What if there was proof that God became a baby at Christmas?

I love Christmas carols. They are the soundtrack of the season.

As great as carols are, it’s possible to make it through the whole month of December, hear these tunes, and yet not tune in to what the carols are really saying.

On closer inspection, Christmas carols make some audacious claims. Consider just a few lines from Hark the Herald Angels Sing:

Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see

Hail, the incarnate Deity

Pleased as man, with men to dwell

Jesus, our Immanuel

What an absurd idea. God being limited to one place at a time? God learning how to walk? God… relieving himself? It’s almost offensive.

But this is actually the central claim of Christmas—not merely that a baby was born in a manger, but that this baby born in a manger was God in human flesh. That’s what we’re celebrating for the 2019th time next week.

The famous atheist Carl Sagan once said, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” I think Carl Sagan makes a reasonable point. So let’s consider some extraordinary evidence that on that first Christmas, God really did step down into history.

History Written In Advance

The Bible is a fascinating book, not least because it made many predictions or “prophecies” of events before they happened. This makes it possible to test whether it is just a human book, or one that God was involved in writing.

The Old Testament is the first big section of the Bible, written hundreds of years before Jesus came. In its pages are prophecy after prophecy about a coming king called the Messiah.

“Christmas carols make some audacious claims.”

In Old Testament times, the Jews dreamed of the day the Messiah would come and rescue their nation from oppression, sin and judgment. The Messiah was no less than the hope of Israel.

Many specific predictions were made about this Messiah: his birthplace, how he would be raised, how people would react to him, what his mission was—and many more. So let’s take a quick look at just some of these prophecies, to see if they check out.

“The Messiah was no less than the hope of Israel.”

I am a bit skeptical by nature. Maybe you are too. Maybe you suspect that these “predictions” were forged after the event to just make Jesus look like he was the Messiah.

But actually, history doesn’t let us draw that conclusion. All the Scriptures I quote below were translated into Greek two centuries before Jesus was born, in a well-known ancient text called the Septuagint. In other words, they appeared in history long before Jesus did, so they were definitely predictive.

We will look at these in rapid fire. They throw up a lot of seperate ideas, but bear with me—we will tie all of it together at the end.

The Identity of the Messiah

The first is from a prophet called Balaam. He said:

“I see him, but not here and now. I perceive him, but far in the distant future. A star will rise from Jacob; a sceptre will emerge from Israel.”—Numbers 24:17a

A sceptre is a ruler’s staff. So in other words, this Messiah would be a ruler, and he would also be an ethnic Jew.

Next is the prophet Isaiah:

“The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine… A child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”—Isaiah 9:2,7

A second time here we have the mention of a star or a bright light associated with the Messiah’s birth. Also, he will be given lofty titles like “Mighty God”—and he will in some way form the foundation of government.

In another passage, God has more to say through the prophet Isaiah:

“You will do more than restore the people of Israel to me. I will make you a light to the Gentiles, and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” Isaiah 49:6

So far the predictions we’ve looked at focus on the nation of Israel. But here we see that the Messiah’s saving work would extend to Gentile (non-Jewish) nations all around the world.

This next prediction came to King David:

“When you die and join your ancestors, I will raise up one of your descendants, one of your sons, and I will make his kingdom strong… I will be his father, and he will be my son. I will never take my favour from him as I took it from the one who ruled before you. I will confirm him as king over my house and my kingdom for all time, and his throne will be secure forever.”—1 Chronicles 17:11-13

So the Messiah’s ancestry is narrowing. Not only will he be an Israelite, but he would be a descendant of King David, who came from the tribe of Judah.

The Messiah’s role is also narrowing. Not only will he be a ruler, but he will be a king ruling over a kingdom—a kingdom that never ends. The Messiah would also have a unique relationship to God: he will be called the “Son of God”.

Here’s another prophecy from Isaiah:

“The Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us’.”—Isaiah 7:14-15

Here we read that the Messiah would be born of a virgin. And the people will regard him as Immanuel—God with us.

Just a couple more prophecies to go. The prophet Micah said:

“You, O Bethlehem, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel, whose origins are in the distant past, will come from you on my behalf.”—Micah 5:2

So it’s clear that the Messiah was expected to be born in Bethlehem.

A Most Remarkable Prediction

This last one is the most remarkable of all. It was spoken by Jacob, the father of the Jewish nation:

“The sceptre will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from his descendants, until the coming of the one to whom it belongs, the one whom all nations will honour.”—Genesis 49:10

Again we see that the Messiah would come from the tribe of Judah and that the nations of the world would honour him. But most fascinating is this line about the sceptre departing.

Long before Jesus, the Romans had captured Judea and made it a province of their empire. The Jews still held the sceptre there—in other words, they retained their ruling privileges. But all that changed in 7AD. Rome appointed a procurator in Judea, and took Jewish rule away.

“Most fascinating is this line about the sceptre departing.”

This was devastating to the Jewish leaders. But they weren’t just upset because they lost the right to rule. They were heartbroken because it looked like this prophecy from Genesis 49:10 had been broken: the sceptre had departed, but “the one” had failed to come.

