Lockdown and Liberty: Is Australia Still a Free Country?

This is a free country.

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

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

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

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

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

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

At least I hope we can all agree on this.

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

“Freedom is precious.”

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

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

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

“Humans are born free.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“This is a free country.”

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

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

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

Easter: God’s Vaccine for Humanity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“At Easter, Jesus offers us his immunity.”

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

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

~

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

Pandemic Panic: Where is God in our Current Crisis?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So where is God in this midst of it all?

The Bible is More Relevant Than Ever

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Pestilence is mentioned countless times in the Bible.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Church is Still the Church

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

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

“This pandemic is a wake-up call.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

God is Still on His Throne

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

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

But God is still on His throne.

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

1 Those who live in the shelter of the Most High

    will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

2 This I declare about the Lord:

    He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;

    he is my God, and I trust him.

3 For he will rescue you from every trap

    and protect you from deadly disease.

4 He will cover you with his feathers.

    He will shelter you with his wings.

    His faithful promises are your armour and protection.

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

    nor the arrow that flies in the day.

6 Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness,

    nor the disaster that strikes at midday.

7 Though a thousand fall at your side,

    though ten thousand are dying around you,

    these evils will not touch you.

8 Just open your eyes,

    and see how the wicked are punished.

9 If you make the Lord your refuge,

    if you make the Most High your shelter,

10 no evil will conquer you;

    no plague will come near your home.

11 For he will order his angels

    to protect you wherever you go.

12 They will hold you up with their hands

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

13 You will trample upon lions and cobras;

    you will crush fierce lions and serpents under your feet!

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

    I will protect those who trust in my name.

15 When they call on me, I will answer;

    I will be with them in trouble.

    I will rescue and honour them.

16 I will reward them with a long life

    and give them my salvation.”

The Price We Pay To Follow Jesus

What price do you pay to follow Jesus?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Following Jesus Will Cost Us This Life | v23

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

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

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

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

“Would you be willing to die for Jesus?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life is Gained By Giving It Away | v24b

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now he calls us to give up ours.

Why Christians Clash with the Current Culture

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

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

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

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

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

Acts 17:1-9 paints this picture precisely.

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

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

Called to be Convincing | v1-3

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

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

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

“Proclaiming Jesus is a Spirit-empowered activity.”

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

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

Called to be Confident | v4

Consider the extraordinary outcome in Thessalonica:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Called to be Controversial | v5-9

Look what happens next:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He’s king, remember?

Six Reasons Socialism is Sexy Again—But Shouldn’t Be

Wherever you look, socialism is sexy again. In the UK this week, Jeremy Corbyn is seeking election as the nation’s Prime Minister on a proudly socialist platform.

In the USA, socialist Bernie Sanders is making a second run for President, and he has the endorsement of “the Squad”—a group of socialist Congresswomen which includes the famous firebrand freshman AOC.

You may not have noticed yet, but the climate strikes taking place the world over also have strong socialist undercurrents.

If the word socialism is new to you, it’s basically the idea that society’s wealth should be redistributed and shared by everyone. (Be sure to do your own research to fill out this definition).

“Socialism is now wildly popular in the mainstream.”

Socialism arose in the 19th century as a reaction to capitalism—our western economic system that is built on the idea of free trade, private ownership and entrepreneurship.

Both capitalism and socialism have their pros and cons. No system can generate wealth like capitalism can. But unrestrained, capitalism can lead to inequality and injustice.

Socialism, on the other hand, seeks to address these problems of inequality and injustice. But in order to achieve this effectively, socialist states require more and more power.

“Socialism is the idea that society’s wealth should be redistributed and shared by everyone.”

History has shown that socialism always moves towards totalitarianism, corruption, and poverty. The Soviet Union is the most notorious example of this—and Venezuela the most recent.

For all of these reasons, modern western nations have wisely decided to remain capitalist, albeit with a range of moderate socialist tweaks.

