the brain scans of healthy patients with those who were porn-addicted. She concluded that these differences mirror those of drug addicts.”

3. Porn turns people into terrible lovers

One of the glaring ironies of pornography is that many people turn to it to enhance their sex life, only to discover that it achieves the very opposite.

Studies continually show that porn use leads to less sex, and less satisfying sex. As a result of viewing pornography, men are more critical of their partner’s body and less interested in actual sex.

“Pornography is scientifically proven to make someone a bad lover.”

One of the most detailed studies of pornography ever conducted found that, having viewed ‘soft-core’ porn, both men and women were less happy with their partner’s sexual performance.

Doctors today report a growing epidemic of young men suffering from erectile dysfunction. This condition, which once mostly affected older men, is now a reality for countless young guys who have become so accustomed to the constant variety and excitement of internet porn that they can no longer perform without it.

In short, pornography is scientifically proven to make someone a bad lover in almost every conceivable way.

4. Porn destroys marriage

Many reading this will know first-hand accounts of porn’s devastating impacts on marriage. This phenomenon is more than anecdotal.

Porn consumption is statistically linked to less stability in relationships, a devaluing of marriage and family, and greater likelihood of both infidelity and divorce. One study showed that people who had an affair were three times more likely to have used pornography than people who remained faithful to their partner.

“Many reading this will know first-hand accounts of porn’s devastating impacts on marriage.”

Another study tracked the marriages of couples over time, and found that divorce was twice as common among couples that began using pornography to ‘enhance their sex life’, compared with those who didn’t.

If all that weren’t enough, as early as 2002, the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers reported that 56% of divorces involved one partner having “an obsessive interest in pornographic websites.”

5. Porn harms children

Kids growing up today are the first generation in history to be raised on tablets and mobile devices. This has given them much easier access to pornography and the adult-world risks that accompany it.

11 years old is now the average age that children are first exposed to pornography. 90% of boys and 60% of girls have visited porn sites by the time they enter adulthood. Half of teens come across porn at least once a month whether they search it out or not.

“Every week, over 20,000 images of child pornography are posted to the web.”

Research has shown that the younger boys are when they first see porn, the more likely they are to be using it later in life. And among youth, internet pornography is statistically linked to sexual activity at younger ages, multiple sex partners, group sex, and other risky behaviours.

Porn harms children in other ways too. Every week, over 20,000 images of child pornography are posted to the web. And since 2002, more than 10,000 victims depicted in child pornography have been located and identified.

6. Porn drives violence against women

In a post-#MeToo world, and with so much talk of gender equality today, it’s hard to fathom why there’s so much silence around the harm porn does to women. The research on this couldn’t be clearer.

The vast majority of pornography depicts a power imbalance between men and women, with men in charge, and women submissive and obedient.

“It’s hard to fathom why there’s so much silence around the harm porn does to women.”

Recently, a team of researchers looked at 50 of the most watched porn films. Of the 304 scenes in these movies, almost half contained verbal aggression and a staggering 88% depicted physical violence. This led the researchers to conclude that “mainstream commercial pornography has coalesced around a relatively homogenous script involving violence and female degradation”.

And it should be no surprise that ideas shape behaviour. An analysis of 22 studies from 7 countries found that people who consume porn frequently are likely to engage in acts of sexual aggression.

Other studies have shown a strong correlation between men’s porn consumption and their likelihood to victimise women.

7. Porn makes people more deviant

When the brain’s reward centre is stimulated too much—as is the case with a regular porn user—it makes what was once exciting seem dull. This in turn can prompt people to seek out more extreme types of pornography.

In 2012, a survey of 1,500 males was conducted. They were asked if their tastes in pornography had grown “increasingly extreme or deviant” the more they had watched porn. An alarming 56% said yes.

“Why is no one pointing out that mainstream pornography is itself rape culture.”

Porn use has also been shown to influence what users consider to be abnormal. One study showed that people who watched significant amounts of pornography considered violent sex and sex with animals to be twice as common as what those not exposed to pornography thought.

