Three Secrets to the Culture Wars

It’s been many decades since the term culture wars was dubbed, and the label is now more relevant than ever. What began as a reasoned debate on issues like abortion, multiculturalism and homosexuality has turned into a hearts-and-minds battle for the soul of our civilization.

The rapid growth of the culture wars vocab is evidence enough of this.

We’re all familiar with terms like ‘identity politics,’ ‘white privilege’ and ‘virtue signalling.’ But have you heard of deplatforming, cancel culture, red-pilled, safe spaces, cisnormativity, or Trump derangement syndrome? Most importantly, do you know what it means to be woke?

It’s not easy keeping up with the jargon. Actually, it would be far safer to let others fight the culture wars. This is especially true now that people make a sport of branding others with so many exotic new phobias.

“There is a much deeper war of ideas taking place.”

But to disengage from the culture wars is to surrender entirely. As George Orwell was apt to point out, if you control the language, you win the debate. Words and ideas matter, because they are precisely where the battle rages.

It has become ever clearer to me that underneath most verbal brawls there is a much deeper war of ideas taking place. When we learn to recognise the hidden debates, it becomes much easier to engage and stay on the front foot.

So what are these unspoken battles? I am convinced that if we understand the secrets to the culture wars, the questions behind the questions, we can avoid unneeded hostility—and instead seek out some common ground and some common sense.

Secret 1: Is the Endgame Equality or Power?

‘Equality’ has been the motto for causes of every kind in recent decades. So much so that it’s hard to find anyone today who rejects the idea of equality. Most westerners agree that all people should be raised to a place of equal worth regardless of gender, race or creed.

But in recent years, the notion of equality has been quietly transformed along with the definition of words like racism and sexism. Ironically, these -isms no longer apply equally. Among the woke, they are only allowed to be used in reference to oppressed groups—those who have faced historical injustice.

For example, if I, a ‘white male,’ complain that I have been the victim of racism or sexism, my complaint will be shrugged off—even scoffed at. I will be told to suck it up, since all Caucasians and all males have been living the good life for eons, apparently. According to this logic, it is now my turn to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.

“In recent years, the notion of equality has been quietly transformed.”

Those who hold this line genuinely believe in the virtue of defending only those groups who have a history of ill-treatment. But at this point, they no longer believe in equality. What they are fighting for is unequal power. They want one form of privilege to give way to another.

I’ll admit that being both male and of European descent may have brought brought with it certain privileges not enjoyed by other people in the West. But for as long as I can remember, I have sought to regard all people as my equals and not expect better treatment for myself. Most people I interact with seem to live out the same convictions.

“When you see people trying to wield raw power, call them out on it.”

So while Western societies today may not be perfect, they are the most equal and just that history has ever seen: simply ask your grandparents. To whatever degree we are still overcoming the inequalities of the past, we will never be helped by replacing old injustices with new ones.

Ironically, brazen power grabs are exactly what we were supposed to be avoiding. So when you see people trying to wield raw power like this, call them out on it—and bring the conversation back to genuine equality.

And if you’re a Christian, explain the absolute that grounds this value: we have all been made in the image of God, and that is why are compelled to treat people as equally valuable and precious.

Secret 2: Are People Defending a Race or an Idea?

In some quarters, racism and xenophobia are labels thrown about far too casually. Only recently it dawned on me that, more often than not, these accusations have little to do with race or nationality. Many who brandish these terms are actually seeking to protect an idea.

The light came on for me in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. Remember when President Trump—and many others—were accused of racism for calling it the ‘Wuhan coronavirus’?

You may not know this, but in the early stages of the outbreak, the same media who later painted Trump as a xenophobe had previously called it the Wuhan coronavirus themselves—dozens and dozens of times.

And why not? As comedian Bill Maher points out, we’ve always named diseases after their place of origin, from the West Nile Virus to Ebola, Guinea Worms, MERS and the Spanish Flu.

“Many who brandish terms like ‘racist’ are actually seeking to protect an idea.”

The renaming of COVID-19 isn’t a hill I wish to die on. But it was a convenient shift for the Chinese Communist Party who covered up the early spread of the virus and (it seems likely) pressured the World Health Organisation to delay warning the world of a pandemic.

All of this to say, naming the virus after its origin in Wuhan has little to do with Chinese people, and much to do with the villainy of an authoritarian government. This remains true even if Trump did it to take the focus off his own early failures. What Trump and others took issue with, in other words, was the communism—not the Chinese-ness—of the CCP.

Sticking to the theme American politics, this year I have followed the ‘Blexit’ movement with great interest. Founded by African-American commentator Candace Owens, Blexit is shorthand for a black exit from the Democratic party.

“Race isn’t the point—ideas are.”

The idea that black Americans might find refuge with Republicans is a shock to many. What has shocked me, however, is how many ‘Blexiteers’ report racist treatment from liberals for their decision to walk away from the Democrats—or “leave the plantation” as some even call it. Frequently they are accused of being ‘race traitors’ and Uncle Toms.

Ironically, the idea that black Americans should only vote Democrat is itself a racist assumption since it lumps all people of one ethnic group into a single category.

Put simply, race isn’t the point—ideas are. This has to be true if people of any ethnicity are able to think for themselves and vote for any political party or cause they are most drawn to.

Next time someone alleges racism or xenophobia, ask yourself this simple question: are they trying to protect a race or an idea? No one should be discriminated against for his or her ethnicity. But all bad ideas can and should be challenged.

Secret 3: Is Western Civilization Good or Evil?

This might just be the question behind the question behind the question. I have seen this and now I can’t unsee it: where the culture wars rage the fiercest, the debate is always about Western Civilization itself.

Simply put, is Western Civilization basically good and worth defending—or is it fundamentally evil and in need of overhauling entirely?

For many today, the West is an oppressive patriarchy that perpetuates, from one generation to the next, the values, beliefs and institutions that oppress minorities and divide society.

In this telling of the story, Western Civilization is one long project of colonisation—the rape-and-pillage of indigenous communities and the environment that continues unabated to this day.

“Is Western Civilization good and worth defending?”

While only the ignorant could deny the West’s many mistakes, such a simplistic version of events has too many glaring omissions. Western Civilization was also the wellspring of countless blessings that have transformed the world—science, liberal democracy, medicine, universal education, and the idea of equality itself, to name just a few.

