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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How Judaism Points to Jesus

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

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

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

The Story of Judaism

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

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

T H E   C A L L :   A B R A H A M

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

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

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

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

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

T H E   C O V E N A N T :   M O S E S

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

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

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

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

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

T H E   K I N G D O M :   D A V I D

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

“Israel finally arrives in the promised land.”

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

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

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

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

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

T H E   C R O S S   R O A D S

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

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

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

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

T H E   C O N T I N U I N G   H O P E

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judaism and Jesus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Check out the rest of this series:

Buddhism  |  Islam  |  Hinduism  |  Atheism  |  Judaism  |  Pluralism

Sources

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

Why We Love to Hate Ourselves on Anzac Day

This week we celebrate Anzac Day. For some, it’s a day of national pride. For others, it’s a chance to mourn our nation’s injustices. So which should it be?

And why is our civilisation so divided over this? For most majority-world nations, on days of remembrance there is no remorse or introspection, just gratitude and pageantry.

But in places like Australia, we’re severely bipolar on this issue. We’re looking in the mirror trying to work out if we’re heroes or villains.

We’re even asking if our civilisation is worth defending—or if we’ve completely lost our way.

“Truth be told, every nation is guilty of great injustices.”

Some say it’s because the story of the (Christian) West is one to be ashamed of. While I agree that we’ve got big sins to repent of, that actually misses the point.

North Korea have murdered millions of their own, but where is their public self-reflection? Tell me the last time a leader in the Middle East apologised for evil committed under their watch.

Truth be told, every nation is guilty of great injustices. Oddly, only western nations seem sorry for it. What’s going on there?

Self-critique runs deep in western societies. And it’s a value that’s been profoundly shaped by our Judaeo-Christian heritage.

“Jesus has been sidelined, but his values still haunt us.”

Rewind all the way back to the Old Testament prophets, and see Isaiah, Daniel and Amos declaring love poems over the Jewish people—and in the same breath, threatening divine punishment if they don’t repent of their wickedness.

Or go back to the first century, and see Jesus embrace some people while rebuking others—not on the basis of race, gender or status, but their heart-posture towards God and other people.

See the early church struggle, not against their Roman oppressors, but against the sin in their own hearts.

“Self-critique runs deep in western societies.”

Since then, western civilisation is guilty of some horrific injustices—some that sadly continue today. What makes us unique though isn’t our guilt, but the voices in our society that can see it and name it for what it is.

We now live in a very post-Christian world. Jesus has been sidelined, but his values still haunt us. Our self-critique on Anzac Day is proof of this.

“We need introspection, but we also need Jesus.”

But this is where things get messy. When the teachings of Jesus are divorced from his grace, introspection turns to self-loathing.

On an personal level, it can get very dark, very quick. The West’s mental health crisis is testament to this.

On a political level, it leads to extreme polarisation. Conservatives use national holidays to beat people with their flag-waving pride. Progressives tweet their fake humility, apologising for the sins of conservatives.

“When the teachings of Jesus are divorced from his grace, introspection turns to self-loathing.”

We need introspection, but we also need Jesus. Jesus didn’t just call out our sin. He also died for it. He’s the ultimate Anzac, laying down his life defending his friends. Forgiving our evil and injustice; reconciling us back to God. That’s grace.

Only when Jesus’ teachings and his grace go together can we celebrate national holidays with the right balance of humility and thankfulness. Only then can our self-loathing (personal and political) be swallowed up in the love of God.

“Jesus is the ultimate Anzac, laying down his life defending his friends.”

I think our civilisation is still worth defending. Countless migrants fleeing repression across the seas to settle in the Great Southland seem to think so too.

So let’s celebrate Australia, and be grateful for the Diggers’ sacrifice. And then let’s use what they’ve given us to bless the world.

Surely that’s the way to follow Jesus in this moment, and get our civilisation back on track. Lest we forget what they fought and died for.

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Understand Any Book of the Bible in Ten Seconds

Have you ever read the entire Bible?

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Jesus Shaped the West: Education

education

Despite its many faults, Western civilisation has lead the world for centuries in technology, education, science, liberty, and more. Why? Lots of reasons. But the greatest force that shaped us, overlooked by many, is a humble carpenter from Nazareth. // Read this series from the beginning, or start here for how Jesus shaped Education.

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Peeling glad wrap from Anzac biscuits, ruling a thousand margins, tying soggy shoelaces with frozen fingers, counting down the seconds to the final bell. Like many kids, I often wondered when school would ever end and life would begin.

I now have another perspective. (I must have if I’ve since become a teacher myself). My life has been transformed because I have an education.