In fact ‘rape culture’ has been a big discussion point in recent years, especially on university campuses. The premise of rape culture is that rape is more likely in an “environment whose prevailing social attitudes have the effect of normalising or trivialising sexual assault and abuse.”

If this is true, why is no one pointing out that mainstream pornography is itself rape culture?

8. Porn fuels sex trafficking

If it’s possible for pornography to have dirty little secrets, here’s the biggest one of all: pornography fuels the sex trafficking industry.

There are an estimated 20 to 40 million slaves in the world today—more than when slavery was abolished. Around 22% of these are victims of forced sexual exploitation, which includes the production of pornography.

It’s confronting to realise that this is not just a developing world problem.

Officially, sex trafficking is defined as a “modern-day form of slavery in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion”. On that definition, this includes the shockingly common cases of young girls in western nations who have been lured into a modelling career only to end up on porn sets.

“There’s an infinite feedback loop between porn and sex trafficking.”

The USA’s Department of Justice and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children both flag pornography as a contributing factor to the global problem of sex trafficking.

There’s also an infinite feedback loop between porn and sex trafficking. Traffickers get ideas from pornography and make their victims watch it in order to produce more of it.

Over the last decade, the fair trade movement has had enormous success in helping people consume products that haven’t relied on slavery or other forms of abuse. It’s time our culture awoke to the same reality taking place with pornography.

9. Porn decays society

Recent statistics on porn use are confronting. Consider this: in 2015, 4.3 billion hours of pornography were watched on a single website. That’s half a million years of viewing time.

From 1998 to 2007, the number of pornographic websites online grew by 1,800%. Today, almost a third of all data transferred across the internet is porn.

“Our culture is facing an existential crisis.”

Decades on from the dawn of the sexual revolution, porn exposure among university-aged males is now almost universal. 1 in 5 mobile searches are for pornography. And 96% of young adults are either neutral, accepting or encouraging of porn use.

Let’s put two and two together. If it’s true that porn is linked to a host of social ills including depression, addiction, deviance, violence and human trafficking; and if it’s true that so many people today affirm pornography and use it regularly, then our culture is facing a crisis.

There’s no other way to say it: porn is decaying our society.

10. Porn offends God

All we’ve looked at so far has been horizontal—how pornography affects people. But the most relevant piece in this puzzle is that porn offends God:

“God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness… God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. As a result, they did vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies.” (Romans 1:18, 24).

The reason God hates sexual perversion isn’t because he is mean. Quite the opposite—it’s because he has infinite love for everyone he has created. He knows what’s best for us, and he knows that pornography is anything but that.

“God offers his help and his presence to all who want to walk in freedom.”

The good news is that God has made a way for every one of us to be free of the scourge of sin, including pornography. He did this by sending Jesus. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (1 Corinthians 5:21).

Freedom and cleansing is found in Jesus. At the cross, Jesus took on all of our filth and sin. And in turn, he clothed us in his perfect righteousness. He offers his help and his presence to all who want to walk in freedom.

Because of its addictive nature, getting free of pornography might require effort. There are now excellent resources to help with this, including Fight the New Drug, Valiant Man and Covenant Eyes. Walking in freedom is possible for anyone who wants it enough.

Whatever it takes, the effort will be worth it. Every one of us owes it to ourselves, our loved ones and our society to turn this crisis around.

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Feel Like a Fool? All Good, God Chose the Foolish Things

Have you ever left a comment online taking a stand for Jesus, only to return an hour later to a barrage of criticism? Or sat in the lunchroom listening to someone unleash on the evils Christianity, not knowing how to respond? 

It’s a common experience. Standing for truth in the public square comes at a cost. Go against the flow of mainstream ideas and you’ll rarely find favour for your faithfulness—more likely you’ll be made to feel like a fool.

If that’s you, then hear the words of 1 Corinthians 1:27. “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.”