Violence, slavery, and colonisation are not unique to the West—they have characterised almost every civilization through time. What makes the West unique and truly good is its leading role in subduing these evils, and exporting prosperity and freedom beyond our shores so that others might benefit too.

Even those who say they disagree with me on this point seem confused at best.

“We instinctively know that the West is a blessing.”

The same people who decry nations like Australia, the UK and America as evil, also insist that we open our borders so that people from other nations can flood in at will. If the West is so despicable, why would we want to torture others by welcoming them here? No seriously—why?

In truth, we all want the West to be a blessing to others because we instinctively know that the West is a blessing. We can see that our civilization is not ours to hoard, but ours to share.

And that’s why I’m willing to fight a culture war to defend it.

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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?

Easter: God’s Vaccine for Humanity

It’s a strange time to be celebrating Easter. We would normally be enjoying the long weekend near water or sun; spending time with our friends extended families; perhaps gathering in our local churches.

Instead, for the most part we will be bunkered down inside our homes, seeking safety from a deadly virus that has spread around the globe.

And yet, even in a lockdown, the message of Easter can’t be silenced.

See, what we are depending on to end this crisis is a vaccine. Social distancing has slowed the spread of COVID-19, especially here in Australia. But until and unless there is a vaccine, experts warn that most of us will likely be infected. That’s the bad news.

“Even in a lockdown, the message of Easter can’t be silenced.”

The good news is that there are many vaccines being developed. You might have heard that Bill Gates has even pledged to build factories to mass produce seven candidate vaccines while they are still being trialled. He knows he will waste billions of dollars on the failed vaccines, but if just one works, his eccentric undertaking will save precious time and countless lives.

How does this relate to Easter? Humanity’s most pressing need right now might seem like a coronavirus vaccine. But in fact, our greatest need is and always has been a spiritual vaccine.

The truth is that ten out of ten people die. There is no escaping this. After death, Romans 14:10-12 warns, “we will all stand before the judgment seat of God,” and “each of us will give a personal account to God.”

“Our greatest need is and always has been a spiritual vaccine.”

As descendants of the first human couple—Adam and Eve—we have inherited their fallen, sinful nature. Each of us who is born into the human family has a natural inclination to live selfishly, like we are our own God. This hurts others, but most of all it hurts and offends the God who created us.

Sin is like a disease; a deadly infection that leads unstoppably to death. “The wages of sin is death,” declares Romans 6:23. This is why our only hope for life after death is a spiritual vaccine.

Easter is that event on the Christian calendar celebrating the arrival of our vaccine. On the cross, Hebrews 2:9 tells us, Jesus “suffered death for us” and “tasted death for everyone.” On Good Friday, he offered himself to be infected with humanity’s sin-disease.

“Sin is like a deadly infection that leads unstoppably to death.”

To onlookers, Jesus death would have seemed like foolishness and defeat. But three days later, on Easter Sunday, Jesus cheated death. To everyone’s surprise, he walked out of his tomb. Defeating sin, Jesus rose again with perfect immunity to pass on to us.

At Easter, Jesus offers us his immunity. When we put our faith in him, we are vaccinated against sin and all of its shame and guilt. We become immune to judgment and death, allowing us to share eternal life with God.

Believing in Jesus won’t necessarily protect us from all of life’s troubles—even coronavirus. But Jesus sets us free from the fear of death; he fills our lives with new joy and eternal purpose, and he enables us to put our selfishness aside to live fully for God and for the benefit of others.

“At Easter, Jesus offers us his immunity.”

Will you accept the vaccination that Jesus offers? If so, tell him now. Pray something like this from your heart:

Dear God, I realise that I have been sick with sin. I have turned away from you and lived for myself. I know that I deserve your judgment. But now I am turning back to you. I believe that Jesus has died for me and risen again. I trust that he has forgiven my sin and brought me new life. I give myself to you God, and I choose to live for you and others, instead of myself. Thank you for opening my eyes to the true meaning of Easter.

~

Let’s get the good news of Easter out while so many are in need of hope. Be bold—head back to the social media platform where you found this article and hit share.

Last Year I Was Engaged—Now My Wedding’s Cancelled

Today was going to be my wedding day.

Angie and I had everything planned. A ceremony by the beach; our reception at the winery across the road from where I grew up; thirty guests joining us from overseas.

But then corona came.

I first read of the strange Wuhan virus back in January. By February, I started to wonder if it might cause trouble for any of Angie’s family arriving from the United States. A month ago, I even asked our wedding venue if they had a cancellation policy for global pandemics. I was joking—but I was also kind of serious.

“Angie and I had everything planned. But then corona came.”

Last weekend, I went camping with friends for my bucks party. I checked my phone more often than I normally would—and for good reason. Blow by blow, Angie told me of American friends and family cancelling their trips as international flights became harder and harder to navigate.

With heavy hearts, we had already decided that our wedding would only go ahead if, at a minimum, her parents were able to make the trip. By the time my bucks weekend was over, it was only my future in-laws and Angie’s maid of honour who were still planning to board their flights.

When Scott Morrison announced that everyone arriving internationally had to self-isolate for 14 days, we knew it was all over. There just wasn’t time between their touch-down and our ceremony.

“Today was going to be my wedding day.”

Months of dreaming and planning came to a sudden, sobering, sickening end. It felt like a practical joke; like a twisted movie script; like someone else’s tragic life. But it was ours.

After tears and many phone calls to family, we decided that it was only right for us to still get married. But we would keep the affair low-key and only celebrate properly in a year or so, when all the current craziness was over.

Angie and I were very blessed by loved ones who reached out with words of encouragement and practical help. A very generous friend offered us her homestead as the setting for a humble garden party.

“Blow by blow, Angie told me of American friends and family cancelling their trips.”

We had our solution: Angie and I would marry in a private ceremony at the beach with just my family in attendance. Afterwards, we would take up our friend’s offer and host our Australian guests—including those from interstate—for an outdoor party with braziers and wood-fired pizza.

We only had a week to plan it. But with social distancing rules changing every day, the stress grew increasingly unbearable. Who knew if tomorrow, gathering sizes would be limited to ten like the USA, state borders closed, or backyard parties banned altogether?

It was all too much. On wise advice from my sister, we decided to shift our wedding forward again, and get married the day after next.

Only in my nightmares have I planned my wedding in 24 hours—but that’s exactly what we did. 