My country of Australia, for example, has a capitalist economy. But we have a universal healthcare system called Medicare, for which I’m very grateful. I have also benefitted from an interest-free student loan provided by our government, and a modest student income during the years I was at university.

“Socialism is seductive.”

In simple terms, the last hundred years of western politics has been a game of tug-of-war between those who want less of these “socialist tweaks” (conservatives, on the right) and those who want more (progressives, on the left). This is, and always will be, an important debate to have.

But something has started to shift in the last few years. Until recently, political parties that were openly socialist—and cheering for the overthrow of capitalism—remained on the fringe.

But socialism is now wildly popular in the mainstream. In a recent poll for example, 53% of millennials said they view socialism favourably. Given socialism’s diabolical track record, this should concern all of us.

Socialism is seductive. It has gained in popularity, but for all the wrong reasons. Here are six of them.

1. Socialism strokes our ego

As humans, we’re drawn to ideas that tell us what we want to hear about ourselves. There is a certain compliment that socialism pays us, which helps explain why it is so attractive—especially to young people.

The compliment is this: we humans are inherently good. The idea that we are basically good and ultimately perfectible is a fixed assumption underlying the socialist worldview.

Socialism assumes that the reason people don’t work is because they can’t—because of some impossible setback or systemic injustice.

While these are genuine reasons that some people don’t work, there is also the reality of human laziness and entitlement. Socialism fails to account for these vices. It is blind to the inherent selfishness of humanity. And this is a dangerous mistake to make.

“We’re drawn to ideas that tell us what we want to hear about ourselves.”

The reality is that if our collective wealth is redistributed—if the fruit of my labour is given to people who haven’t worked for it—then a big motivation for me to hold down a job or climb the career ladder is taken away.

Capitalism has worked for hundreds of years precisely because it accounts for this. Under the capitalist system, I am motivated to work because I will receive the reward that I deserve for my labour.

This system isn’t perfect, and as we’ve discovered, it needs checks and balances, like collective bargaining. But the capitalist systems we live under function so well because they are realistic: they account for both human vice and human virtue.

Socialism assumes only that humans are good. This is a nice compliment, and there is an attraction to this optimism. But it’s a deeply unstable belief on which to to build a society.

2. Socialism asks little and promises much

Socialism is often promoted by the well-educated and powerful. But it seeks its broad supporter base among those who feel disenfranchised.

I am a millennial. My generation came of age during the Great Recession, the global financial crisis that made us fear for our futures. We are the generation that, through no real fault of our own, are largely locked out of the real estate market. For better or worse, much later into life than previous generations, we have remained financially dependent on our parents.

Of course these are generalisations, but all of these factors make millennials far more attracted to socialism.

“Socialism is the politics of envy.”

Like our parents’ pocketbook, socialism seems to guarantee us ongoing prosperity while hiding the cost from us. It appeals to our fears and our financial dependence—our sense that we may never make it on our own. Socialism is a system that asks little of us and promises much.

In blunter terms, socialism is the politics of envy. It secretly appeals to our laziness and our sense of entitlement.

But history shows that while socialism is good at redistributing wealth, it has never been good at producing wealth. As Margaret Thatcher famously said, “The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.”

3. Socialism spreads when history is forgotten

Today, we have the world’s knowledge quite literally at our fingertips. Through our smartphones alone, we can access all the breaking news from around the planet, and the wisdom of every civilisation.

We are the most educated people in history. It’s ironic then that we are so ignorant of history.

I went to school for thirteen years, but during all that time I learnt nothing of the 20 million people killed under Russia’s socialist republic. Or the 60 million lives that socialism claimed in China. Or the millions more who fell victim to socialist projects in lands as diverse as Vietnam, Romania, and Cuba.

In fact, estimates of the 20th century’s Socialist/Communist body count range from 100150 million.

“There is a pressing need for us to overcome our historical amnesia.”

It is chilling to consider that socialism thrived in these places precisely because history was erased by their governments, or forgotten by their people.