“Turn the clock back only 150 years and 80% of the earth’s inhabitants were unable to read or write.”

Somehow, school seems to just happen in Australia. I’ve been privileged to teach in other settings, where I’m reminded that for many communities, education is won by blood, sweat and tears. In such places, frequent failures in electricity and transport, bone-dry funding, civil unrest and isolation from the rest of the world make schooling feel like a pioneering project every day of the week.

But remarkably through such efforts, today over 4/5 of the world’s adult population is literate. Turn the clock back only 150 years and that statistic was reversed, with 80% of the earth’s inhabitants unable to read or write.

What caused this revolution?

The answer begins in the Middle Ages. Thanks to monks who preserved Greek and Roman classics, learning survived in Europe.

“Greece and Rome had brilliant teachers, but they never produced libraries or advanced centres of education.”

Augustine had taught that every science was helpful in studying Scripture, so monks learned every subject they could, sharpening their minds as they discussed the Bible’s grammar, language, theology and history. And being written in three languages by dozens of authors over thousands of years, the Bible was itself a library, whose hopeful storyline captured their imagination for centuries.

Greece and Rome had brilliant teachers, but they never produced libraries or advanced centres of education. It would be Christians in Europe, keen to study the Bible, who would transform monasteries and cathedral schools into the university.

It is without coincidence (but generally forgotten) that Oxford, Paris, Cambridge, Princeton, Harvard—and almost all of the world’s leading universities that helped build Western civilisation—were established to teach the Bible.

Even as universities blossomed in Europe, literacy still wasn’t mainstream. The Reformation would provide the impetus for this. Infuriated by a corrupt church hierarchy, Luther and other reformers knew that spiritual revival was possible if the Bible was available in the heart languages of Europe’s people.

“Throughout history, followers of Jesus are notably overrepresented in the development of education.”

But mass literacy was too monumental a project for cathedral schools and even universities. So the reformers turned to the state, convincing governments that education was their responsibility. An unshakeable desire to read the Bible kept fuelling the fire for a more literate society in Europe.

As education spread in the modern era, three people deserve special mention. John Comenius (1592—1670), a Czech bishop, wrote nearly ninety books on education and founded the world’s first modern university, earning him the title the father of modern education.

A priest in Paris, Charles-Michel de l’Épée (1712—1789) founded the world’s first public deaf school, having developed a sign language for the hearing impaired that has since given rise to sign languages around the world.

“Christians point to a compassionate God who came to earth to restore our dignity as those made in his image.”

Louis Braille (1809—1852), a blind church organist, developed a dotted lettering system from the early Christian tradition of using raised wooden letter to teach reading to the sight impaired. Braille is now used worldwide.

Throughout history, followers of Jesus are notably overrepresented in the development of education. This shouldn’t be surprising. While in the ancient world, blind children were often used as slaves or prostitutes, and while Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” hasn’t and couldn’t inspire us to bring dignity to the disabled, Christians have pointed to a compassionate God who came to earth to restore our dignity as those made in his image. For them, education was simply another means to this end.

So much for Europe. What made education a global phenomenon?

Well-known for his lifelong campaign to abolish slavery, William Wilberforce also spent decades convincing the British parliament that it was immoral for India to be left in the hands of traders and soldiers, and that Britain had a role to play in dismantling the superstitions that lead to widow burning, untouchability, temple prostitution, and other evils.

“Western missionaries upset one culture after another by challenging the idea that people should be left to their fate or karma.”

So in 1813, after a twenty-year fight, Britain allowed missionaries in India. Like many of his Christian contemporaries, Wilberforce knew that if Britain’s subjects were educated, freedom for the colonies and the end of Crown rule would soon follow.

For the next two hundred years, with Jesus as their motivation, Western missionaries would upset one culture after another by challenging the idea that people should be left to their fate or karma. They put their neck on the line so that education could be multiplied throughout the non-Western world. Today we look back, and in their wake see universities by the hundreds, colleges by the thousands, and schools beyond number established, financed and nurtured by Christians.

“Wilberforce knew that if Britain’s subjects were educated, freedom for the colonies and the end of Crown rule would soon follow.”

In time, governments have played their part too, but mass education was both birthed and globalised by the church, leading to the education of millions and the transforming of nations. In the words of Indian philosopher Vishal Mangalwadi,

“Neither colonialism nor commerce spread modern education around the world. Soldiers and merchants do not educate. Education was a Christian missionary enterprise. The Reformation, born in European universities, took education out of the cloister and spread it around the globe.”