It’s said that in 7AD, the Jewish leaders went about in sackcloth and ashes, mourning, “Woe unto us, for the sceptre has been taken from Judah, and the Messiah has not appeared!”

Little did they know that a few days’ walk north, in the village of Nazareth, a little boy named Jesus was running the dusty streets with his playmates.

Do You Have Room for Jesus?

To summarise, we have looked at just a handful of prophecies, and things are getting really narrow. According to the Jewish Scriptures, the Messiah had to:

  • be Jewish
  • be from the tribe of Judah
  • be from the family of David
  • be born to a virgin
  • be born in Bethlehem
  • have an arrival associated with a star or a bright light
  • provide a foundation for government
  • be known about and worshipped throughout the world
  • be acknowledged as a king, as God in human form, as the unique Son of God
  • be born before 7AD

You could spend a lot of time troweling through history books but you won’t find many candidates that fulfil all of these predictions. But Jesus does. Remarkably so.

In fact, we’ve only compiled a list of ten predictions about the Messiah. We could look at another 90—among them that he would be executed, have his hands and feet pierced, that his executioners would gamble for his clothes, that he’d be buried in a rich man’s grave. The list goes on and on.

Every one of these prophecies were written in black and white hundreds of years before Jesus was born. Each of them was fulfilled down to the finest detail in his life.

“Christmas carols are a call for us to invite Jesus into our homes and hearts.”

Believing that God stepped into history that first Christmas isn’t a blind leap of faith into the dark. It’s a very sensible step into the light.

In the days leading up to Christmas, there is so much to distract us from what this holiday is all about. We can enjoy all of the Christmas tradition, and yet be just like Bethlehem’s innkeeper who had no room for Jesus.

Christmas carols are a call for us to invite Jesus into our homes and hearts. This Christmas, will you join shepherds, angels and wise men to honour the King of Kings?

Let every heart prepare him room

Come, adore on bended knee

Merry Christmas. Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth!

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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Religion Causes all the Violence—Just Look at the Crusades

Religion causes all the violence—just look at the Crusades. Have you heard this before? It’s a claim that many critics of Christianity make. In summary, it goes something like this:

For hundreds of years, Popes declared ‘holy war’ and sent religious fanatics marching to the Middle East. They went there to colonise, and they slaughtered anyone who wouldn’t convert to Christianity along the way.

 

So many Muslims and Jews were killed in the streets of Jerusalem that blood flowed up to the crusaders’ knees. All of this violence was condoned by the church so that Christians could expand their empire and line their pockets with wealth.

Maybe you’re so appalled reading this that you’re ready to hit the back button. Who would bother trying to defend this kind of violent hypocrisy?

Without doubt, the Crusades were a bleak period of church history. Those who fought and led had clearly ignored the words of Jesus, who said:

“Love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also.”—Luke 6:27-29

But it’s also true that the Crusades are victim to a lot of Fake News. If we’re going to talk about the Crusades, we need to rescue the facts from the fiction.

What Were the Crusades?

The Crusades were a series of campaigns fought by European Christians to recapture the ‘Holy Lands’—those places where all the Bible’s major events took place. Think modern-day Israel, Turkey and Egypt.

The First Crusade (1096-1099) was probably the most infamous. It was a successful but bloody recapture of Jerusalem. It also led to the founding of several ‘Crusader states’ in the Middle East.

The Second Crusade (1147-1149) was a failed attempt to retake a defeated Crusader state.

The Third Crusade (1189-1192) was launched to recapture Jerusalem after it had been overtaken once more by Muslim armies. The Crusaders failed again.

The Fourth Crusade (1202-1204) began like the others, but along the way, the Crusaders got mixed up in the local politics of Constantinople. After a dispute, they sacked the city, plundering it and killing fellow Christians. The whole episode was an embarrassment and a great injustice.

The Fifth Crusade (1217-1221) was another failed attempt to recapture Jerusalem, this time via Egypt.

The Sixth Crusade (1228-1229) involved almost no fighting. Through diplomacy, the Crusaders secured Jerusalem and other parts of Israel.

The Seventh Crusade (1248-1254) was by far the best equipped, but it ended in almost total annihilation for the Crusaders.

Other minor Crusades can be added to this list, but it’s these seven that have captured the popular imagination. With the exception of the first and the sixth, the Crusades were an anticlimax. The last Crusader stronghold fell in 1291, bringing the era of crusading to an end.

The Context of the Crusades

We’re rightly outraged by the Crusades. But there is context to these events that many people have never heard but that change the way we view them.

First, what made the Crusades unique wasn’t their violence: almost every medieval culture was extremely violent. By our standards, the Crusades were shocking, but by the standards of the time, they were unremarkable.

What made them unique was that the command to wage war was given by a Christian leader, the Pope. Not only is there no grounds for this in the teachings of Jesus: there’s also no precedent for it in Christian history—and fortunately, no repeat of it either.

“What made the Crusades unique wasn’t their violence.”

Second, not all of the violence that took place was condoned by church leaders. Popes condemned the sack of Constantinople, along with much of the violence and pillaging that took place en route to the Middle East.

