The Race Rhetoric That Causes More Harm Than Harmony

George Floyd’s cruel murder is sparking much-needed conversations about justice and racial harmony in America and beyond. The ripple effect has already reached us Down Under, with protests taking place in Australian capital cities this past weekend.

Last week I spoke with a friend who has ministered among Indigenous Australians for decades. He told me that in some regional jails he has visited, Aboriginal men made up over 70% of the prison population. Whatever landed them there, this is a deeply troubling picture.

In a recent survey, 10% of Australians said they would tell jokes about Indigenous Aussies. 10% said they wouldn’t employ an Aboriginal person. 20% said they would move away if a First Nations person sat next to them.

“Racism does still exist here in Australia.”

Pre-judging someone—making negative judgments about them based on the shade of their skin—is textbook racism. Racism does still exist here in Australia, and it is a problem we need to address.

But there is an emerging rhetoric around racism that is causing more harm than harmony. It is most easily identified by its blanket claims about white people and Western nations. Countless American celebrities have brandished this rhetoric in recent weeks.

In an expletive-laden Instagram post, pop singer Billie Eilish let loose at white Americans, declaring, “You are not in need. You are not in danger… Society gives you privilege just for being white… We have to address hundreds of years of oppression of black people.”

Kylie Jenner told her followers, “We’re currently dealing with two horrific pandemics in our country, and we can’t sit back and ignore the fact that racism is one of them.”

“Countless celebrities have brandished this rhetoric in recent weeks.”

On Instagram, Mandy Moore wrote, “White friends… we have the burden of dismantling white supremacy.”

Viola Davis also posted, explaining, “This is what it means to be Black in America. Tried. Convicted. Killed for being Black. We are dictated by hundreds of years of policies that have restricted our very existence and still have to continue to face modern day lynchings.”

All of us should yearn for justice, for George Floyd and for anyone wrongly treated—especially at the hands of those paid to protect us. Voices are always needed to ‘speak truth to power,’ since even the best societies produce inequality.

But so much of what we are seeing from our culture creators, the news media, and on social channels is actually stoking racial grievances rather than healing them.

“Even the best societies produce inequality.”

This rhetoric claims that countries like America and Australia are racist from root to branch. It demands that we hate our own nations as a kind of ideological purity test.

It implicates all white people — even the most open-hearted and caring — as the problem. It convinces people of colour that the white majority should be assumed racist and a threat before the facts are in. It is a brand-new worldview that actually mirrors the prejudices it seeks to replace.

By claiming that minorities today are still affected by centuries-old oppressive policies is to overlook great nation-shaping events of which we should all be proud. Slavery and Jim Crow are no more in the U.S. because of civil war and the civil rights movement a century later. Indigenous Australians are equal citizens because of reforms in 1948 and 1967, and let’s not forget the apology of 2008.

“There are many statistics that challenge claims of systemic racism.”

Our nations still have problems to address. But resurrecting pain from centuries past does dishonour to the progress we have all made, and it reopens wounds that had already begun to heal.

There are many statistics that challenge claims of systemic racism. In America, for example, only 4% of all black homicide victims are killed by police officers—93% actually die at the hands of fellow African-Americans. Adjusting for crime rates, white people are at least 1.3 times more likely black people to be killed by police.

And while police treatment of black people is a serious problem in the US, the national news there mostly draws attention to murders when they are white-on-black. Regardless of intent, the media’s unwarranted slant on this issue only stokes racial grievances.

Here in Australia, Aboriginal deaths in custody are a terrible reality, and First Nations people are tragically over-represented in our justice system.

“The media’s unwarranted slant on this issue stokes racial grievances.”

But we are not allowed to point out that Indigenous Aussies are actually less likely to die in custody than their non-Indigenous counterparts. Or that the majority of such deaths are due to health issues and self-harm — not police brutality.

Honest conversations must be had, but they won’t be honest if we close one eye to the facts, or fail to acknowledge how far we’ve already come towards justice.