“Standing for truth in the public square comes at a cost.”

This is so counterintuitive that it sounds almost ridiculous to our modern ears. God chose the foolish things?

Maybe a contemporary illustration will help. In recent years, billions of people have avoided the mainstream hotel industry to take advantage of AirBNB. They’ve found cheap accommodation in other people’s homes and even made money from their own.

Likewise, Uber has turned regular cars into taxis, to the advantage of passengers and upstart drivers alike. Both of these ‘disrupter’ companies, as they’ve been called—and now dozens of rivals—have upended conventional markets.

“You and I, as followers of Jesus, are ‘disrupters’.”

And here’s the thing: when Uber and AirBNB were struggling to get off the ground, the corporate world probably peered down from lush offices above, scorning them as foolish—if they even noticed. But fast forward a decade, and these companies have sent corporations broke and reshaped entire industries from the ground up.

This is the vibe of 1 Corinthians 1:18-31. You and I, as followers of Jesus, are ‘disrupters’. Here’s the meaning of this passage: A foolish message shared by foolish people is exactly how God has chosen to save the world.

A Foolish Message | v18-25

The gospel is a foolish message. We’ve made the cross a very tame, middle-class, domesticated symbol. We’ve forgotten that it was a symbol of shame and slaughter in the first century.

Imagine a small, golden electric chair dangling from a necklace. Or an atom bomb depicted in a church’s stained-glass windows. Or a noose hung high above a sanctuary altar.

Are you shocked by these suggestions? If so, then you can empathise just a bit more with those who’ve rejected the gospel today. Many scoff at the thought that a crucified Saviour is the hope of the world. The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. (v18).

“The gospel is a foolish message.”

The reason so many see the gospel as foolish is because it confronts the idols in our culture. In Paul’s day, The Jews wanted power. They were waiting for a leader who would liberate them from the Roman Empire. They weren’t expecting a crucified Messiah: to them, that was weak, and it made no sense.

And likewise, the Greeks wanted wisdom. They were looking for the world’s greatest orator or philosopher—someone to rival Plato or Aristotle. They weren’t interested in a shabby carpenter from a backwater province of the empire.

So what does God do? Does he give the Jews and the Greeks what they want? No, he decides to offend everyone. He gives the world Jesus. God in the flesh, hanging on a cross.

“It’s a message to make every culture stumble.”

Jews seek signs. Greeks seek wisdom. In our day, millennials seek image. The middle class seeks comfort. Religious people seek rules. Irreligious people seek autonomy. But we preach Christ, and him crucified, Paul says (v23).

It’s a message to make every culture stumble. With the gospel—with this one simple message—God confronts every sub-culture’s idol. All of our false gods. All of our false salvations.

The gospel declares that the only thing we can offer God is our brokenness. Only then—only when we confess our sins, our weaknesses, and our need for Jesus—can we be saved (v21). This is why the gospel seems so foolish to so many.

Foolish Messengers | v26-31

Not only do we bear a foolish message—we ourselves are also foolish messengers. This is what Paul means when he says, “Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.” (v26).

Paul uses the word ‘foolish’ five times in eight verses. In the Greek, that word is moros, from which we get the word moron. In case you missed it, Paul is essentially calling us morons.

Yes, it’s encouraging when rich and powerful Christians use their platform for Jesus. But we shouldn’t hang our hopes on this. Fame, prestige and political power have never mixed well with the church. And that’s never been God’s plan to save the world anyway.

“Paul is essentially calling us morons.”

In his mission to bring redemption to this planet, God’s plan is to use really ordinary, average people. Fools. Morons. Us.

It’s confronting to realise that the average Christian today is extremely poor, and is part of an oppressed minority group, living somewhere in a rural or outer urban city in Africa or Asia. They’re the world’s forgotten people.

This might sound kind of gloomy, but only if we’re thinking in a worldly way. In fact, “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are.” (v27-28).

“God’s plan is to use really ordinary, average people.”