On the Sunday just passed, before love itself was outlawed, I eloped with my beautiful bride on the windswept sea cliffs of Second Valley. It was nothing like we had planned, but it couldn’t have been more perfect.

Afterwards at my sister’s place, we celebrated with just twenty of our nearest and dearest. It was the most lavish backyard shindig you’ve ever seen, and we are indebted to those who made it happen.

“I eloped with my beautiful bride on the windswept sea cliffs of Second Valley.”

Just days into our honeymoon—yesterday in fact—we checked the news. Weddings are now limited to an attendance of five. Even events hosted in homes and backyards are taboo, according to the PM’s latest advice.

Good thing we got in early.

As I look back over the last few months, it is overwhelming to think of all that has happened. Just before we returned here from the USA, Angie’s Australian visa was bungled. Had we not chased down the Department of Home Affairs in sheer desperation, she’d still be stuck at home in America.

“It really seems like it was the wedding that wasn’t supposed to happen.”

Then the Australian bushfires came. A day before boarding our flight to Australia, we heard unbelievable news from my family that the Adelaide Hills were on fire. The first news headline we saw told of our wedding venue almost burning to the ground, and heavily damaged vines in every direction.

It really seems like it was the wedding that wasn’t supposed to happen. But it has happened—and it yet will. When our thirty long-lost loved ones can finally join us, we will be throwing a very, very big party.

For now, there are a few lessons I’ve learnt from all that has unfolded.

This situation is far bigger than us. Before our wedding, I only scanned the news for how it would affect Angie and I. For days, our hopes and dreams and absurd amounts of money were all hanging on the whimsical dictates of world leaders.

We still hope for most of our money and dreams to be redeemed at a future date. But now that the stress of a cancelled wedding is behind us, it is easier to see how this situation is affecting everyone.

“We’ve all been affected—and there’s a good chance that others have it worse than you.”

India has just begun a 3-week lockdown. Spare a thought for the countless millions who are “locking down” in tin and tarpaulin slums.

In Ireland, laws now prevent people from attending their own family members’ funerals. Here in Australia, 35,000 people have already lost their jobs.

I don’t mean to downplay your suffering. But keep in mind that you are not alone. We’ve all been affected—and there’s a good chance that others have it worse than you. They need your prayers, and probably your practical support, too.

I have a phenomenal wife. I have heard of bridezillas, but Angie isn’t one of them. She has handled this whole catastrophe with perfect poise and maturity.

On hearing that every relative and childhood friend was blocked from witnessing her marriage, Angie dried her tears and planned a second wedding. And then a third. And like me, she enjoyed the day with all of her heart.

“Angie has handled this whole catastrophe with perfect poise and maturity.”

She understands what more people need to: a wedding does not a marriage make. All the celebrations in the world can’t outweigh the joy of a union forged by God, and inspired by the selfless example of Christ.

We’re less than a week in to marriage and clearly we have lots to learn, but I can’t imagine a bride of better character to begin this brand new life with.

God is always in control. During countless moments this week, it felt very much like God was not in control. But feelings don’t trump facts. God always has a plan. And often, his hand is seen best in hindsight.

Just before we planned our makeshift wedding, Angie and I prayed with my family. Down on our knees, we asked God to open a door. He did. Only days after walking through it, that door shut. Had we not heard God and obeyed, both of our families would have missed our marriage.

God’s timing was perfect in other ways too. Just as Angie and I were about to recite our vows to each other, all of us turned towards the ocean to watch a pod of dolphins pass us in the shimmering sun. It sounds too good to be true—and it was.

God’s hand was also seen in the generosity of others. My sister Carli dropped everything to make our day—small as it was—the most memorable day ever. She made a hundred phone calls and hosted us and cooked pizzas and took photos and did it all with a beaming smile. Our friend Donna who offered us her garden was just as caring and selfless.

“It was nothing like we had planned, but it couldn’t have been more perfect.”

During dark days, we were carried by the prayers of God’s people and their many messages of support and love.

We have too many blessings to count.

One day we will celebrate our wedding, and we can’t wait. But for the time being, we’re just enjoying being married.

Pandemic Panic: Where is God in our Current Crisis?

We are living in a different world to the one we were in a week ago.

In December 2019, a pneumonia outbreak was detected in the city of Wuhan, China. It was soon traced to a new strain of coronavirus—but not before infected travellers had crossed international borders in every direction.

A few months on and the virus has spread to over 160 countries and resulted in over 7,000 deaths. While something like 98% of people who contract COVID-19 recover, the elderly and those with chronic health problems are most at risk. Governments the world over are deeply concerned that their national hospital systems will collapse.

“It’s hard to believe this is real life.”

Because of this, and because a vaccine is still a year away, the world is being turned upside down. Borders are closing and streets are emptying as governments shut down schools, restaurants, bars, and countless large gatherings. Everything is cancelled is the new normal.

“Social distancing” is an odd new phrase on our lips as we work out how to do business, trade and relationships in this new, eerie set of circumstances.

“Supermarket shelves are being stripped bare as shoppers panic-buy.”

It’s hard to believe that this is real life—it feels more like the movies. But as you check your phone again or see the blanket news coverage of coronavirus on a TV screen or broadsheet, you realise once more that this is happening in real time.

Fortunately in Australia, we haven’t had the same contagion rates as other parts of the world. God willing, it stays this way. But in terms of social upheaval at least, what’s happening now in Europe and increasingly the USA may be what we can expect here in the days and weeks to come.

So where is God in this midst of it all?

The Bible is More Relevant Than Ever

A few days ago, Eternity published an article called “Should a Christian flee the plague?” Martin Luther was asked. I’ve always loved the Reformers. But a few months back, I couldn’t have imagined that medieval advice on the bubonic plague would become relevant again in 2020.

As new and strange as the coronavirus seems, the only thing genuinely new about this plague is its all-pervasive disruption of our globalised lives. Pestilence itself is as old as the hills, and it’s mentioned countless times in the Bible.

“Jesus said that pestilence would be a sure sign that his return is drawing near.”

Pestilence appears in the story of the Exodus as one of the ten plagues. It was a common threat to ancient Israel, especially during their periods of disobedience.

More curiously, Jesus said that the growing threat of pestilence—among many other events—would be a sure sign that his return is drawing near. 