Racism still exists in the West. And some of our saddest injustices are complex and difficult to resolve. But what’s remarkable about nations like America and Australia isn’t that we’re racist. Racism is still found in every country. Rather, we are remarkable because we have relented from—and survived—former cruelties like massacre, segregation, and slavery.

As a result, we now live together in stable multi-ethnic societies that provide hope, opportunity, and even a leg up for those who seek it. Our laws protect human rights and dignity for all people—even compensating for disadvantage—unlike so many places still today, and from time immemorial.

“Racism is still found in every country.”

Let’s be straight: if the West really is so evil, why would we advocate for asylum seekers to find refuge and a better life here? And if America is so racist, how did a country with a 13% black population elect a black president—twice?

You used to be called a racist if you treated people from another race unfairly. Now, it seems, you’re a racist if you don’t see white supremacy and systemic racism everywhere, and think the West can only be redeemed by violent revolution.

So if I am labelled a racist, let it be because I want the best for people of every colour, and for the nations that have walked the longest road towards equality.

Let it be because I believe the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., who with faith declared to all Americans, “We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Be brave, don’t self-censor and give into the mob. If you think this article will help others, please hit share. Also, scroll down if you’d like to subscribe. Thanks for reading!

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.

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?

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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Pornography is a Public Health Crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Porn makes people miserable

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

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

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

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

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

2. Porn is effectively a drug

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

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

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

3. Porn turns people into terrible lovers

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Porn destroys marriage

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

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

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

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

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

5. Porn harms children

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

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

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

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

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

6. Porn drives violence against women

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Porn makes people more deviant

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

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

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

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

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

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

8. Porn fuels sex trafficking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9. Porn decays society

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

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

“Our culture is facing an existential crisis.”

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

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

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

10. Porn offends God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Don’t Judge”—What Jesus Really Meant

Fewer and fewer people today know the Bible. But if there’s one verse that’s still commonly quoted, it’s, “Judge not, and you will not be judged”.

These are the words of Jesus. And what people normally mean when they repeat them is, “It’s not your place to judge my moral choices. It’s 2019—everyone should be free to choose the lifestyle that makes them happy, so long as no one gets hurt.”

“Let me sin in peace,” is another way to put it.

But there’s a problem with this. Those who hold to this worldview are often very quick to judge Christians—even quite harshly. It has to be one of the great ironies of our time.

So apparently there is a place for judgment. As it happens, this is what Jesus himself said all along, if we read his quote in context. It’s from Matthew 7:1-6, and it famously begins like this:

1 “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged.

2 For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.

After telling us how not to judge, Jesus goes on to highlight three ways that we should judge. 

See the Master Teacher is aware of something we often forget. As humans, we’re making judgment calls all the time. There’s no way to avoid it.

So the question isn’t, Should we judge? But rather, Who and how should we judge?

Judge Yourself Honestly | v3-5a

First, in verses 3-5a, Jesus says:

3 “And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own?

4 How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye?

5 Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye…

If this passage is familiar to us then it’s probably lost some of its original humour. Being a carpenter, Jesus knew wood, and he chose a Greek word that means a big timber beam—the main one holding the house roof up.

The picture is of two people—one with an almighty beam projecting out of her eye offering to help her friend get a bit of sawdust out of his. Slapstick at its finest.

“If this passage is familiar to us then it’s probably lost some of its original humour.”

If we’re going to help someone else sort out their problems, Jesus insists, we first need to deal with the problems in our own life. We need to judge ourselves honestly.

When we’re quick to judge others, we develop a self-righteous and insensitive heart. The only way to counteract this is to readily find the faults in our own lives before we go trying to spot them in others.

Judge Others Humbly | v5b

So is Jesus saying that our lives need to be perfect before we’re able to offer others critique or counsel? No, he’s not.

In fact, his whole point in telling us to judge ourselves honestly is so that we’ll be able to help others. That’s what he says in verse 5b:

5 Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.