Third, it turns out to be a myth that Crusaders went for fame and fortune. Most who went bankrupted themselves for armour and travel costs, and they didn’t count on coming back alive. They went because—misguided as they were—they believed it was a noble venture.

“Popes condemned much of the violence.”

Fourth, it’s a myth is that the Crusaders forced people to convert to Christianity. The purpose of the Crusades was to secure passage for pilgrims to the Holy Lands.

Fifth, the story about blood running up to the Crusaders’ knees was a myth. The siege of Jerusalem was ruthless, but it was exaggerated beyond possibility in the retelling.

“It’s a myth that the Crusaders forced people to convert to Christianity.”

All of these corrections might seem minor. But there’s one more fact many omit that fundamentally alters our perspective on the Crusades, and it’s this: the Crusades were defensive wars.

In the 6th century, most of Europe and the Holy Lands were Christian. Pilgrims were free to traverse the empire and visit Jerusalem as they wished.

But the birth of Islam changed this. While Christianity had spread peacefully, Islam spread rapidly, and mostly through warfare. Within a few centuries, Islam conquered over two thirds of what were previously Christian lands.

The First Crusade was proclaimed by the Pope, not as an act of aggression, but in response to an existential threat. The Crusades slowed the advance of Muslim armies into Europe, and probably helped spare western civilisation.

Funny how this fact barely rates a mention in the popular retelling of the Crusades.

“The Crusades were defensive wars.”

Don’t misunderstand me: I don’t condone the Crusades. Violence is not the way of Jesus. But if we view them not merely as religious conflicts and instead see them as the defence of a civilisation, they make a whole lot more sense. Context is everything.

Here’s a little more context for the claim that ‘religion causes all the violence’. The Crusades were bloody, resulting in the tragic death of around a million people. But communism—which sought to bury religion forever—was far more savage. It took the lives of over one hundred million.

Even if we correct for population growth, communism was still twenty times more ruinous for humanity than the Crusades—and in just a quarter of the time.

This isn’t a cheap-shot. My point isn’t that Christians are better because they’ve killed less people. I’m simply countering the claim that religion causes all the wars, or that more Christianity equals more violence.

“Violence is not the way of Jesus.”

On the whole, Christianity has been a powerfully civilising force through history.

Its leader, Jesus of Nazareth, didn’t merely say, “Love your enemies.” He practiced what he preached—all the way to the cross. He chose to endure violence rather than commit it.

Jesus has shaped us more than we know. He’s a big reason whyeven with all their contextChristians and critics alike still can’t stand the violence of the Crusades.

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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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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.

Israel Folau and the Crush of Corporate Activism

The corporate activists are cheering, but they shouldn’t be.

Back in April, Rugby Australia, under pressure from its major sponsor Qantas, sacked rugby superstar Israel Folau for posting a paraphrased Bible verse on Instagram. In May, a tribunal upheld the decision, allowing his $4 million contract to be officially torn up.

Now in June, GoFundMe has discovered the power of corporate activism too. Using the fund-raising site, Israel had reached out to likeminded Australians who wanted to support him in his court appeal for religious freedom. $700,000 had been donated to his cause before GoFundMe suddenly pulled his page from their platform.

“Corporate activism is a growing phenomenon.”

The reason GoFundMe gave for their decision was “violation of its terms of service”. Exactly which terms Israel has violated is still unclear.

Some suggest it’s because his fund promoted harassment or vilification. But clearly this can’t be the case. Anti-Folau campaigns abound on the website, including the “Israel is a knob cause”, the “F*** Israel Folau Foundation” and others raising funds for his ‘mental health issues’ or even for a rainbow sex toy to gag him with.

Others suggest that Folau’s campaign was canned because his was a legal fund. But this can’t be the reasoning either, given that GoFundMe continues to allow around 17,000 other legal campaigns on their site. This includes the fund for the fabled ‘Eggboy’ who (deserved or not) assaulted a sitting Commonwealth senator.

“By including some groups, these corporations exclude others.”

It seems increasingly clear that what GoFundMe has an issue with—and what Qantas and Rugby Australia before them take issue with—is the historic teachings of Christianity.

Corporate activism is a growing phenomenon. Companies are using their clout to crush any opinion they don’t like. And by all means, they’re free to: they’re private enterprises, and this is a free country.

But in doing so, they’re creating a new set of marginalised minorities. By including some groups, these corporations exclude others. They preach tolerance but practice intolerance. And the gentle giant Folau—a Pacific Islander who counts Christianity as core to his identity—is only their latest victim.

“Companies are using their clout to crush any opinion they don’t like.”

Folau’s fight is far from over. The Australian reports that GoFundMe’s decision has only hardened Israel’s resolve to have his day in court. 

And in the 24 hours since the Australian Christian Lobby began hosting a new fundraiser for Folau, almost double the amount given on Go Fund Me has been raised again. At the time of writing, that amount sits at $1.3 million.

What his opponents are yet to realise is this: Folau practices his faith like he plays his footy. He’s no pushover.