In other words, with God, you don’t have to be strong or powerful or religious or rich or intelligent or spiritual or anything. You just have to be willing.

God uses the little people. God is with the underdog.

From the very beginning, the church has been most effective when it has been a prophetic voice on the margins of society. This is where we thrive. This is where we’re most at home.

“God is with the underdog.”

That’s where Jesus was in his day. It’s where the early church was when Paul wrote this letter to the Corinthians. It’s where we believers in the West find ourselves in this cultural moment.

A foolish message. Foolish messengers.

If sometimes you’re embarrassed by the Christian message, that’s a good thing. Society around us elevates wisdom, intelligence, and brilliant philosophies. But God has chosen the foolish message of the cross to save the world.

If sometimes you feel like a fool as a Christian, get used to that. It’s a good thing. It should feel normal. The world elevates people with power and strength and noble birth. But God has chosen to use foolish messengers like you and me.

I’ve got some big writing and travel adventures planned for 2019. If you’d like to stay updated every once in a while by email newsletter, let me know here.

The Year in the Jungle That Changed My Life

When I was 19, I made one of the biggest decisions of my life. I moved to the jungles of Indonesia.

If you know me now, that may sound like the course my life was always going to take. Let me assure you: it was anything but an inevitable decision at the time.

My mate, whose parents were working for an NGO there, had been bugging me endlessly to visit, and I was more than content to ignore him. I felt no particular draw towards other cultures and certainly no interest in learning another language. Like a hobbit, I had everything I needed in my little shire and had no reason to leave.

“This was one of the best decisions I have ever made.”

But then God spoke, and in a Jonah moment, I knew I could ignore him no longer. And rather than a visit, I felt compelled to commit to at least a year and see where it would go.

Over a decade later and I’ve just returned from my tenth trip to this remote region. I’ve now spent around two and a half years of my life in a place that has captured my heart and keeps drawing me back.

If you’re wondering what to do with your gap year; are at a crossroads in life; or are otherwise experiencing your own Jonah wake-up call, let me share with you why this was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

The Adventure of a Lifetime

I’ve always loved camping, but I didn’t know adventure until I lived on this tangle of tropical islands.

I could tell you stories of spear fishing and jumping down waterfalls, of high-speed midnight rides on a car roof (don’t tell Mum), of climbing one of the world’s most active volcanoes (four times), and of getting lost in the jungle for days—and fortunately, making it out alive.

If none of that excites you, I could tell you about the families who’ve hosted me in their dirt-floored, bamboo-thatched homes; stories of suffering and hope that I never imagined I’d hear first hand; and the incredible friends, young and old, that I now have a lifelong bond with.

Culture and Language

I recently heard it said that until you understand a second language, you don’t understand your own. I couldn’t agree more. And I’d say the same about culture.

On return from my first year in Indonesia, I had fresh eyes—an outsider’s view—on things in my own culture that I’d grown up taking for granted. I can’t quantify just how life-changing that has been for me.

In the best of ways, I now question the status-quo I see all around me, and more importantly, the mediocrity inside my own head.

And there’s another link between culture and language worth mentioning. Language embodies culture. When you learn one, you learn the other. Through language, you don’t just learn to speak like your hosts, but to share their values and their outlook on life so that it shapes your own.

Growth and Perspective

When I landed back in Australia, after spending some time with a friend, she commented that I went to Indonesia a boy and came back a man. Maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but I certainly grew a lot that year—not least in my perspective on the world.

Whether it was washing my own clothes each day with a scrubbing brush, tasting the most unusual cuisine from bat to snake to sago grub, or seeing the unparalleled joy of children in the face of abject poverty—there is something about living on the outskirts of civilisation that can only alter your view of almost everything.

I can no longer approach finances like I used to. Or my fears, or my friendships, or my faith. Years later and I’m still unpacking how my interactions with the amazing people of Indonesia have shaped me.