Jesus wants us to see well enough to deal with the speck in our friend’s eye. There is a place for judging others, providing that it’s done with clear vision and humility.

If we’re going to be of any use to others, we need to be striving to live a life of integrity ourselves. In other words, we need to judge others humbly.

The world would have us believe that there are only two ways to respond to sin: wholehearted endorsement, or prickly hatred. But Jesus shows us a third way: the narrow way, the way of humility.

Judge Critics Wisely | v6

This passage ends with an interesting and provocative twist. In verse 6, Jesus says:

6 “Don’t waste what is holy on people who are unholy. Don’t throw your pearls to pigs! They will trample the pearls, then turn and attack you.

It may sound like Jesus has changed topics here, but he hasn’t. He’s still talking about judgment. He’s telling us to judge our critics wisely.

If we follow him on the path less travelled—the path of humility—Jesus warns us that there’s a risk involved. People may see us as a soft target, and try to take advantage of us.

A perfect example is the kind of people I mentioned at the start, who are apt to misquote this passage. “Judge not, and you will not be judged,” can be used in an attempt to silence Christians. Even to accuse us of hatred—and a phobia or three.

“Jesus opposed the proud, but gave grace to the humble.”

Maybe someone who makes these accusations is simply hurting, and they need our love and compassion. There are times when the right thing to do is apologise on behalf of other Christians who’ve caused the hurt.

On the other hand, this may be smoke and mirrors to hide a calculated motive. When this is the case, any concession or apology we make will end up as trampled pearls. And the attack will only grow worse.

This is why we’re going to need all the help that Jesus has to offer. He opposed the proud, but gave grace to the humble—and He never missed a beat. We need His wisdom to do the same.

Good and Bad Judgment

It’s easy to misquote Jesus. Even Christians can cave in to the pressures of the world and make “judge not” an excuse for sin. But this leads only in one direction: judging Christians who won’t play the game.

Judgment is part of human nature. Some judgment is good. But the only way we can avoid bad judgment—also known as condemnation—is to know that condemnation no longer hangs over our heads.

“It’s easy to misquote Jesus.”

Jesus didn’t just teach the world about judgment. He actually took the world’s judgment on his own shoulders. He suffered and died on a cross to save each of us from God’s eternal judgment.

When we know this, we’re free. We no longer need to try scramble up the heap by finding fault in the lives of others. We can rest in God’s verdict that “there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

And then we can judge as we should, with the honesty, wisdom and humility that he supplies.

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But God is the Strength of My Heart

The question we all ask when faced with suffering is “Why?” 

Sometimes we ask it personally: “Why is this happening to me?” Other times, existentially: “Why does a good God allow evil and suffering?” Either way, it’s an instinctive and very human response. 

When we feel like this, we’re in good company among the world’s nearly eight billion people. Because if one thing is true about this life, it’s that everyone suffers. It’s a universal experience; something we can expect to face at various turns in our life.

“None of us choose to suffer, but each of us gets to choose how we suffer.”

Given that this is true, maybe there’s a better question we can ask. Rather than, “Why do I suffer?” instead we could inquire, “When I suffer, how can I face it well?”

See none of us choose to suffer, but each of us gets to choose how we suffer. If we’re willing to shift our question in this way, Psalm 73 gives a brilliant answer.

A worship leader called Asaph penned this Psalm. It is a beautiful piece of poetry from Israel’s worship playlist. In it, we’re swept up into Asaph’s emotional journey of suffering so that we can better make sense of our own. The Psalm has three parts.

1. Problem

First, in verses 1-14, Asaph tells us about the problem that he faced. 

2 But as for me, I almost lost my footing.

    My feet were slipping, and I was almost gone.

3 For I envied the proud

    when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness.

Asaph is resentful of those around him making ungodly life choices but facing no consequences for it. He describes their cruelty, greed and pride in depth and then remarks, “Look at these wicked people enjoying a life of ease while their riches multiply.”