Not only that, but there’s a band of quiet Australians waiting in the wings who helped ScoMo to  shock victory, and who are more than willing to put their money where their mouth is and get behind Folau’s fight for religious freedom.

“Folau practices his faith like he plays his footy.”

It may just turn out that Go Fund Me’s late great grubby move is the spectacular own-goal that helps Folau and his followers to the victory they’ve been waiting for.

In any case, as the dust settles on this latest development, there are three questions that every Aussie Christian can be reflecting on.

1. Do You Really Believe?

The entire Israel Folau saga boils down to this: he lost his job for posting a paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. This now infamous passage says:

“Don’t you realise that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God.

“Israel lost his job for posting a paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.”

“Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

It’s hard to find a crisper announcement of the gospel in all of Scripture than the one Israel posted. So the question for every Christian is, do you really believe the Bible?

Notice that the question isn’t “Would you post this verse on your own social media account?” Certainly, there are more winsome ways to reach out to a secular world. Still, the question remains, do you actually believe what this verse says?

2. Can You Still Love?

It’s easy in a climate like this for us Christians to see ourselves only as an oppressed subculture. Yes, this is becoming increasingly true. But the early church had it far worse than we do, and still they found a way to love.

They were radical not only in their unwavering commitment to truth, but also in their unwavering commitment to love. Love your enemy, turn the other cheek, and bless those who persecute you are words for us today as much as they were for early believers.

21st century Christians are sobering up to the realisation that we live in a modern-day Babylon. 

“God isn’t calling us to start a revolt.”

This makes the story of the Babylonian exile a great source of wisdom for us today. So consider the words that Jeremiah wrote to the Jewish exiles in Babylon:

“Work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:7).

God isn’t calling us to start a revolt. He wants us to work and pray for the peace and prosperity of Australia. As Timothy Keller puts it, God calls us to be a “counter-culture for the common good”.

3. Will You Speak Out?

Keep in mind though that this doesn’t mean we just fall in line with what the mainstream culture demands of us.

If we truly long for peace and prosperity in Australia, then surely we want to see our civilisation’s hard-won freedoms continue to flourish.

“Political silence is tough to shake.”

Israel Folau lost his job for being a Christian: for believing and expressing a central Christian conviction. If someone with a profile as high as Izzy’s can be fired for his faith, anyone can. The only difference is that everyday religious people won’t have any fame to leverage for their cause.

Now is the opportune time for Christians to speak out.

For some, this might mean swallowing our pride. It’s not sexy today to stand for ‘conservative’ causes—especially not Christian ones. Political bias, like political silence, is tough to shake.

But if we truly believe in freedom for all to practice their faith, then speaking up now is the right thing to do.

So will 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.

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

Fired For Their Faith: The Crusade Against Christians in Medicine

Across the West, Christians in the medical professions are finding it harder and harder to practice both their career and their faith. Some are even having to choose between the two.

Historically, the church has played a disproportionate role in healthcare through the centuries. After ending infanticide in the ancient world, followers of Jesus went on to invent the public hospital and pioneer many fields of modern medicine.

“Australian non-profits are having to make a legal stand for Christians in the medical world.”

Florence Nightingale, who is widely regarded as the founder of modern nursing, was herself a devout Christian. She summed up her life with the words, “God has spoken to me and called me to serve.”

Dr William Osler who has been dubbed the ‘Father of Modern Medicine’ said of his Christian belief, “Nothing in life is more wonderful than faith.” 

The connection between Christianity and care can still be seen today, not just in the many hospital names that speak to their Christian origin, but also the high proportion of Christians still choosing careers in healthcare.

“Followers of Jesus invented the public hospital.”

So, it’s sad to see professionals being targeted by medical boards simply for holding fast to their faith convictions. It’s a growing phenomenon, and Australians are not immune.

In fact, Australian non-profits like Medicine With Morality and the ACL’s Human Rights Law Alliance are having to make a legal stand for Christians in the medical world.

As the crusade against Christians advances, consider ten stories from around the western world.

Dr. David Drew, UK, 2010

It was a costly email. Dr. David Drew, a skilled paediatric consultant and a clinical director at Walsall Manor Hospital, hoped to motivate six or seven colleagues well known to him in his department. So, he sent them the prayer of St Ignatius of Loyola.

Managers who didn’t even receive the email lodged a complaint against Dr. Drew. A report was prepared, detailing other occasions that Dr. Drew had spoken of his faith at work.

“Dr. Drew was told his religious beliefs should be kept to himself.”

This included the time he wished a colleague a ‘peaceful Christmas’ by text message—described by the recipient as an ‘aggressive and unwelcome intrusion’ into his private time.

The report concluded that Dr. Drew’s language was ‘inappropriate in a professional business setting’ and that his religious beliefs should be kept to himself. He was accused of ‘gross misconduct and insubordination’ and was sacked from his job.

Dr. Drew appealed the verdict on the grounds that he’d been unfairly dismissed, but following an eight-day tribunal hearing, he lost his case.