Future Possibilities

Too many people, even those still finishing high school, have been persuaded to focus far too much on CVs and career paths, salaries and ambition. Too few are concerned about the kind of person they’re becoming.

As you make these big decisions about your future, what grid are you using? If it’s comfort, status or security, let me challenge you beyond goals like these that won’t satisfy, and that aren’t particularly attainable anyway.

Let me challenge you away from the path of least resistance and towards the path of adventure, obedience and self-sacrifice—whatever that might look like for you.

Even if it looks like a year in the jungle.

~

The organisation I serve with in Indonesia welcomes with open arms western visitors who are willing to serve and get behind their vision of physical, emotional and spiritual restoration for the poor and marginalised.

They have a particular need right now for native English speakers to teach in the school (Reception to Year 8), qualified or otherwise. Please get in touch with me if you’d like to find out more.

How Judaism Points to Jesus

Israel. It’s bizarre that such a tiny nation somehow makes news headlines every week. I guess when you occupy the hottest piece of real estate on the planet, the whole world is going to have an opinion.

Today the media buzz is mostly about Israel’s injustices. But if you look back in history, there’s probably no people group that’s suffered as much injustice as the Jewish people. From slavery to exile to the 6 million Jews killed in the Nazi Holocaust, it’s a miracle they’ve even survived.

As Christians, we’re sometimes known for our suspicion of other religions. What if we got over ourselves and asked what we can learn from Judaism—and how it might point people to Jesus?

The Story of Judaism

Judaism is a religion, but it’s also a story: the story of God calling a man who became a nation that blessed the world. God made amazing promises to this ethnic group, along with a high calling to obey his laws in every area of their lives.

So in brief, God’s people obeying his law is what Judaism is all about. The only way for us to understand this faith is to join its central characters on a fascinating adventure through time.

T H E   C A L L :   A B R A H A M

In 1800BC, in today’s Iraq, an idol worshipper hears a voice from heaven: Leave your country and family, go to the land I give you, and I’ll make you into a great nation that will bless the planet. Abraham obeys, and he becomes the founding father of Judaism.

As part of this promise, God expects every male in the family to be circumcised: a peculiar reminder that they are God’s peculiar people—and that his plan of universal blessing will come through their offspring.

“It’s the story of God calling a man who became a nation that blessed the world.”

The promise begins to unfold: Abraham’s grandson Jacob or Israel has twelve sons (who go on to become the twelve tribes of Israel). Like most brothers, they don’t get along so well, and during a low point in the story, one of them called Joseph is sold by the others into slavery in Egypt.

But in Egypt, God turns the tables. Joseph becomes Pharaoh’s chief administrator and saves the region from a devastating famine. Starving and in search of food, his long-lost brothers arrive to a surprising and emotional family reunion.

T H E   C O V E N A N T :   M O S E S

The family settles in Egypt, and their numbers grow so rapidly that a new Pharaoh, feeling threatened, puts them under brutal slavery. But God won’t stand for this injustice, so he raises up a leader called Moses to set his people free.

At Moses’ word, supernatural plagues and storms ravage Egypt, but Pharaoh’s heart is hard like stone. So in a final showdown, God has each Israelite household cook a lamb and smear its blood on their doorframe: the firstborn in every house in Egypt would die that night, and God’s judgment would pass over any home marked with blood.

“God raises up a leader called Moses to set his people free.”

Egypt is left devastated, and Pharaoh, broken-hearted, lets Israel go. Through a parted ocean,  God’s people escape. Meanwhile Pharaoh has changed his mind, and in hot pursuit of Israel, he and his armies are drowned in the engulfing waters.

The nation is finally free. On their journey to the promised land, God makes a covenant with them. He gives Moses their national law or Torah, which will govern every aspect of their lives as God’s people. If they obey it, God will make them prosperous and secure, and the model of a wise and just society. If they neglect it, curses and exile are sure to follow.