I am convinced that many Bibles will be dusted off and cracked open again as a result of this year’s events. Maybe even Christians will start reading chapters they may have avoided or neglected in the past (Matthew 24 and Revelation 6 spring to mind).

“Pestilence is mentioned countless times in the Bible.”

But I would also hope that we recapture what it means to “love your neighbour” in a crisis like this. Jesus speaks in sombre tones of Judgment Day, but his heart is always turned towards the vulnerable.

Our elderly neighbours and relatives are going to need our help. And they are going to need it in a very odd way.

We have to slow the spread of this virus down. As strange as it sounds, our personal hygiene and our contact with others is going to have real-world effects on how many of the sick and vulnerable survive the coming months.

“Our elderly neighbours and relatives are going to need our help.”

Those we know in these high-risk categories may also need some of the groceries we have stocked in our pantries, and a phone call every now and then to know they’re not forgotten.

Now that globalism has screeched to a halt, “love your neighbour” has a more local and literal meaning than ever.

The Church is Still the Church

For decades, we Christians have been saying that the church isn’t a building or a program, but a group of people. 

As the new limitations on numbers allowed at gatherings take effect in the western world, we’re about to find out if these were just catchy sermon lines or if we truly believe it.

“This pandemic is a wake-up call.”

Some have speculated that after the coronavirus threat passes, many will have adjusted to staying at home, and they’ll stop attending church altogether.

I’m more hopeful than that. I think this pandemic is a wake-up call. Too many of us have let church become defined by the world of consumerism. This is our opportunity to bring it back to the basics. As we feel our way forward, we have much to learn from the underground church.

Now that sermons can’t be served on a platter once a week, we will need to be proactive in our pursuit of God. It’s time for every heart now to seek him.

“As we feel our way forward, we have much to learn from the underground church.”

Reading Scripture in our homes just became far more necessary—as did praying alone and as a family, if that isn’t our habit. Fellowship and breaking bread will look different, but it’s going to be more important than ever. And if your church can’t live-stream, there are many that can, and billions of hours of sermons online.

When life is so radically reshaped, we soon work out what’s really important, and where we have been placing our faith. We’re living in strange times—but it is an exciting time to be the church.

God is Still on His Throne

God is shaking the nations. There is simply no other way to put it.

With the stock market tumbling, weddings being cancelled everywhere, and businesses shuttering, certainty about the future escapes us all. It’s no exaggeration to say that this is the biggest disruption to daily life since World War II.

But God is still on His throne.

When everything else in life is stripped bare, God is the one certainty that we can cling to. Take Psalm 91 to heart, and let God be your everything when nothing else can meet the challenge.

1 Those who live in the shelter of the Most High

    will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

2 This I declare about the Lord:

    He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;

    he is my God, and I trust him.

3 For he will rescue you from every trap

    and protect you from deadly disease.

4 He will cover you with his feathers.

    He will shelter you with his wings.

    His faithful promises are your armour and protection.

5 Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night,

    nor the arrow that flies in the day.

6 Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness,

    nor the disaster that strikes at midday.

7 Though a thousand fall at your side,

    though ten thousand are dying around you,

    these evils will not touch you.

8 Just open your eyes,

    and see how the wicked are punished.

9 If you make the Lord your refuge,

    if you make the Most High your shelter,

10 no evil will conquer you;

    no plague will come near your home.

11 For he will order his angels

    to protect you wherever you go.

12 They will hold you up with their hands

    so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.

13 You will trample upon lions and cobras;

    you will crush fierce lions and serpents under your feet!

14 The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love me.

    I will protect those who trust in my name.

15 When they call on me, I will answer;

    I will be with them in trouble.

    I will rescue and honour them.

16 I will reward them with a long life

    and give them my salvation.”

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.

Miracle Stories From The Australian Bushfires

The fires that have torn through the Australian landscape in recent weeks are without doubt the most widespread natural disaster in our nation’s living memory. Fellow Australians are hurting as they grieve the loss of properties, livelihoods and loved ones.

Yet in the flames and through the smoke, there is hope, and evidence of God at work. The generosity of friends and strangers, the Australian spirit of mateship, and the reminder of what’s truly precious in life all speak to the presence of God in the midst of tragedy.

Most profound of all, perhaps, are the mysterious stories that are coming in from all across the country. The Mallacoota miracle, for example, went viral when the BBC broadcast a local’s riveting account of it around the globe.

“There has been an unusual outbreak of supernatural activity right here in Australia.”

You can read about this miracle below, along with other stories of supernatural survival that have taken place across Australia since the fires began. As Aussies, we can be reluctant to talk about faith. But when miracles happen—especially in the midst of tragedy—we can’t help but sit up and pay attention.

One disclaimer before you read on: there is no hidden message of either judgment or favouritism in these stories. The Good Book tells us to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. We may never know why some people lost it all and others were protected. But we know that those who have suffered need our care and support.

With that being said, at the dawn of this new decade, there has been an unusual outbreak of supernatural activity right here in Australia. We are a nation in need of good news. So be encouraged by these great news stories.


A stranger saves a family from a firestorm

Andrew, Lake Conjola NSW

Not all angels have wings. This first story was shared on Hope 103.2, a radio station based out of Western Sydney. Andrew, a father of four, explains that he and his sister’s families—eleven people in all—were rescued by boat at the last minute by a complete stranger.

Camping on the banks of Lake Conjola on New Year’s Eve, they had been told of approaching fires up to 100 kilometres away. They had reassured themselves that the winds would change long before the fires were anywhere near them.

“The timing for this rescue couldn’t have been better orchestrated.”

At 11.59am, they were shocked to see the glow of flames on the hilltops nearby. In less than ten minutes, the group was surrounded by fire on all sides.

At that moment, Andrew explains that “a boat pulled up in front of us… [a man] was just yelling to us, ‘run to the jetty, run to the jetty’, and so we ran to the jetty and jumped in his boat and he took off.”

Escaping across the lake with just the clothes on their backs, they turned around at 12.09pm to see their cars and caravan burst into flames. Brett, the man who rescued them, had fled by boat with his dad, having just watched his own house burn down minutes earlier.

The timing for this rescue couldn’t have been better orchestrated. Read more about Andrew’s story here.


Half-finished house spared in “unexplained protected zone”

Hazel, Kangaroo Valley NSW

I just got off the phone to Hazel. Hazel’s daughter owns property on a knoll amongst the scrub, near Kangaroo Valley in NSW’s Shoalhaven region. Her daughter had been building a new home, but the project had stalled earlier in the summer due to the threat of fires.