Did Europe export education because westerners are smarter? Not in the slightest. The holy men of the east were at least as brilliant as their counterparts in Christendom. It’s beliefs that shape culture.

“By his written and incarnate Word, God has revealed the big picture of reality, making the human quest for knowledge one project with a single purpose.”

If the West believed that enlightenment comes by lying on beds of nails or taking drugs, history would tell a different story. But Christians were committed to the idea of university: unity in diversity. They held that by his written and incarnate Word, God has revealed the big picture of reality, making the human quest for knowledge one project with a single purpose.

Postmodernism has all but dismantled this. For many, drug-taking and nail beds are back in vogue. I’m deeply thankful for my tertiary education. But it’s clear from my time at university that while we still have diversity, unity is lost and now searched for in vain.

Jesus shaped education. Could it be that when he is forgotten, we lose the one who makes this project called university a meaningful, integrated whole?

Continue reading about How Jesus Shaped Science.

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REASON / TECHNOLOGY / LANGUAGES / HEROISM / EDUCATION / SCIENCE / MEDICINE / LIBERTY / EQUALITY / MORALITY

 

In this series of blogs, I’m indebted to Indian Philosopher Vishal Mangalwadi’s The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilisation.

How Jesus Shaped the West: Heroism

Mosaic of Alexander the Great

Despite its many faults, Western civilisation has lead the world for centuries in technology, education, science, liberty, and more. Why? Lots of reasons. But the greatest force that shaped us, overlooked by many, is a humble carpenter from Nazareth. // Read this series from the beginning, or start here for how Jesus shaped Heroism.

* * *

You won’t often see the names Mother Theresa and Alexander the Great in the same sentence. They were worlds apart, in more ways than one. One laid her life down in humble service. The other took innumerable lives in pursuit of global domination. Yet strangely, each in their time inspired millions, who adored them as heroes.

The ancient idea of a hero as someone with tremendous power was almost universal. Augustus Caesar, who was worshipped as a god, became emperor by putting three hundred senators and two hundred knights to the sword.

Hindu epics praised the military prowess of their gods, and today most Hindu deities are still depicted with weapon in hand. Who founded Islam but Muhammad, a military commander who lead 66 battles and created an empire? Even medieval Europe defined a hero as a knight in shining armour.

“Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.”—The Apostle Paul

Clearly for us in the West, the concept of a hero has shifted dramatically through the ages. In the words of historian John Dickson, “Today, it doesn’t matter what your religious views are—Christian, atheist, Jedi Knight – if you were raised in the West, you are likely to think that honour-seeking is morally questionable and lowering yourself for the good of others is ethically beautiful.”

What changed us?

For a thousand years, church services had been conducted in Latin, a language foreign to the commoner. But thanks to the Reformation, ordinary Europeans now had the Bible in their heart languages, and were reading things about Jesus like Philippians 2:3-5.

“Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

“Clearly for us in the West, the concept of a hero has shifted dramatically through the ages. What changed us?”

“Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being… he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.”

Did you miss it? This God who breathes stars into existence became a peasant carpenter. He washed his disciples’ dirty feet, said things like, “the meek will inherit the earth,” and then laid down his life for his friends.

“A single, transforming idea wove its way through the centuries like a scarlet thread.”

Indian Philosopher Vishal Mangalwadi explains, “As masses sat meditating on the meaning of the cross, it changed Western consciousness from within. A brutal, triumphant knight could no longer be an inspiring Christian hero. He was the very opposite of a crucified, humiliated Messiah who died so that others may live.”

Preachers preached about it. Artists painted it. Smiths and artisans made a million crosses until the cross became the symbol of Christianity.

A single, transforming idea wove its way through the centuries like a scarlet thread, and it was this: if the greatest man who ever lived laid down his life for the good of others, then the path to greatness is one of humble, self-giving love.

“Hindu epics praised the military prowess of their gods, and today most Hindu deities are still depicted depicted with weapon in hand.”

According to John Dickson, “That is the influence of a story whose impact can be felt regardless of whether its details are believed—a story about greatness that willingly went to a cross.

“While we certainly don’t need to follow Christ to appreciate humility or to be humble, it is unlikely that any of us would aspire to this virtue were it not for the historical impact of his crucifixion on art, literature, ethics, law and philosophy. Our culture remains cruciform long after it stopped being Christian.”

The founder of Islam was Muhammad, a military commander who lead 66 battles and created an empire.”

If your heroes are world conquering warriors, I stand corrected. But if they’re humble, self-giving servants, regardless of your creed, you’ve been shaped by Jesus.

Continue reading about How Jesus Shaped Education.