T H E   K I N G D O M :   D A V I D

After a long journey camping in the wilderness, Israel finally arrives in the promised land. The twelve tribes unite to form a kingdom, and in around 1000BC, their greatest king comes to power. David is a warrior-poet with many faults—but he captures the holy city of Jerusalem, extends Israel’s borders, and leads the nation with a heart after God.

“Israel finally arrives in the promised land.”

God honours David’s faithfulness by promising him a dynasty that would last forever. From David’s line, God says that an eternal king or Messiah would come, ruling over a universal kingdom—and leading Israel to fulfil its God-given destiny.

In time, Israel builds God a temple. The Jews know God is everywhere of course, but this temple is God’s throne room where they can approach him to offer praise and sacrifices. One day a year, on the day of atonement, the most important sacrifice is made. Two animals are brought: one is killed, bearing the nation’s sin—the other is released into the wild, declaring their forgiveness.

“David is a warrior-poet who leads the nation with a heart after God.”

But this spiritual and political high doesn’t last long. Soon most of the nation, even its kings, are perverting justice and worshipping idols. God sends prophets to remind Israel about the blessings and curses of the covenant—but Israel rejects and kills them.

God has had enough: from the 8th to the 6th centuries BC, the empires of Assyria and Babylon invade and take the Jewish people into exile. It would be centuries before they’d return to their land to restore the nation and rebuild their ruined temple.

T H E   C R O S S   R O A D S

Even when Israel returns many years later, life isn’t like it was. The new temple is small—only a shadow of its former self. Promises of a glorious future for Israel stay unrealised. Foreign empires keep invading: in an act of desecration, a Greek king sets up a statue of Zeus in God’s temple, leading to a Jewish revolt. Then Romans invade with a huge military and heavy taxes.

During this bewildering time, Israel is at the crossroads. There are competing visions for what the future of the Jewish people should look like: retreat to the desert and wait for the end of days? Overthrow the Roman invaders? Meet them with a compromise?

“Promises of a glorious future for Israel stay unrealised.”

There was another option. A peasant from northern Palestine called Yeshua knew the Torah, taught people to love their enemies—and even worked miracles and healed people. Crowds followed him everywhere and some thought he might be the long-awaited Messiah. But Israel’s leaders knew better, and they had him crucified outside Jerusalem in AD30.

T H E   C O N T I N U I N G   H O P E

The solution would be found somewhere else. After the Romans destroyed Israel’s temple a second time, a group called the Pharisees rose to prominence with a vision for how the Jews should live while their temple lay in ruins: the focus must now turn inwards to personal purity.

This would set the path for Israel for the next two millennia. In that time, the Jewish diaspora has taken the Jewish people all around the world. Everywhere they’ve gone, Jews have gathered in local synagogues to pray, sing and read the Torah and other scriptures like the Mishnah to help them obey God and live pure lives.

“For Jews, festivals are a time to reflect on the hardships of their people.”

Today, synagogue creeds and prayers remind Jews of their membership in Abraham’s family, their need to confess sin, their confidence in the afterlife, and their enduring hope that Messiah will come and establish his kingdom in Israel. (For many Jews, this hope has looked more likely since the modern state of Israel was formed in 1948 in the original promised land).

Jews today celebrate many important events. Once a week they rest for Sabbath. Male infants are still circumcised. Jewish teenagers mark their coming of age with Bar Mitzvah. Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the temple after its desecration. For Jews, festivals are often a time to reflect on the hardships of their people—and their ongoing hope in God’s faithfulness:

New Year | A sombre day when a ram’s horn is blown to remind the Jews of their need for spiritual awakening and obedience to God.

Day of Atonement | Without a temple there can be no animal sacrifice, but this is still a day when the nation seeks God’s forgiveness.

Feast of Tabernacles | Faithful Jews eat their meals in outdoor tents to remember their time of wandering in the wilderness.

Passover | A special feast is eaten to commemorate God passing over Israelite houses in Egypt and delivering them from slavery.