When that threat turned to red-hot reality on January 4, Hazel’s daughter along with her young family fled to save their lives, leaving everything to the mercy of the flames. Unable to set even a sprinkler going for protection, they expected to return to an ash heap.

“The RFS were unable to defend the property.”

At the same time as this, Hazel explains, a local church had gathered to pray for everyone in the region. A friend of Hazel’s daughter received a vision of angels dressed as fire-fighters, spraying water in the shape of a large dome to protect her half-finished house.

Because of its remote location, the RFS were unable to defend the property from the ground or the air.

Days later, when firefighters were able to access the house in the wake of the blaze, it took them ten hours to hack through fallen trees. What they discovered was ash-covered soil still too hot to stand on, “like being on the rim of a volcano”, and burnt-out trees all around—some still glowing white.

But the house with its timber-framed roof was not even singed, and the plastic tank was still fully intact. A local who helped the fireys at the property described an “unexplained protected zone” all around the house.

There doesn’t seem to be a natural explanation for these events, but Hazel and her daughter don’t hesitate in giving God the credit.


Prayer shifts the winds in Mallacoota

David, Mallacoota VIC

David became the face of Australia for a few hours when the BBC, ABC and SkyNews shared his self-filmed account of a miracle all around the world.

The events took place on New Year’s Eve, in the small coastal hamlet of Mallacoota in Victoria’s East Gippsland. As the firewall drew close, four thousand holiday makers, along with many locals, were forced to flee to the town’s wharf near the beach.

“It went black as black.”

David describes the moment when they all found themselves trapped on the shore: “We could hear the roar. It was like a monster bearing down on us… It went black as black. The smoke was so thick it was hard to breathe.” Some were even getting ready to jump in the water to escape the flames.

Knowing that the only hope of survival would be a strong east wind to push back against the approaching fire, David gathered with two other “prayer warriors” to ask God for a miracle.

As soon as they began praying, he says, the wind “started blowing from the east a little bit… I felt it change. I noticed that the bolder I got, the stronger [the wind got]. I was yelling, ‘In Jesus’ name, thank you Lord for rescuing these souls. Push it back Lord, rescue us!’”

For five minutes the easterly blew, breaking the fire-front enough to stop it from reaching the throngs of people at the foreshore. “God saved us” is how David’s neighbours—who are not Christians—described the event.

“As soon as they began praying, the wind started blowing from the east.”

Despite hot embers flying into dry grass in his neighbourhood, the entire street that David lives on was spared. “There were no burn marks. There is honestly not a blade of grass singed,” he says.

David Jeffery reflects on the event now in the hope that it will help people “realise that there is a God and he does love them,” and that “it’s time for people to rise up and pray… [and] get serious about God and get back into reading his word.”

Read more of David’s account here.


The fire stopped at the foot of a large cross

Lorelle, Cobargo NSW

Soon after fires ripped through Cobargo on the NSW South Coast, Vision Radio received a call from Lorelle. She gave an eye-opening description of what happened to a couple—good friends of hers—who survived the inferno in this small rural village.

Like many brave Aussies, the couple decided to stay and defend their home. But then in the middle of the night, the noise of the approaching fires grew so terrifying that they were forced to flee.

Two days later, they returned home in grief, expecting to find everything gone. To their surprise, the fire had stopped at the foot of a wooden cross, leaning up against the shed. It’s a cross that they carry down the main street of Cobargo on Good Friday to commemorate the death of Jesus.

On reaching the cross, the fire had evidently burnt around the shed and right up to the edge of the house, singing only a bit of grass and garden. When they fled, the couple had left the sprinklers going on the house but provided no protection for the shed.

They can’t explain why the fires didn’t consume the timber shed, or indeed everything on their property. Listen to Lorelle’s call here.


It was like he had a dome over his house

Michael, Wingello NSW

Michael is a volunteer firefighter from the little town of Wingello, located at the halfway point between Sydney and Canberra in the NSW Southern Highlands.

Coincidentally, the name Wingello comes from a local Indigenous word which means ‘to burn’. Wingello is no stranger to fire, having survived an inferno in the 60s that claimed three lives and dozens of homes.

“An enormous pyrocumulus cloud began raining fire on nearby scrub.”

Michael explains that a fire had been burning for weeks in adjacent national parks. “It was like a sleeping giant,” he says. But the giant awoke on January 4 when an enormous pyrocumulus cloud, caused by the park blazes, began raining fire on nearby scrub.

Michael was posted with a crew protecting the local fire station, while his wife Helen and other family fled their property. After a long and anxious wait, fellow firefighters who had been out protecting properties returned to the station at 1am with harrowing news for Michael. “We’re so sorry. We tried to save your house but it’s gone.”

The next morning another patrol passed Michael’s property and were “gobsmacked” to find his house in fact still standing. As Michael and Helen arrived back at their home, a battle-hardened firey remarked, “You guys must have some Jesus juice. I need some of that.” 

“We are people of faith,” Michael explained to me over the phone. “We’ve had our house blessed, and we’ve always tried to live a good prayer life. We really believe we’ve been spared. We credit our Lord for this miracle.”

“I pulled my blokes out, it was an overrun, but it was like he had a dome over his house.”

Michael’s front garden and workshop were burnt to a crisp. But he is relieved to describe his house in different terms. “The fire raced towards the front of our house but miraculously burnt around it… there are burn lines right up to the front door and even to the back door.”

The Sydney Morning Herald recorded the words of the local RFS captain who said of Michael and Helen’s home, “There’s a miracle one… I pulled my blokes out, it was an overrun, but it was like he had a dome over his house.”

Check out Wingello Village Store’s account of the miracle here.


My neighbour arrived just in time to save my house

Ainsley, Cudlee Creek SA

Cudlee Creek is ten minutes from where I grew up, in a steep and gully-carved nook of the Adelaide Hills. I heard of Ainsley’s story through her fiancé, who I personally know.

Ainsley explains that her next door neighbour Eric was in Melbourne for short-term work. He finished his last job and, exhausted, couldn’t bring himself to drive the eight hours back home as he’d originally planned.

“His mode of transport happened to be a water truck.”