Maybe you feel the same sense of injustice in your own life; maybe you don’t relate at all. But one thing we can all take away from Asaph’s complaint is that God is big enough to handle our problems.

“God doesn’t require eloquent prayers—he just wants our hearts.”

We don’t need to paper over them. Like Asaph, we can express our frustrations to God. If we need to whinge, far better to whinge to the One who has supernatural patience, and who can actually do something about it.

God wants us to draw near and tell him about our struggles. He doesn’t require eloquent prayers—he just wants our hearts. This might be why the word ‘heart’ is mentioned six times in this Psalm.

At the height of his complaint, Asaph moans,

13 Did I keep my heart pure for nothing?

    Did I keep myself innocent for no reason?

14 I get nothing but trouble all day long;

    every morning brings me pain.

In other words, “God, I’m trying to do the right thing, so why am I still suffering so much?” Does that question sound familiar? Yes, Asaph is asking the wrong question. He’s in need of some perspective—and that’s exactly what he’s about to get.

2. Perspective

So in verses 15-22, we hear about the perspective that he gained.

A sudden shift takes place as Asaph realises,

15 If I had really spoken this way to others,

    I would have been a traitor to your people.

Up until this point, Asaph hadn’t been seeing straight. He’d been in a deep well of self-pity, and now he’s starting to ascend out of it. His eyes have been opened to something we’re so often blinded to: our feelings are not facts. In such moments of self-pity, we need the facts to reshape our feelings. This is exactly what happens to Asaph: 

16 So I tried to understand why the wicked prosper.

    But what a difficult task it is!

17 Then I went into your sanctuary, O God,

    and I finally understood the destiny of the wicked.

We moderns don’t like this idea—the destiny of the wicked. Surely at the end of time, we reason, God will be kind to all. But is that really what we want?

How terrible it would be to catalogue all of the evil, committed through all of the centuries, by all of the tyrants and terrorists, tricksters and transgressors. It would leave no doubt that the world truly cries out for justice.

“Deep down we long for the God of Asaph.”

A God that lets every wrongdoer off the hook is not a God worthy of our affection: he is a moral monster. Deep down, we long to see vindication for those who have suffered.

Despite our modern objections, deep down we long for the God of Asaph—the God who will right every wrong, who steps in to defend the oppressed.

God will bring about ultimate justice. This is the perspective that Asaph gained. Finally, he could see how wrong he’d previously been:

21 Then I realised that my heart was bitter,

    and I was all torn up inside.

22 I was so foolish and ignorant—

    I must have seemed like a senseless animal to you.

3. Presence

Fortunately, this is not where Asaph’s journey ends. As he concludes his Psalm, in verses 23-28, Asaph testifies to the presence of God that he experienced.

What a relief that our problems don’t get the last say. And what a relief that even the right perspective isn’t God’s end-game when we suffer. The point of it all—the way to face suffering well—is to let it drive us into the very presence of God:

23 Yet I still belong to you;

    you hold my right hand.

24 You guide me with your counsel,

    leading me to a glorious destiny.

25 Whom have I in heaven but you?

    I desire you more than anything on earth.

26 My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak,

    but God is the strength of my heart;

    he is mine forever.

Your suffering might not be understood by a single soul on earth. But nothing escapes God. He knows your struggle. He wants to meet you in it. He offers you the comfort of his presence.

In this Psalm, Asaph lands on a truth that you and I are still catching up with: there’s a gap between the real and the ideal, between how life is and how it should be.

“Nothing escapes God. He knows your struggle.”

But standing in that gap is a God who listens intently to our problems, resets our perspective, and welcomes us into his presence.

If he were just any god, that might be cold comfort. But this is the God who himself faced incomprehensible suffering.

He didn’t remain aloof—instead, he took on flesh, walked among us, and dealt with all the world’s injustice at Calvary. Because of this, every wrong will ultimately be made right.