Pentecost | Many Jews stay up through the night to read and study the Torah as a celebration of the day God gave his law to Israel.

That’s Judaism. Today the world’s 15 million Jews are found in 134 countries, but around one third of them live in the modern state of Israel.

Judaism and Jesus

You need to squint to see Jesus’ fingerprints in other world religions, but his place in Judaism is explicit. Jesus was a Jew—he was part of God’s unfolding story of the Jewish people. In case you missed it, he was Yeshua, the one rejected and killed as a false Messiah.

For the Jews, that rejection has lasted two thousand years. But maybe Jesus is worth another look. After all, he came as a prophet to point Israel back to the covenant and God’s law. Like the Jewish people all through history, even killing Jesus couldn’t keep him down. He predicted his crucifixion in advance, and explained what it would achieve for Israel.

“Jesus is the fulfilment of God’s plan to bless the world through Abraham’s offspring.”

He said he was the passover lamb whose blood would protect them from God’s judgment; that he was the animal killed at the temple to bear the nation’s sin so they could go free and be sure of God’s forgiveness. Could the enduring absence of a temple since the first century be proof that Jesus was the sacrifice to end all temple sacrifices?

Jesus wasn’t just a descendant of Abraham: he also came from the line of David. He claimed to be the long-awaited Messiah that would lead Israel to fulfil its destiny. Yes, he was crucified, but he rose again and has promised to return to establish and rule over a universal kingdom—a dynasty that will last forever.

This is a promise he made to Israel. But it’s also a promise that he extended to all nations. It wasn’t just in his earthly life that crowds followed Jesus: today there isn’t a nation on earth where his followers can’t be found. Jesus truly is the fulfilment of God’s plan to bless the world through Abraham’s offspring.

“Jesus wants to lead the Jewish people with a heart after God.”

Even as Jews regather in the land of Israel today, there is still a sense that they’re a nation in exile, a people wandering in the wilderness. The wailing wall in Jerusalem is a reminder of this. There is no temple; today Israel is still just a shadow of its former self; promises of the future stay unrealised.

That day will come. But until his return, Jesus has a vision for how the Jewish people should live—he wants to help Israel obey God with lives of inward purity. He wants to lead them with a heart after God. He longs for Israel’s spiritual awakening.

The Messiah is here—one greater than Abraham, Moses, and David. And he has come to set God’s people free.

Thanks for reading! If you’d like to support my blog, please like it, leave a comment, and most importantly, share it on social media. To get new posts directly by email, scroll to the bottom of the page and subscribe.

Check out the rest of this series:

Buddhism  |  Islam  |  Hinduism  |  Atheism  |  Judaism  |  Pluralism

Sources

Dickson, John. A Spectator’s Guide to World Religions: An Introduction to the Big Five. Sydney: Blue Bottle Books, 2004, 85-131.

Secrets to a Thriving Young Adults Church

In high school I was shy and awkward. If you told me that one day I’d be discipling hundreds of young adults in one of Australia’s fastest-growing Baptist churches, I would have shaken my head in disbelief.

It turns out that God has a sense of humour. This has been my adventure for the last four years, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I talk to other leaders who feel discouraged in young adults ministry. Youth still in high school flock to events that are run well. But after they graduate and get their license, keeping them in a faith community is like herding cats.

“All of these secrets are totally counter-intuitive.”

It’s a huge challenge for me too. Any of my “success” I credit to the goodness of God. But there are also a few things I’ve picked up along the way—secrets that I think help our young adults community thrive.

All of them are totally counter-intuitive. So brace yourself.

#1 Give up trying to do so much ministry

Like most pastors, I nearly burnt out in my first year. Then I discovered boundaries and learnt the word “no”. I also lifted my eyes and saw a church full of talented young people.

As I began asking their help to get things done, I realised something deeper. Young adults come alive when you look them in the eye, name their giftings, and throw them off the deep end with the words “I believe in you”.

“I lifted my eyes and saw a church full of talented young people.”