But for some unexplained reason, Eric felt he should set his alarm for 4am the next morning to drive home. So there he was, in the dead of night, embarking on the long journey back, not quite knowing why.

He arrived home in Cudlee Creek just after the fires had broken out on the afternoon of December 20. His mode of transport happened to be a water truck with a full 6000 litre tank and a power hose!

He arrived at Ainsley’s property the moment it had caught on fire. He fought the blaze and managed to save Ainsley’s house along with another neighbour’s property, all the while protecting his own home, wife and four kids.

Eric is unquestionably one of Australia’s many great heroes of these last months. But he’ll be the first to admit he had divine help.


Fires burnt right up to our fence lines

Donna, Mount Torrens SA

Just down the road from Cudlee Creek, good friends of mine own a small hobby farm at Mount Torrens, also in the Adelaide Hills. I arrived home from the USA just days after the Cudlee Creek fire tore through, and Donna’s was the first miracle story I heard—the first of many that motivated me to reach out around Australia for more.

Donna and her husband and daughter fled their property soon after seeing smoke billowing on the horizon. They were forced to leave behind pets and livestock. Donna recounts, “As we drove out of our driveway on the day of the fire we prayed for angels to protect the borders.”

“Donna’s was the first miracle story I heard.”

She continues. “We stayed away in the city til the next day and as I woke the next morning, the very first thought I had in that sleepy place of not quite even knowing where you are, was this: ‘The Angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and He delivers them’.” Donna knew this was a verse from the Bible but had to look it up to discover where it was from—Psalm 34:7.

When they returned early the next afternoon, they were surprised to find that fires had burnt right up to their fence lines on multiple sides of the property. There were small exceptions to this, such as a charred watering trough, a burnt top paddock, and some melted plastic roof sheeting. But all of the animals survived. And the neatness of the burn lines is what make’s Donna’s story so impressive.

In an effort to track down similar stories, I posted Donna’s photo to my timeline. It was met with many incredulous comments from strangers, such as this one: “A fire doesn’t advance perfectly straight like that, the pine posts normally go up like roman-candles. The fence wires are still new and spotless with no smoke damage. Something has intervened…”

The paddocks in question are very hard to access, Donna explains. They would be a highly unusual and near-impossible site for a CFS back-burn operation, especially in a fire driven by such high winds. Something—or someone—clearly did intervene.


Afterword

As I compiled these stories, so many more miracles were told to me that space won’t permit. Even online you can find out about the miraculous wind change at Taree; the Moruya man who found his house still standing; and even an apparent devil face that appeared in a wall of flames.

I heard from strangers of fire stopping at a gate that had a Scripture written on it; of dozens of houses surviving amidst a sea of ash; and even of an elderly woman who lost everything, whose grandson was walking down the main street of that fire-scorched town when the wind blew a sheet of paper into his leg. It was a charred page from a Bible—Isaiah 64:11-12—and it read:

“Our holy and glorious temple, where our ancestors praised you, has been burned with fire, and all that we treasured lies in ruins. After all this, Lord, will you hold yourself back? Will you keep silent and punish us beyond measure?”

I don’t dare make judgments on behalf of God in the midst of such tragedy. There is so much still unexplained, when some lost everything, and others were miraculously spared.

But through the smoke, God is trying to get our attention. “For God so loved the world.” It’s a verse we all know. God loves Australia, this “Great Southland of the Holy Spirit”. And he is calling our nation back to himself, waiting for us to respond.

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20 Reasons Trump Will Win Again In 2020

From the day Donald Trump announced his candidacy in 2015, I was sceptical. He was a mogul from liberal New York, unfaithful in marriage, divorced twice, and verbally ruthless towards his opponents.

None of that has changed. And while there is still lots to dislike about Trump’s persona, his performance has surprised me.

“I’m now convinced that President Trump will win a second term.”

I’ve lived in America for the last six months. I’ve heard lots of perspectives on Trump, and I’ve kept a close eye on the media. I’ve explored Washington DC, visited the Capitol Building, and I even got to see Trump speak at a live event.

For a whole range of reasons, I’m now convinced that President Trump will win a second term. Impeachment or not, here are 20 reasons I’m almost certain he’ll be re-elected in 2020.

1. It’s The Economy, Stupid

It’s hard to deny that the American economy is humming. Under Trump, household income is higher than it’s been in 50 years, and unemployment the lowest it’s been in 50 years.

Jobs growth is outpacing expectations. Poverty is down—especially for minority communities; and optimism is up. On top of all of this, the stock market continues to break records.

Debate surrounds the exact figures, but all agree that the Trump economy is impressive.

2. The Black Vote

Black voters traditionally vote Democrat. 2016 was no exception, with only 8% backing Trump. Recent figures, however, place his approval among the African-American community at a jaw-dropping 34%.

Several factors seem to be driving this turnaround. Trump’s economy has been especially good for black communities, with huge increases in black employment and median household incomes.

“Trump’s approval among the African-American community is now at a jaw-dropping 34%.”

Trump has also won favour among African-Americans by prioritising prison reform, designating as “national monuments” many historic sites important to the black community, and giving big-name supporters like Kanye West unprecedented access to the Oval Office.

If anywhere near 34% of the black vote goes to Trump, he’ll probably be re-elected in a landslide.

3. The Hispanic Vote

The pundits expected Hispanics to overwhelmingly vote against Trump in 2016 because of his strong stance on immigration. But in the end, he won 28% of their vote. This was at least ten points higher than pre-polling suggested.

Die-hard Republicans suspect that Democrats want open borders in order to secure more Hispanic votes. Whether or not this is true, it is simply not a given that Latinos vote Democrat.

“Almost 60% of Hispanics support Trump’s strong border policies.”

Many Hispanics are Catholic or have a Catholic background, which means they are more conservative on issues like abortion.

And it turns out that they too want their jobs protected from illegal immigrants: almost 60% of Hispanics support Trump’s strong border policies.

4. Incumbency

The modern trend in American politics is that sitting presidents are re-elected. Obama stayed in office for two terms, as did Bush before him, and Clinton before him.

In fact, since the Second World War, only three out of thirteen presidents have been unable to secure a second term.

Incumbency isn’t everything, but the odds are in Trump’s favour.

5. Promises Kept to Evangelicals

Christians like me still have to squint to see the Christianity in Trump. Either way, he has largely kept his word to people of faith, fulfilling some 90% of the requests they put to him.