Dr. Richard Scott, UK, 2011

A Cambridge-educated GP, Dr. Richard Scott had given years of his life in Tanzania and India as a medical missionary and surgeon. In 2011, after a lengthy consultation with a troubled patient, Dr. Scott shared with him about the comfort and strength he’d found through faith in Jesus.

Dr. Scott described the encounter as a ‘consensual discussion between two adults’. The 24 year old patient didn’t indicate that he was offended or wanted the discussion to end—indeed, he continued seeking treatment from Dr. Scott’s practice.

“He had given years of his life in Tanzania and India as a medical missionary.”

Nevertheless, a complaint was lodged by the patient’s mother, and Dr. Scott was placed under official investigation for ‘bringing his profession into disrepute’ by discussing Christianity.

The General Medical Council investigated the case, and in an incredible move, they accepted the patient’s evidence in secret over the phone, such that Dr. Scott’s defence team couldn’t adequately respond to it.

The trial resulted in Dr. Scott being issued with a warning that remained on his otherwise spotless record for five years.

Dr. Mark Hobart, Australia, 2013

In Dr. Mark Hobart’s home state of Victoria, abortion laws underwent radical reform in 2008. Since then, any doctor with a conscientious objection to abortion has been forced to refer patients to providers who will oblige—effectively making all doctors complicit in the abortion industry.

This law was put to the test when Dr. Hobart, a practicing Catholic, was approached by a pregnant couple in 2013. They were 19 weeks pregnant with a girl, but they were seeking an abortion because they’d hoped for a boy.

“In Victoria, abortion laws underwent radical reform in 2008.”

Dr. Hobart’s conscience wouldn’t allow him to refer them on to an abortionist, given both the mother and baby were healthy, and the abortion clearly would have been sex-selective.

The parents didn’t complain, but when members of the Medical Board of Victoria discovered Dr. Hobart’s decision, they conducted an ‘own motion’, making themselves both accusers and judges in Dr. Hobart’s case.

Given that the investigation could have resulted in him losing his license to practice medicine, Dr. Hobart was very fortunate to only be given a formal sanction for breaking the new law.

Victoria Wasteney, UK, 2014

In 2014, a senior occupational therapist, Victoria Wasteney, found herself being disciplined by the NHS for speaking about her Christian faith with a Muslim colleague at work.

She was found guilty of three ‘charges of misconduct’ by a disciplinary hearing. The first was for praying with the Muslim woman after she’d come to Victoria’s office, tearfully sharing about her health and home problems.

“Victoria appealed the decision in court and lost.”

The second was for giving the woman a copy of the book I Dared to Call Him Father, about a Muslim woman who converted to Christianity. Speaking of this occasion, Victoria said, “Because we had had these conversations it did not seem abnormal. It certainly was not an attempt to convert her to Christianity, as it was put to me later.”

The third was for inviting the colleague to a sports day organised by her church, a decision that Victoria’s managers described as ‘inappropriate’.

Victoria was suspended on full pay for nine months, and had to accept a written warning that remained on her record for a year. She appealed the decision in court and lost.

Dr. Kenneth Zucker, Canada, 2015

Dr. Kenneth Zucker isn’t included in this list for any faith affiliation, but for his extremely high profile and the relevance of his case to Christian practitioners. He is a world-leading clinician and a global authority on youth with gender dysphoria, with 40 years of research and practice to his name.

Dr. Zucker isn’t strictly opposed to gender transition. But given that the majority of youth with gender dysphoria realign with their birth sex by the end of adolescence, he is guided by the belief that this is the best outcome for youth with the condition.

While he was psychologist-In-chief at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto, Dr. Zucker was targeted by activists who made false accusations against him, including that he called a patient a ‘hairy little vermin’.

“Dr. Zucker is a world-leading clinician.”

CAMH released a public report detailing this and Dr. Zucker’s other supposed misdemeanours, without review or comment by Dr. Zucker, and they fired him.

Over 500 clinicians and researchers signed an open letter to CAMH, expressing shock at their treatment of Dr. Zucker, and defending his extraordinary contribution to the field. After three years in court, CAMH issued an apology and a payout for Dr. Zucker’s unfair dismissal.

Sandra Rojas, USA, 2015

Following a reshuffle at the Winnebago County Health Department in Illinois, Sandra Rojas, a paediatric nurse with 40 years experience, found herself tasked with providing abortion drugs and referrals.

But as a Catholic, and someone who’d built her career on caring for children, this didn’t sit right with Sandra. “I was given two choices: to violate my faith and my oath to do no harm, or to lose my job in the clinic.”

“Sandra found herself tasked with providing abortion drugs and referrals.”

When Sandra asked to be exempt from these new requirements of her job, she was fired. This despite previously being named ‘Employee of the Month’ and ‘Employee of the Quarter’ by the department.

Soon after her dismissal, Sandra joined a group of nurses who testified on Capitol Hill, each of them having been forced by their employers to violate their conscience by taking part in abortions, under threat of losing their jobs.

Sandra’s case is currently in the Illinois state court.

Dr. Eric Walsh, USA, 2016

A physician and former city public health director, Dr. Eric Walsh had also sat on the President’s Advisory Council on HV/AIDS. In his spare time, Dr. Walsh was a lay preacher at his Seventh-day Adventist church.