Some weeks now I don’t touch a microphone. Other people preach, lead worship, run life groups, and oversee complex ministries. Out of this fertile soil more grassroots ministries spring up—some that are thriving before I even hear about them.

I’m still deeply involved in the life of the community. And I preach often, because that’s my main gifting. But my role has shifted significantly to discipling leaders, and helping them do the same.

“As I’ve had the humility to step down, I’ve seen others step up.”

This is a win for everyone, because if I’m honest, I’m actually not that good at most other things. That’s what all the other people in the body of Christ are for.

Too often, pastors are put on a pedestal. It boosts our ego, but the pressure is deadly. As I’ve had the humility to step down, I’ve seen others step up. And I’ve realised that’s precisely how disciples are made.

#2 Get rid of your best quality people

Right now—and most of the time—some of our best young people are off completing discipleship schools with YWAM or serving on the mission fields of South-East Asia.

When they come back, more will go. Every month we farewell people who join our church plant, or decide to serve at a different church, or who go overseas with a ministry we’re not connected to.

“Long ago, I decided that my goal isn’t to retain young people.”

If this sounds stressful, it’s because you’re not thinking like a millennial. After thirteen years of routine, young people want freedom. We want adventure without a guaranteed outcome—even without the guarantee that we’ll return. And just watch: out of gratitude for that freedom, most will return anyway.

Even if they don’t come back, it’s not a loss. Long ago I decided that my goal isn’t to retain as many young people in church as possible. That will only leave me frustrated. It’s like herding cats, remember?

“Millennials are drawn to this kind of permission-giving community.”

Instead, for the six months or the two years or the decade they are with me, I will pour my heart into discipling them as well as I know how. Then, wherever they go, they’ll be a blessing to others, and a benefit to God’s kingdom. And I won’t feel deflated.

Millennials are drawn to this kind of permission-giving community. That’s why you can keep sending out your best with the confidence that more will come and replace them.

#3 Tell them how hard it is to follow Jesus

Social media is a mirage telling us the perfect life is always just up ahead. The modern world tries to turn this dream into reality and sell us lives that are easy and pain-free.

The church has tapped into this project, and for decades now we’ve tried a seeker-sensitive approach. We hope that if we lower the bar of discipleship enough, anyone will step over it.

“We want purpose. Give us something worth dying for.”

But if you actually talk to young people today, they don’t want a low bar. We want a challenge. We’ve grown up with easy, and it’s boring.

We’ve also grown up with enough pain and mess to realise that the perfect life is a lie. We don’t want perfect; we want purpose. Give us something worth dying for—then we might have something to live for.

“We’ve grown up with easy, and it’s boring.”

Jesus is the answer to this cry. He calls us to die to ourselves daily. To put others first. To take up our cross of suffering and follow him. To live for a cause bigger than ourselves, greater than our comfort, more transcendent than the politics of our age.

Preach that, and young adults will come from miles away.

If you found this helpful, please go back and hit share or leave a comment. If you’d like to receive my blogs by email, scroll to the bottom of the page to subscribe.

For more ideas, check out More Secrets to a Thriving Young Adults Church.

Understand Any Book of the Bible in Ten Seconds

Have you ever read the entire Bible?

It’s a big book. To read it from start to finish takes about three days without a break. With so much to comprehend, it’s little wonder that literally millions more books have been written to explain and apply it.

“To read the Bible from start to finish takes about three days without a break.”

But in an age saturated by information, it’s no surprise that the most helpful resources are also the simplest. I’ve long thought that a resource should exist that explains every book of the Bible at a glance.

I’ve never found one—so I created one. I trust you’ll find these simple outlines personally useful and great to share with those new to the Christian walk. (Download a printable PDF copy here).

If you enjoyed reading this, please like and share it on social media, and scroll to the bottom of the page to subscribe to my blog by email.

I’m indebted to Charles R. Swindoll for many of the book structures, and to Jeffrey Kranz for his simple book summaries.