This side of the cross, we have even more reason than Asaph to confidently declare:

28 But as for me, how good it is to be near God!

    I have made the Sovereign Lord my shelter,

    and I will tell everyone about the wonderful things you do.

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America’s Founders on the High Price of Freedom

“We have it in our power to begin the world over again.”—Thomas Paine

Such was the mood on the North American continent centuries ago, when pilgrims and pioneers dreamt of a brand new nation to call their own.

Somehow, their experiment worked. Despite the founders’ striking flaws and all of modern America’s faults, the United States remains a great beacon of liberty for the rest of the world.

I’ve been on a pilgrimage this last month down the east coast of the USA. It’s my first time here, so given my obsession with the history of ideas, I made sure to visit Philadelphia and Washington—among many other cities—to better understand the origins of America for myself.

“There’s an urgent need for us to recapture the ideas that shaped the free world.”

Yes, we Australians can struggle to relate to the unbridled patriotism of America. What they achieved in a sudden, dramatic break from Britain, we too now enjoy in our quiet corner of the world. And we managed it without the same fanfare, past or present.

But with all that said, the architects of the American project continue to inspire any who stop and consider what they achieved. They were years ahead of their time, bold and zealous, and their love of liberty still resounds today.

Right now in the West, the very foundations of freedom are being called into question. So now more than ever, there’s an urgent need for us to recapture the ideas that shaped the free world.

Consider 25 quotes from America’s founders on what freedom cost—and what’s required to keep it alive.

Freedom Requires Risk

Many today want to feel safe from every conceivable danger—even hurt feelings. But there’s always a trade-off between safety and freedom. If we want freedom, we also have to endure a level of discomfort and uncertainty.

“Those that can give up essential liberty to gain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”—Benjamin Franklin

“If we want freedom, we also have to endure a level of discomfort and uncertainty.”

“If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or your arms.”—Samuel Adams

“Timid men… prefer the calm of despotism to the boisterous sea of liberty.”—Thomas Jefferson

Freedom Requires Appreciation

When freedom is all we’ve ever known, it’s easy to take it for granted and even be apathetic about its demise. But when we know the price others paid for our freedom, we’re inspired to preserve it for coming generations.

“You will never know how much it has cost my generation to preserve your freedom. I hope you will make a good use of it.”—John Adams

“It’s easy to take freedom for granted.”

“I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”—Patrick Henry

“The truth is, all might be free if they valued freedom, and defended it as they ought.”—Samuel Adams

Freedom Requires Forbearance

If we truly value freedom for ourselves, this means defending it for others—even when that makes us uneasy or offended. The ability to tolerate and even love people with views wildly different than ours is good for them, good for us, and good for society.

“It behoves every man who values liberty of conscience for himself, to resist invasions of it in the case of others.”—Thomas Jefferson

“I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.”—Thomas Jefferson

“If we truly value freedom for ourselves, this means defending it for others.”

“If the freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”—George Washington

“He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.”—Thomas Paine

Freedom Requires Vigilance

Freedom is still in short supply around the world. This speaks to the fact that freedom is hard won, easy to lose and, once lost, hard to regain. If we want it preserved, we must be ever watchful.

“The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield, and government to gain ground.”—Thomas Jefferson

“Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigues of supporting it.”—Thomas Paine

“Freedom is hard won, easy to lose and, once lost, hard to regain.”

“Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”—John Adams

“A constitution of government, once changed from freedom, can never be restored. Liberty once lost is lost forever.”—John Adams

“The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”—Thomas Jefferson

Freedom Requires Godliness

Government can provide for our general safety and welfare, but what it cannot do is protect us from our own corruption. Unpopular as it is to admit, the further a society drifts from virtue and godliness, the further we drift from freedom.

“Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.”—Benjamin Franklin

“We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion… Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”—John Adams

“Neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt.”—William V. Wells

“Freedom cannot protect us from our own corruption.”