He took a job with the Georgia Department of Public Health as a district health director. But a week later, officials became aware that he’d preached mainstream Christian views on topics like evolution and human sexuality.

“In his spare time, Dr. Walsh was a lay preacher.”

The director of human resources then gave department employees the assignment of listening to Dr. Walsh’s sermons. Dr. Walsh was even forced to hand over copies of his sermons to the state.

Two days later, the department left a message on Dr. Walsh’s voicemail letting him know a termination letter was in the mail.

Dr. Walsh filed a lawsuit against the state of Georgia and has since won a settlement for unfair dismissal.

Dr. Katarzyna Jachimowicz, Norway, 2016

In 2016, Dr. Katarzyna Jachimowicz became the first medical professional fired for exercising her conscience rights in Norway.

Dr. Jachimowicz had over 20 years experience and was known as a doctor with exceptional integrity and skills, and able to consult with her patients in Polish, Russian, and Norwegian.

She is also a Catholic. When Dr. Jachimowicz first accepted her job, her employer knew of her conscientious objection to abortion and hired her nonetheless.

“Dr. Jachimowicz was known as a doctor with exceptional integrity and skills.”

But during her time at the family practice, the Norwegian government abolished conscience protections for doctors. Following this, when Dr. Jachimowicz chose not to refer her patients for abortions or provide abortion treatments for them, she was sacked by the state-run health care system.

Feeling that her rights had been violated, Dr. Jachimowicz appealed this decision in court—a landmark case in Norway. She won the country’s first legal victory for freedom of conscience.

Dr. David Mackereth, UK, 2018

“I’m not attacking the transgender movement. But I’m defending my right to freedom of speech and freedom of belief.” These are the famous last words of Dr. David Mackereth, who lost his job with the NHS for his religious conviction that gender is connected to biology and established at birth.

Dr. Mackereth, a Reformed Baptist, had worked as a doctor for 26 years, spending most of this in accident and emergency wards. More recently, he’d taken a job as a medical assessor for a government department.

“He was given no choice: he must abide by the department rules.”

During training for his new role, Dr. Mackereth was told that he must refer to patients by their preferred gender pronoun, otherwise it could be considered harassment, punishable by law.

When Dr. Mackereth voiced his own views, the tutor passed this information on to his employer. He was given no choice: he must abide by the department rules.

Dr. Mackereth responded that ‘in good conscience’ he couldn’t abide by the compelled speech policy. As a result, he was deemed ‘unfit to work’ and his contract was terminated.

Dr. David van Gend, Australia, 2018

I’ve personally met Dr. David van Gend. He’s warm, intelligent, and well spoken. He’s also a Christian. Last year, Dr. van Gend found himself at the centre of controversy when he retweeted two posts on Twitter.

One was by Lyle Shelton, a candidate for Australian Conservatives. It promoted a book criticising the indoctrination of children with radical gender ideology. The other was an article by Miranda Devine, also questioning the need for gender fluidity classes in schools.

“Dr. van Gend was accused of providing information that is not promoting public health.”

Soon after, Dr. van Gend was hauled before the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) on professional misconduct charges.

Though he made the tweets in his own time on his private social media account, Dr. van Gend was accused of ‘providing information that is not medically, psychologically, nor scientifically based and not promoting public health’.

After a nervous nine month wait, and with many doctors and thousands of ordinary Australians petitioning for Dr. van Gend, AHPRA dropped the complaint without so much as an apology for all that they made him endure.

Where To From Here?

In just the space of a decade, cultural and political sands have shifted, bringing radical changes to the medical world. New laws are being written and tested out. For those who transgress them, the results are hit and miss, as we’ve seen. Some are sacked, some are scolded, some sue. Some escape the fire unscathed and yet the crusade continues.

What’s clear is that there’s no end in sight. Christians are in the cross hairs, along with anyone else who dares to abide by their conscience or speak of their convictions in the workplace.

“Cultural and political sands have shifted.”

This isn’t progress. Not so long ago, stories like these ten would only have reached us from the communist world. Now they are commonplace in western nations.

While we still have our freedoms, we need to speak up. We must resist repressive laws, we need to pray, and we owe it to those who’ve faced the fire to share their stories of injustice.

Originally published at the Daily Declaration.

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Good Lord, Where Did Labor Go?

The Australian Labor Party has abandoned Aussies of faith. This is the story being told by media outlets as diverse as the Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, SBS, Nine News and the ABC, in the fallout from Labor’s shock election loss.

Labor’s own Chris Bowen agrees. Pulling out of Labor’s leadership contest, he reflected that, “During the election campaign… it has been raised with me that people of faith no longer feel that progressive politics cares about them.” In a gesture to the faithful—and a rebuke to his colleagues—he declared, “We need to tackle this urgently.”

Labor does need to tackle this urgently. If May 18 taught us anything, it is this: Australia is still a country deeply shaped by faith, and any political party or prospective PM that ignores this fact will pay the price at the polling booth.

“Labor has abandoned Aussies of faith.”