If we are serious about preserving our liberty for generations to come, we would do well to heed the words of Edmund Burke, who said, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”

There is a pressing need for us to overcome our historical amnesia. This is a personal responsibility for each of us. But it also highlights the need for reformation in our institutions.

“Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”—Edmund Burke

Identity politics has overrun too many of our schools, universities and media outlets. It stokes the rage of rival disenfranchised groups, while ignoring the historic dangers in doing so.

Today’s downtrodden need a voice, to be sure. But their voice must be balanced with the cries of those from history who were crushed under the iron first of socialist empires.

Until then, socialism will retain its seductive allure.

4. Socialism appeals to the soft-hearted

Research shows that those who lean right tend to place more value on personal responsibility, while those who lean left are more prone to empathy.

Indeed, because of socialism’s emphasis on justice and practical aid for the poor and marginalised, a growing number of young Christians are drawn to socialism. I have often heard Christians make the case for socialism based on Acts 2:44-45.

“All the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need.”

“A growing number of young Christians are drawn to socialism.”

I don’t doubt for a second the sincerity of believers who see parallels between socialism and Christian concern for “the least of these”.

But in this parallel is a glaring omission. The early church wasn’t forming a government—at most, they were arranging a “commune”. In other words, it was a contract that the faithful entered into voluntarily.

Socialism, by contrast, is a political system that people are born into and cannot escape unless they emigrate. (And it is noteworthy that while people often try to flee socialist governments, the most desirable destinations for refugees seem to be capitalist countries).

“Socialism is a pale substitute for compassion.”

No matter who you are—giver or recipient, religious or otherwise—compassion and generosity are always good for societies.

But compassion and generosity are, by their very definition, voluntary. The moment that large-scale “kindness” is enforced by government redistribution programs, it is at best high taxes. At worst, it’s extortion.

Socialism seems compassionate, but in truth it is a pale substitute for compassion. Far better is a robust democracy where the typically progressive value of empathy is driven (and balanced) by the typically conservative value of personal responsibility.

5. Socialism is seen as above critique

To summarise so far, socialism tells us what we want to hear about ourselves; it requires little from us while promising the world; and it is uniquely depicted as the politics of compassion.

For all of these reasons, in the popular progressive imagination, there is almost no such thing as too much socialism. The more of it we have, the better.

Obviously, not all progressives believe this. But it’s certainly the dominant narrative in the mainstream media. Whether it’s expanded healthcare programs or open borders or a bigger welfare net or free university education, it’s almost as though the sky’s the limit.

“In the popular progressive imagination, there is almost no such thing as too much socialism.”

Let’s have a conversation about each of these. But let’s balance it with the reality that the money has to come from somewhere. Inevitably, it won’t just be the rich who foot the ever-growing bill, but the middle class too.

Let’s also keep in view the fact that government services can breed generational dependence that ends up hurting the very communities they are seeking to help. Self-reliance—whatever that looks like—is important not just for material needs, but for people’s sense of dignity and purpose.

6. Socialism provides meaning in a post-Christian world

We all need something to live for. Though not all westerners through history were Christians, Christianity provided us with a collective sense of ultimate meaning and purpose.

In the West, as we become increasingly post-Christian, we are experiencing a vacuum of meaning. Many ideologies have rushed into the void, and undoubtedly one of those is socialism: the dogma that the government can solve all of our problems.

In the name of a thousand different causes, people now give their energies to this dogma with religious fanaticism.

“We all need something to live for.”

And as misdirected as this is, it makes sense. In our subconscious, we know that something should rule over us. The closest substitute that we humans have so far found for God is the state.

It is no coincidence that socialism and atheism have historically had a strong connection. The bigger a government gets, the more it tends to act like God.

Socialist states end up replacing God by seeking to provide everything, protect us from everything, and police everything. But as Thomas Jefferson warned, “A government big enough to give you everything you want is strong enough to take everything you have.”

“The closest substitute that we humans have so far found for God is the state.”

The founding fathers of western nations like America understood this in ways we have forgotten. Jefferson also warned that, “The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield, and government to gain ground.”