“A general dissolution of principles and manners will more surely overthrow the liberties of America than the whole force of the common enemy. While the people are virtuous they cannot be subdued; but when once they lose their virtue then will be ready to surrender their liberties to the first external or internal invader.”—Samuel Adams

“Those people who will not be governed by God will be ruled by tyrants.”—William Penn

“It is when people forget God that tyrants forge their chains.”—Patrick Henry

Freedom Requires God

It is no coincidence that the freest and safest nations on earth are also those most profoundly shaped by the Bible. The idea that all people are born free, equal, and with inherent rights is not universally accepted around the world, and it did not arise in a vacuum. Human rights find their origins in the explicit teachings of Christianity.

“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.”—Benjamin Franklin

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”—Declaration of Independence, 1776

“Human rights find their origins in the explicit teachings of Christianity.”

“It cannot be emphasised too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here.”—Patrick Henry

“Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God?”—Thomas Jefferson

We owe much to those who laid the groundwork for the centuries of freedom we’ve enjoyed in the West. May we honour them, and take their word on what’s needed to preserve it for the centuries to come.

The Battle is Not Yours But God’s

What’s the battle that you’re facing right now?

Three thousand years ago, God’s people faced their own battle. Victory came, but only after struggle. And it came in the most unlikely of ways. The lesson they first had to learn was this:

“This battle is not for you to fight; take your position, stand still, and see the victory of the Lord on your behalf.”

It’s the story of Jehoshaphat, found in 2 Chronicles 20:1-30.

The setting for the story is this: the tiny kingdom of Judah find themselves surrounded by not one, but three invading armies. From a human point of view, they’re about to get decimated.

Judah’s king at the time is Jehoshaphat. He’s in the middle of a 25-year reign. He’s a good king—a man of integrity, and a skilled diplomat. Most importantly, he is deeply committed to the ways of the Lord.

With armies about to wipe Judah off the map—in the face of great discouragement and defeat, Jehoshaphat does five things that change the game for God’s people.

These are five things we can do when nothing else is working, when we need our own But God moment.

1. Own Your Problem | v1-4

The first is own your problem. It’s possible for weeks or even years to pass before we’re honest about our need for help. Human cultures reward performance and encourage us to hide our battles behind an “I’ve-got-it-together” facade.

Jehoshaphat dropped the facade. In verses 1-4, we read that:

“Jehoshaphat was terrified by this news and begged the Lord for guidance. He also ordered everyone in Judah to begin fasting. So people from all the towns of Judah came to Jerusalem to seek the Lord’s help.”

He owned his problem. He didn’t hide his fear and pretend everything was okay. He begged God for guidance, and wore his weakness in public.

If only you and I allowed ourselves to be that vulnerable. When’s the last time you shared your deepest fears with a friend? Or cried in public? Or healed a broken relationship with the word sorry? Or asked someone to pray for you?

You’re not weak if you admit weakness. Admitting weakness is actually what makes you strong. That’s what takes courage. That’s how you live from the heart. So own your problem, and be vulnerable, like Jehoshaphat was.

2. Lean Into God | v5-12

The second is lean into God. Notice that Jehoshaphat doesn’t go to the pantry and binge. He doesn’t medicate himself with Netflix, a night out on the town, or a sinkhole of self pity.

He goes to God. Read his prayer in verses 5-12. He begins by reflecting on how good God has been in the past, helping Israel take the promised land, and fight off their enemies, and build the temple.

What are the good deeds God has done in your life that you can recount? If you’ve grown up in Australia, you’ve probably got thousands you could list.

When we refocus our vision on the character and faithfulness of God, as Jehoshaphat did, it actually changes the way we view our circumstances. Our circumstances themselves may not change, but we can always choose to wipe our tears and lean into God for another day.

3. Trust His Promises | v13-17

The third is trust his promises. The Bible is full of promises. Some have counted 8000 of them. That’s a lot of promises (and a lot of counting).