The ALP has traditionally appealed to the working class because of their strong stance on welfare and workers’ rights. As such, they would normally win huge support in Labor heartlands like Western Sydney and the blue collar strongholds of Queensland, where voters have the most to gain from their policies.

But it’s precisely here that huge swings were recorded against Labor. And as analysts have pointed out, it’s precisely here that religious voters are also well represented.

Not just the rusted-on Liberal types either—but believing battlers from the lower classes, Christians who have fled persecution in the Middle East and Asia, and many Muslim and other faithful besides.

“Australia is still a country deeply shaped by faith.”

Looking back on the election campaign, there are two defining moments that clearly carried weight with religious voters around the country.

The first was Scott Morrison, worshipping in his home church south of Sydney with hands raised. Despite all the negativity the media could muster about those photos, there was an authenticity and abandon there that stood out to the Aussie public.

The second was Bill Shorten bullying ScoMo about his religious beliefs. “I cannot believe that the Prime Minister has not immediately said that gay people will not go to hell,” scoffed Shorten, effectively creating a de facto religious test for office―which, by the way, is outlawed in Australia’s Constitution.

“Multicultural Australia is also religious Australia.”

One candidate for PM wore his faith out in public, unconcerned about the public reaction. The other told the country that faith is out of place in public. For religious Australians, the choice between them was easy.

If the ALP is to gain back ground with religious voters, there are a number of issues they need to address as a matter of priority before the next election.

First, Labor needs to realise, as University of Queensland Professor Patrick Parkinson points out, that “multicultural Australia is also religious Australia”.

“Bill Shorten told the country that faith is out of place in public.”

Labor cannot afford to welcome outsiders with open arms but then turn around and tell them to keep their beliefs to themselves. Five minutes ago, secularism meant freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. If Labor like open borders, they also need to have open minds.

They could begin by making believers of all stripes feel more welcome and valued in their caucus. It’s not uncommon to hear of MPs of faith within the Labor party feeling increasingly sidelined for their convictions. “Few active Christians remain in the parliamentary party,” writes Parkinson.

Second, Labor needs to step back from such an aggressively secular vision to more moderate, mainstream values in line with the people they hope to represent. Their current platform might resonate with activists and inner-city types, but not with middle Australia.

“If Labor like open borders, they also need to have open minds.”

Writes Parkinson, “On social issues, Labor is now much closer to the radical Left than to the Labor Party of Hawke and Keating.” Labor would be better off leaving radicalism to the fringe parties, where it belongs.

Third, Australia needs to know that the ALP is committed to religious freedom. In theory, Labor supported the Ruddock review, but unlike the Coalition, they didn’t commit to any of the inquiry’s recommendations.

In the lead up to the election, Labor also set themselves in opposition to religious schools, moving against their right to choose staff who teach their values. When Christian leaders wrote to both major party leaders for clarity around religious freedom, Bill Shorten didn’t respond.

“Australia needs to know that the ALP is committed to religious freedom.”

Finally, Labor would do well to demonstrate to people of faith that they’re a valued and respected part of mainstream society. This is about more than Bill Shorten’s ‘Christian-shaming’, mentioned earlier.

Shorten should have learnt from Kevin Rudd, himself a Christian. For the most part, Rudd had a great track record of giving voice to people of faith. But consider the words of the ABC’s Andrew West on Kevin Rudd’s demise:

“Then, on the eve of his thumping defeat at the 2013 election, Rudd went on ABC’s Q&A program. In response to a question from a pastor―asked more in sorrow than anger―about why Rudd had changed his position on same-sex marriage, Rudd tried to humiliate the man, almost spitting the word ‘mate’ at him.”

“The Australia Labor Party began with strong Christian roots.”

Simply put, Aussies vote against anyone who treats them with contempt—and Australians of faith are no exception to this. As John Wilson, moderator-general for the Presbyterian Church of Australia, has said, ordinary Australians want “a country where it’s okay to disagree and express that disagreement, to hold opposing views and not be marginalised for it.”

None of this should be a big ask for the ALP.

The Australia Labor Party began with strong Christian roots. It was born in the late 19th century out of the emerging labour movement in Australia which was in turn inspired by those fighting for workers’ rights in Britain.

“Half of Australia’s Labor Prime Ministers have been committed, churchgoing Christians.”

One such inspiration was Keir Hardie, a founder of the British Labour Party. Hardie was a lay preacher and an advocate for women’s suffrage and self-rule in India. He was quoted as saying, “The inspiration which has carried me on… has been derived more from the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth than from all other sources combined.”

Keir Hardie was friends with our own Labor PM Andrew Fisher, who was in office intermittently between 1908 and 1915, and who was also a committed Christian.

In fact, no fewer than half of the Prime Ministers provided to Australia by the ALP have been committed, churchgoing Christians.

“Labor doesn’t need to be the party of sectarian secularists.”

Besides Andrew Fisher, these include James Scullin (1929-1932), Joseph Lyons (1932-1939), Frank Forde (1945), Ben Chifley (1945-1949) and Kevin Rudd (2007-2010, 2013). Many others had a Christian upbringing that influenced their time in parliament.