Today, people are quick to put Christians in their place and tell them to keep their religion out of politics. But this would have been news to our forebears. Religion is what helped them keep a healthy perspective on politics.

William Penn wrote that, “Those people who will not be governed by God will be ruled by tyrants.” Patrick Henry’s warning was even more chilling: “It is when people forget God that tyrants forge their chains.”

“Religion is what helped our forebears keep a healthy perspective on politics.”

I don’t know about you, but I’ll take God over totalitarianism any day of the week.

Let’s keep talking about the role government should play in our lives; about the tweaks needed under capitalism to root out injustice. But please, can we steer clear of socialism?

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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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Greta Thunberg, Climate Strikes, and the End of the World

If you own a screen, chances are you’ve heard about this week’s climate strikes in a city near you. Chances are you were also recently introduced to a 16 year old called Greta Thunberg.

So what’s all the hype about?

The protests have been organised by Extinction Rebellion (XR), whose website states:

“We are facing an unprecedented global emergency. Life on Earth is in crisis: scientists agree we have entered a period of abrupt climate breakdown, and we are in the midst of a mass extinction of our own making.”

Greta Thunberg, a Swedish school student, spoke at the group’s ‘Declaration of Rebellion’ held in London last year. But it was her more recent speech at the UN that really got the world’s attention:

“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words… Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”

As a Christian, I’m convinced that God commands good stewardship of this planet. He has charged us with its sustainable management, for the benefit of present and future generations.

And as a millennial, I’ve been taught many practical ways to do this. I actively try to reduce my footprint by living simply, shopping locally, minimising waste, and eating a plant-heavy diet. I’m a big fan of entrepreneurial efforts to heal the environment, as well as policies that promote this and prevent more harm to our planet.

But there’s something ugly about the rising tide of climate alarmism—and I don’t just mean the traffic jams and adolescent outbursts. It’s a movement with a credibility crisis, for at least three reasons.

1. The Misinformation Behind the Movement

I’m no scientist, and I don’t have particularly strong views on the science of climate change. What’s clear to me is that many scientists are concerned for our planet’s future, and that a smaller consensus of scientists are unconvinced that there’s a climate emergency.

What’s also clear is that the leaders of XR exaggerate the claims of the scientists they rely on. Gail Bradbrook is a co-founder of XR, and she has said, “It’s quite possible that all life on Earth—97 percent of it—is going to go, and possibly in my children’s lifetime.”

“There’s something ugly about the rising tide of climate alarmism.”

The other co-founder, Roger Hallam claimed, “Our children are going to die in the next ten to twenty years.” On a seperate occasion he warned, “I am talking about the slaughter, death, and starvation of 6 billion people this century—that’s what the science predicts.”

That’s definitely not what the science predicts.

Like fundamentalists who cherry-pick Bible verses to fit their narrative, the leaders of XR routinely spin the most extreme (and least likely) predictions from the UN literature to shock their audiences.

“The misinformation behind this movement isn’t helping anyone.”

Greta Thunberg, who leads the youth strike for climate and regularly warns of impending disaster, tells her followers, “I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day.”

It makes sense to me that humans have contributed to climate change and that we have a responsibility to move away from our reliance on fossil fuels.

But the misinformation behind this movement isn’t helping anyone. It’s undermining the credibility of science, and it’s alienating a voter bloc that might otherwise take environmental concerns seriously.

2. The Mania Behind the Movement

The mania isn’t helping either. In this way too, the movement resembles a religious cult. Its leaders leave little room for nuance or debate.

XR demands that governments reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025. If this were taken seriously, it would basically mean reversing the Industrial Revolution.

This would hurt western nations of course. But more importantly, it would utterly devastate the world’s poor and marginalised.

“The movement resembles a religious cult.”

When this kind of unbending apocalyptic fervour is seen in religious groups, people shun it. Yet somehow a girl in pigtails has displayed the same trait and won universal praisefrom the mainstream media and unquestioning observers alike.