Trump has made religious freedom a signature issue of his presidency. In terms of policy, he is one of the most pro-life presidents in history. “Every child, born and unborn, is a sacred gift from God,” is a phrase now regularly heard from his lips.

“Christians like me still have to squint to see the Christianity in Trump.”

In his three years so far, Trump has made 173 judicial appointments, at a pace doubling that of Obama’s. These mostly-conservative judges will shape America for decades to come, and may end up being Trump’s most significant legacy.

The evangelical vote has long been seen as crucial to election victories in the USA. And like it or not, Trump has worked hard on policy to secure it for a second term.

6. Fake News

Donald Trump is well-known for his complaints about the “Fake News Media”, and for calling the modern press “the enemy of the people”. Fans of Trump have taken to mocking media bias with trending phrases like Trump Derangement Syndrome and Orange Man Bad.

Their opposition to mainstream news isn’t unwarranted: a recent study found that, out of 700 evaluative comments made about Trump on major news networks, 96% were negative. During the same period of six weeks, only four minutes were given to discussing Trump’s economy.

“Pundits on the left and right point out that this overt bias is playing into Trump’s hand.”

Earlier this year, CNN’s president and other staff were secretly recorded exposing an extreme anti-Trump bias that drives their network’s coverage of him.

A month later, an ABC reporter was caught on hot mic revealing that back in 2016, her network quashed a story on billionaire paedophile Jeffrey Epstein at the same time that Hillary Clinton—with ties to Epstein—was running for president.

The intent of these outlets appears to be Trump’s defeat in 2020. But pundits on the left and right point out that this overt bias is playing into Trump’s hand by confirming his claims, and firing up his supporter base.

7. The Media Echo Chamber

There is an additional danger for the mainstream media. The risk for journalists who lurch leftward faster than America is that even as they congratulate each other and believe their own news, they neglect that everyday people aren’t joining them for the ride.

If it’s true that “the ratings don’t lie”, then the meteoric rise of Fox News and the ratings freefall for CNN and MSNBC seem to confirm this reality.

“American newsrooms are now crowded with liberal coastal elites.”

Groupthink, echo chamber, confirmation bias, the media bubble. It goes by different names, but it is a real phenomenon. It was the reason whole nations were taken by surprise when ScoMo won Australia, when Brexit and Boris swept the UK—and most of all, when Trump took America the first time around.

The shock of Trump’s victory helped even left-leaning outlets diagnose the problem: that American newsrooms are now crowded with liberal coastal elites who live in a different world from most of their readers.

“Mainstream news outlets will need to make their case with more nuance if they hope to avoid a repeat of 2016.”

Not so long ago, journalists saw their role as informing public opinion instead of forming it. It might be asking too much to turn back the clock on this.

But if mainstream news outlets want to keep acting as a de facto propaganda arm for progressive parties, they will at least need to make their case with more nuance if they hope to avoid a repeat of 2016.

8. Impeachment

Plans to impeach Donald Trump began before he even took office. Democrats finally felt they had enough evidence to launch a formal impeachment inquiry late this year.

This week, they were successful in impeaching the President. But to remove Trump from office, a two-thirds majority in the Senate would have to agree to it. This is very unlikely given that the Senate is currently controlled by a Republican majority.

“Plans to impeach Donald Trump began before he even took office.”

Worse still, Americans are souring on everything impeachment. Since proceedings began, support for impeachment flipped among voters. While it was 48% for and 44% against beforehand, the most recent Emerson poll shows has this reversed at 45% opposed, and only 43% in favour.

In fact, in a dramatic move, congressman Jeff Van Drew has grown so sick of the drama that he will reportedly defect from the Democratic party this week and become a Republican.

Impeaching Trump may be the Democrats’ biggest gift to him yet.

9. The Polls

The polls more generally are picking up for Trump. Overall, his approval rating has been poor—on average hovering in the low 40s. That recently rose to 43%, which according to Gallup makes Trump as popular as Obama was at the same point in his first term.

Now that the Democrats seem to be overplaying their hand on impeachment, Emerson has seen Trump’s approval rating spike to 48%, which puts him well within striking range of re-election.

“Trump is as popular as Obama was at the same point in his first term.”

There is also the phenomenon, confirmed by research, that in polls people suppress their voting intentions if their views are publicly demonised.

In other words, since it’s now seen as social suicide to vote for Trump, some of his supporters won’t reveal their voting intention in a poll, and will instead take their opinion straight to the ballot box. So on the quiet, Trump’s approval could be well above 48%.

10. Betting Odds

It’s worth taking a look at betting odds for presidential elections, too. Polls measure people’s emotions and shifting opinions—whereas betting agencies deal in cold, hard cash.

Even now that the impeachment process is underway, Trump is far-and-away the favourite on betting markets. He is around even odds on all legal online betting sites: they’re offering next to no payout on Trump, so great is their fear of his reelection.

11. Trump’s Tweeting

A consistent complaint of Trump’s presidency is his tweeting. The president’s constant trolling, his unfiltered opinions, incomplete sentences and SHOUTING IN CAPS LOCK annoy even his allies.

But Trump’s tendency to tweet is tactical. More than any president before, it allows him to circumvent the media and address everyday people directly. And in the process, it reinforces his image as a freedom fighter standing against corrupt institutions.

Even the way Trump uses language works in his favour. Many mock his awkward grammar and sparse vocabulary as unintelligent. In fact, researchers have found that his linguistic style helps voters see him as more relatable and authentic than regular politicians.

12. America First

Trump has surprised many—and somewhat stolen the thunder of Democrats—with his anti-war stance.

It’s part of a broader “America First” push of the Trump administration. Trump is playing hardball on trade. He is infamously strong on borders. He has persuaded America’s allies to contribute more of a fair share to the NATO budget.

“Trump has stolen the thunder of Democrats with his anti-war stance.”

You only have to read the news to see that Trump isn’t presenting the best of America to the rest of the world. But he is presenting a proud America to the rest of the world, instead of apologising, or talking America down.

And like it or not, this resonates with voters—especially in America’s heartland.

13. Pro-Israel Policies

America has a long history of support for Israel. Like much of what he does, Trump has supercharged this stance—to the praise of many, and the fury of others.

Earlier this year, Trump invited Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House. Just after Israel’s leader told Trump, “Israel has never had a better friend than you,” Trump announced that the USA will now recognise the Golan Heights as sovereign Israeli soil. This is a move that decades of presidents have feared to make.