Here, in verses 13-17, God gives a promise through one of his people. He doesn’t use someone famous like Isaiah or Ezekiel. Instead, the Spirit of the Lord comes upon a man called Jahaziel, who we know almost nothing else about. This is what he says:

“Listen, all you people of Judah and Jerusalem! Listen, King Jehoshaphat! This is what the Lord says: Do not be afraid! Don’t be discouraged by this mighty army, for the battle is not yours, but God’s.

“Tomorrow, march out against them… But you will not even need to fight. Take your positions; then stand still and watch the Lord’s victory. He is with you, O people of Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid or discouraged. Go out against them tomorrow, for the Lord is with you!”

The timeless truths of Scripture, so full of God’s promises, are our sure foundation. But we also must be ready to trust his promises when they come as a word for the present moment. We even need to be ready to be the prophetic voice he uses.

Just think. Those powerful words, the battle is not yours but God’s, weren’t uttered by anyone famous. They came through a little person—Jahaziel—someone like you or me.

4. Choose To Worship | v18-21

The fourth is choose to worship. A prophet has given a rousing speech, but Judah is still on the brink of annihilation. Peasants have taken refuge inside Jerusalem’s walls. Invading armies close in. The people are terrified.

What do they do? In verses 18-21, they worship. Jehoshaphat bows low with his face to the ground. Then the whole nation joins him. Imagine the scene: hundreds of thousands prostrating themselves together before God.

Then three groups of worship leaders, who are probably scattered around, stand up and begin singing with a loud voice, praising God.

And as the story fast-forwards to the next day, King Jehoshaphat gives a Braveheart-like speech.

“Listen to me, all you people of Judah and Jerusalem! Believe in the Lord your God, and you will be able to stand firm.”

They don’t sharpen their swords or conduct last-minute training for battle. Instead:

“The king appointed singers to walk ahead of the army, singing to the Lord and praising him for his holy splendour, singing: ‘Give thanks to the Lord; his faithful love endures forever!’”

Remember that still, nothing has changed. They’re putting on their armour. The enemy draws near. Besides a prophecy, they have no reason to believe they’ll be alive by sundown. Yet they choose to worship. “Give thanks to the Lord; his faithful love endures forever.”

If Judah could worship God in the face of all this, will you worship God in the face of your battle?  Will you stubbornly give God glory and declare his goodness over your life?

That’s what Judah did. And if you peek ahead, it says God came to their rescue “the very moment they began to sing and give praise”. Worship, in other words, was the key to their triumph.

5. Wait for Victory | v22-30

That leads to the final point, wait for victory. Judah’s victory was incredible. Verses 22-30 tell us that:

“The Lord caused the armies of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir to start fighting among themselves…

“So when the army of Judah arrived at the lookout point in the wilderness, all they saw were dead bodies lying on the ground as far as they could see. Not a single one of the enemy had escaped.”

Not only did Judah survive an imminent invasion. Not only did they survive it without swinging a sword. But we also read that it took them three days to collect the booty. They went home with more showbags than they could carry.

And the story ends with these words:

“So Jehoshaphat’s kingdom was at peace, for his God had given him rest on every side.”

You might be staring down a big army at the moment. But take heart, because victory is on the way. It might not feel like it right now, but as we see in the story of Jehoshaphat, God sometimes lets the odds get stacked against his people so that he gets even more glory in the end.

When you’ve owned your problem, leaned into God, trusted his promises, and chosen to worship, there’s only one thing left to do. You need to wait for victory.

This is the hardest thing to do, because it doesn’t involve you at all. But that’s the point.

“This battle is not for you to fight; take your position, stand still, and see the victory of the Lord on your behalf. Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out against them, and the Lord will be with you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Foolish Message | v18-25

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

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

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

“The gospel is a foolish message.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Foolish Messengers | v26-31

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

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

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

“Paul is essentially calling us morons.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“God is with the underdog.”

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

A foolish message. Foolish messengers.

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

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

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