No wonder critics decry it all as a Children’s Crusade.

‘Religious cult’ is an accurate description for other reasons too. XR co-founder Gail Bradbrook openly acknowledges that “codes for social change” were given to her during a prayer ceremony and psychedelic drug trip at a retreat in Costa Rica.

Wait. Wasn’t this just about the science?

3. The Movement Behind the Movement

There are movements to be wary of on both extremes of the political landscapefrom fascists on the right to Marxists on the left.

XR doesn’t openly advocate Marxism, but it bears a troubling resemblance to the political ideology that wrought untold destruction last century. Their Declaration of Rebellion states:

“We, in alignment with our consciences and our reasoning, declare ourselves in rebellion against our government and the corrupted, inept institutions that threaten our future… The wilful complicity displayed by our Government has shattered meaningful democracy.”

Co-founder Gail Bradbrook has said, “Conventional politics is f*cked, it’s finished.” On another occasion, she clarified her mission: “I’m not organising protests, I’m organising a rebellion against my government.”

A now-deleted tweet on XR’s Twitter feed stated, “This movement is the best chance we have of bringing down capitalism.”

Roger Hallam, the group’s other founder, has made his political views quite clear. “I’ve been on the left all my life and I think it’s fantastic. You know the whole socialist project; amazing.” He too has made his aims clear:

“We are not just sending out e-mails and asking for donations. We are going to force the governments to act. And if they don’t, we will bring them down and create a democracy fit for purpose… and yes, some may die in the process.”

To be clear, XR is explicitly non-violent, so Hallam is referring to martyrdom, not terrorism. But his colleague Bradbrook has echoed the same radical sentiment, saying, “I am willing to be arrested. I am willing to be jailed. And I can tell you something else; I am willing to die for this movement.”

Many are drawn to movements like Extinction Rebellion for their green credentials. But beware of the watermelon phenomenon: many groups that are green on the outside are actually red on the inside.

With XR, it’s clear that there’s a movement behind the movement, and it needs to be called out.

Environmentalism and the Gospel

I don’t know about you, but I’m not convinced that the best way to care for the environment is to topple capitalism, surrender our precious freedoms and set up an eco-socialist utopia.

I don’t envy the governments around the world who are tasked with balancing stable economic growth and environmental responsibility. A great challenge lies ahead of them.

But let’s remember that government isn’t always the solution to the world’s problems.

Entrepreneurial genius—yes, capitalism—is coming up with brilliant solutions. Consider the Canadian company capturing CO2 to make fuel, or these companies reusing landfill to make their products.

“Don’t buy the lie that our only options are apathy and fanaticism.”

Or what about Boyan Slat? He has far less Google searches to his name than Greta Thunberg, and he hyperventilates less. But at age 16, he designed the world’s first ocean plastic cleanup system and now runs his own company.

Addressing the problems our planet faces won’t be simple. But don’t buy the lie that our only options are apathy and fanaticism.

“I’m not convinced that the best way to care for the environment is to topple capitalism.”

See there’s a bigger picture here.

As Christianity has retreated from the West, it’s left behind a yawning spiritual void. People once knew of a greater purpose for their lives and a hope that stretched beyond the present and into eternity. In the absence of this, we’re scrambling to replace it with something meaningful.

Climate alarmism is just one of many alternatives that has rushed into the vacuum. What began as care for the environment is now morphing into a cult with its own end times scenario. Why? Because people are asking it to provide them with that sense of greater purpose, and answers for their existential questions.

“As Christianity has retreated from the West, it has left behind a yawning spiritual void.”

This is why the gospel is still so relevant. It reminds us that we’ve been made in God’s image as valued and unique creatures. And that because of this, we have the duty to steward his creation well, and clean up the messes we’ve made.

But it reminds us of something far greater: our meaning and life purpose is in God. It’s only in him that we can make sense of our place in the cosmos, have a healthy responsibility for the world we live in, and a bright hope for the future.

Without the need for panic, or the overthrow of civilisation.

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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.