“America has a long history of support for Israel.”

While Clinton, Bush and Obama all tried to move the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, Trump actually did it. The President has also made strong policy moves to help protect Israel from its neighbouring enemies.

Just this month, in response to rising anti-Semitism back home in the States, Trump signed an executive order protecting Jews from discrimination on college campuses.

All of this will likely bode well with Jewish, Christian and even mainstream American voters.

14. The Rust Belt

The Rust Belt describes the inland “fly over” regions of America that experienced industrial decline beginning in the 1980s—in particular the Great Lakes region and the Midwest.

Donald Trump promised this region a resurgence in manufacturing, and on this promise he was able to swing key Rust Belt states to help him secure the presidency.

“Recent polls show Trump performing better than expected in key Rust Belt states.”

During his first two years, Trump somewhat delivered on those promises. Jobs growth in manufacturing was solid and benefitted industrial regions.

This growth slowed over the past year, and it seemed as though Trump was losing his shine in Rust Belt territory. But recent polls show him performing better than expected against all of his Democratic contenders in the key battleground states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

15. Draining the Swamp

On the campaign trail, “Drain the Swamp” was a favourite phrase of Donald Trump. It was his pledge to trim administrative costs in Washington, and unseat corrupt career politicians.

His early attempts at this were quite rightly seen as a “revolving door” at the White House. For a while, the news cycle struggled to keep up with all of the dismissals and resignations.

“On the campaign trail, ‘Drain the Swamp’ was a favourite phrase of Donald Trump.”

Regardless of how successful Trump’s swamp-draining efforts have been, the perception of Trump as a fearless outsider in D.C. has stuck. His refusal to pander to politicians, his unpolished speeches, and his tendency to shoot from the hip ensure that Washington elites despise him.

That’s just what Trump wants. And his fans with their MAGA hats and “deplorables” t-shirts love him all the more for it.

16. Building the Wall

Arguably Trump’s most controversial policy from the beginning has been his promise to build a wall along the US-Mexican border, to prevent the flow of illegal immigration.

Media has criticised both Trump’s border wall policy, and the slow speed with which he is executing it.

“Trump has deported less than half the illegal immigrants that Obama did.”

Even so, Pew Research has found that 68% of Americans want increased security along America’s southern border, and 54% believe more should be done to deport illegal immigrants.

It also turns out that Trump isn’t quite the xenophobe that his critics make him out to be: despite his tough talk, he has deported less than half the illegal immigrants that Obama did.

17. Democratic Candidates

Perhaps the biggest boost for Trump’s re-election prospects are the Democratic candidates on offer for 2020.

Since the primaries began, over two dozen contenders entered the race. Now that the field has thinned out, the most popular are former Vice President Joe Biden on 26%, and both Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren tied at 16% apiece.

“The biggest boost for Trump’s re-election prospects are the Democratic candidates on offer.”

But with Biden’s gaffes, Bernie’s socialism, and Warren’s lack of likeability, the Democrats fear that none of these candidates will be able to defeat Donald Trump. The New York Times recently reported that Democrat doors are in a scramble, asking, Is There Anybody Else?

Eager to avoid a repeat of 2016, Hillary Clinton has resisted running for nomination. But in a recent poll, Democrats still favoured her over the current frontrunners—though she’s not even in the race.

18. Democratic Policies

One thing that Americans seem united on in this moment is that America is a divided nation.

From sporting heroes to movies to corporations, everything has been politicised. Both parties have vacated the centre, and hold increasingly polarised political views.

“America is a divided nation.”

Pew Research recently found that most of this shift has taken place on the progressive side of politics. The data confirms that while Republicans have inched increasingly to the right, Democrats have swung hard to the left.

Last month, even Barack Obama sent a warning to his own Democratic party. He said that average Americans aren’t interested in “certain left-leaning Twitter feeds or the activist wing of our party.”

“The data confirms that Democrats have swung hard to the left.”

He went on. “Even as we push the envelope and we are bold in our vision we also have to be rooted in reality,” Obama said. “The average American doesn’t think we have to completely tear down the system and remake it.”

It’s not entirely clear that the current crop of candidates are listening to their former President. In terms of policy, precious little separates them. Among other hot-button issues, they all back big government, tax hikes, open borders and taxpayer-funded abortion.

19. Trump’s Indestructibility

Satire site Babylon Bee recently ran a parody article entitled Trump: ‘If You Impeach Me Now, I Shall Become More Powerful Than You Can Possibly Imagine’.

In humorous and hyperbolic terms, it captured something of the impressive indestructibility that Trump has developed through his three years in office.

“Where other politicians would apologise in the face of criticism, Trump doubles down.”

The President has a snarky and egotistical persona that provides limitless fodder to his critics. And yet that same characteristic is indispensable to his success.

Where other politicians would backtrack and apologise in the face of criticism, Trump doubles down. In an era of ubiquitous thin skin, Trump’s adaptation to hostility provokes amusement—and even admiration—in more people than might be willing to admit it.

And in a culture like America’s, that’s a quality that goes a long way.

20. It’s the Economy, Stupid

The average American isn’t on Twitter, has tuned out of the impeachment coverage, and is more interested in sports than the latest news panel complaining about the President.

But the average American feels they are better off under a Trump economy, and that matters. 69% of Americans are optimistic about their personal finances—a 16-year high. 71% say the economy is either “somewhat good” or “very good”—the highest since 2001.

“Everywhere you look, the writing is on the wall.”

Trump’s tax cuts and aggressive deregulation aren’t just a boon for big business: it has translated into pay rises and better employment prospects for people with low-paying jobs, disabilities, criminal records, and those from racial minorities, too.

In a recent CNBC survey, over two-thirds of chief financial officers believe Trump will be re-elected. Moody’s Analytics has predicted a 332-206 Trump victory at the electoral college. Two economic modellers who went against popular wisdom to predict Trump’s win in 2016 are making the same forecast for next year.

“The average American feels they are better off under a Trump economy.”

Everywhere you look, the writing is on the wall. Barring some unforeseen catastrophe, Americans can look forward to five more years of Trump’s America.

Donald Trump’s surprising performance is undoubtedly behind this. But in a strange twist of irony, those who deserve the greatest thanks for Trump’s victory will be his haters.