Put simply, Labor doesn’t need to be the party of sectarian secularists. This was not the case in the past, nor is it necessary today. Indeed, it was once known as the party of hard-working Catholics whose faith shaped the Labor emphasis on equality and social welfare.

It’s impossible to relive the past, but a better future can be forged. Australia is best served by two major parties whose ‘inclusion’ doesn’t feel like exclusion for a vast swathe of voters.

“A better future can be forged.”

With a left-faction opposition leader now in Anthony Albanese, that might be a challenge, but it’s far from impossible. And it’s in Labor’s best interests.

God-fearing Australians shouldn’t have to choose between the God they believe in and the party they vote for.

Labor, the faithful haven’t left you. You’ve lurched too far left and you’ve left them.

Please come back soon.

Turning the Tide on the West’s Cultural Decline

A Book Review of Escape From Reason by Francis Schaeffer

We’re two decades into the new millennium but something strange is in the air. We can’t name it, but somehow we can sense it. In the West, new trinkets and ideas surround us; still something about our lives feels frayed, hollow, fractured.

Francis Schaeffer’s Escape From Reason gives words to that fracture. Published 50 years ago, it frames the dilemma of modern humanity with such prophetic insight that it could have been written yesterday.

“Something about our lives feels frayed, hollow, fractured.”

C.S. Lewis once said, “It is a good rule after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.” If it’s been a while since you’ve read an old book, make Escape From Reason your next.

Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984) was a pastor, theologian, and philosopher and evangelist, and also the founder of L’Abri, a discipleship community based in Switzerland.

Schaeffer had an impressive array of passions—from art, music and architecture, to theology, philosophy and modern culture. Such a broad knowledge base enabled him to connect dots that no one else did; moreover it gave him piercing insight into the modern mind.

Most of all, however, Schaeffer was an evangelist. He preached, discipled, and wrote over twenty books with a single aim: to see modern people transformed by the gospel.

“Schaeffer had an impressive array of passions.”

In Escape From Reason, Schaeffer contends that to make sense of life, we humans are looking for a unity between two “levels” of knowledge—picture two stories of a house.

Downstairs is the diverse array of our earthly experiences—in philosophy, these are known as particulars or nature. Upstairs in this house is some kind of transcendent truth that gives all the particulars meaning—in philosophy these are called universals or grace.

It is only when we can perceive a unity between the downstairs and the upstairs that we can be at peace within ourselves and make sense of the world we live in.

Schaeffer had piercing insight into the modern mind.”

In Chapter 1, Schaeffer suggests that early Christians emphasised grace to the neglect of nature. But then beginning with Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), an over-correction towards nature began to take place.

In the world of art, this was revolutionary as paintings, for example, became far more lifelike. But in theology it spelt trouble. As the Renaissance took off, people began wondering if grace—in particular, the insights of Scripture—were even needed anymore.

Schaeffer highlights in Chapter 2 why the Bible’s revelation is needed. Scripture gives us a perspective that our view from downstairs cannot—namely that we humans are both broken and beautiful. Broken, meaning we desperately need grace. But also beautiful: made in God’s image, therefore far more than simply “cogs in the machine” of nature.

Chapter 3 traces how tragically, this “cogs in the machine” view of humanity took over the modern world. It even led philosophers, starting with Hegel (1770-1832), to abandon all hope of a downstairs-upstairs unity. And since philosophy eventually flows down to the arts and popular culture, an all-pervading despair began to fill the western hemisphere.

“This really is the reason we moderns find it so hard to live with ourselves.”

Why did philosophers abandon this hope? In Chapter 4 Schaeffer tells us. Beginning only with downstairs rationalistic ideas, everything—including humanity itself—is reduced to mere mathematics and machinery, with no ultimate meaning or purpose.

In other words, we moderns now find it impossible to believe an upstairs even exists anymore. So we’re forced to take a “leap of faith” and invent our own irrational upstairs meaning out of thin air.

So now, downstairs and upstairs have zero relationship to each other. Downstairs logic leads to meaninglessness. And any upstairs meaning we concoct is purely illogical. All unity has been lost. This is Schaeffer’s famous “dichotomy”. And it is—he contends—the great cause of the West’s despair, right up to the present day.

“Christians need to respond to this with gospel clarity.”

In Chapters 5 and 6, Schaeffer draws on his knowledge of the world of art, literature, cinema and popular culture to illustrate this dichotomy, centring on the seismic shifts that took place in the 1960s. In doing so, he proves convincingly that this dichotomy really is the the reason we moderns find it so hard to live with ourselves.

Finally, in Chapter 7 he summarises his entire argument and insists that he has not written Escape From Reason in order to entertain. Rather, he did so to expose the utter despair of modern people, and thus the need for Christians to respond to it with gospel clarity.

At 120 pages, Escape From Reason is one of Schaeffer’s shorter works, so you won’t need long to read it. You will, however, need your brain—and a willingness to learn some of his unique vocabulary.

But if you’re serious about turning the tide on the West’s cultural decline, and you long to see Australia’s Christian foundations rebuilt, you absolutely need to read this book.