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REASON / TECHNOLOGY / LANGUAGES / HEROISM / EDUCATION / SCIENCE / MEDICINE / LIBERTY / EQUALITY / MORALITY

 

In this series of blogs, I’m indebted to Indian Philosopher Vishal Mangalwadi’s The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilisation.

How Jesus Shaped the West: Technology

technology

Despite its many faults, Western civilisation has lead the world for centuries in technology, education, science, liberty, and more. Why? Lots of reasons. But the greatest force that shaped us, overlooked by many, is a humble carpenter from Nazareth. // Read this series from the beginning, or start here for how Jesus shaped Technology.

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The watermill, the crank, and the flywheel are quaint symbols of a bygone era. They’re also the very foundations of modern technology.

And along with the wheelbarrow and the windmill (revolutionary in their day) they were invented by—you never would have guessed it—monks.

See the monks of the Middle Ages had entered monasteries to pray, but most of their time was being taken up with necessities like grinding grain to make bread. These new inventions saved them hours of degrading, monotonous toil.

“If God created human beings in his own image, this means when we choose to be creative, we join God in his creativity.”

It’s been said that necessity is the mother of invention. But if that were true, wouldn’t have these inventions surfaced earlier—and universally? What set Europe apart?

Many cultures see what is as fate or karma, with little chance for escape. The idea that I can imagine an alternate future, and change nature to become like my imagination, is one we take for granted. But it’s found in high concentration in the West.

Inventing new technologies, upturning culture, changing the course of history. All of these are spinoffs of a single thought: I am made in the image of a creative God.

If “God created human beings in his own image,” this means we too are creative, and when we choose to be creative, we join God in his creativity.

“Many cultures see what is as fate or karma, with little chance for escape.”

Not long after the birth of Islam, Muslim armies swept through North Africa, entering Spain in the East. In the West they’d captured Constantinople, and it seemed like only a matter of time before European cities like Vienna and Rome would fall too.

But Europeans had discovered crop rotation and the heavy plow. For the first time in history, farmers in Europe had replaced oxen with horses because they’d invented the horseshoe, the horse collar, and the tandem harness. These lead to a phenomenal increase in horsepower—and therefore, productivity.

Famine could have spelt the end of the continent as Muslim armies invaded. But with these inventions, the food scarcity was overcome, and Europe’s restored economy could now keep Islam at bay.

Reading glasses were invented in Italy in the 1200s. The main customers were monks, who needed them to study the Bible and other great books. This crucial invention almost doubled the productive life of Western scholars, who could now spend their best years improving the civilisation’s texts and technologies.

“All of these are spinoffs of a single thought: I am made in the image of a creative God.”

The mechanical clock was invented in both Europe and China. But only in Europe did it become an industry and develop into other forms of technology. Why?

In the East, time was considered part of samsara, the endless wheel that people were trying to escape. In the West however, time was seen as part of physical reality, a good part of God’s creation. So Europeans wanted to know the time and organise their lives according to it.

Creativity is ubiquitous, on display in every culture. But Europe pushed inventions and technologies much further than anything seen in the East or the ancient world. It transformed their civilisation, and eventually, the world. Still the question lingers: why?

Peel back the layers. If “God created human beings in his own image,” this means something else too—it means that every one of us are of infinite worth.

Cultures won’t spend themselves in labour-saving technologies unless they place immeasurable value on human dignity. Other civilisations of history, and many today exploit women, children or slaves to get work done. Hinduism convinced a whole caste that it was their duty.

“Only the Christian West developed technology to empower the weak and liberate humanity.”

But these early Europeans reasoned that if humans are of infinite worth like the Bible says, why make them do what machines, nature or animals could do? Why not use technology as a force to liberate and empower humanity for more dignified work?

Cultures need more than technology. They need a philosophy that sees people as priceless. This is what Jesus gave Europe.

Philosopher Vishal Mangalwadi has said, “The chief glory of the later Middle Ages was not its cathedrals or its epics or its scholasticism: it was the building, for the first time in history, of a complex civilisation which rested not on the backs of sweating slaves… but primarily on nonhuman power.”

“Cultures need more than technology. They need a philosophy that sees people as priceless.”

It’s true that many in the West have used technology to exploit the environment and other cultures, and cause huge amounts of damage to the planet. The blame for some of this lies at the feet of Christians, who should have read Genesis more carefully and been better caretakers of God’s creation.

But while in most cultures the ruling elite used creative technology for war, pleasure, monuments to themselves, and the oppression of their people, only the Christian West developed it to empower the weak, and liberate humanity.

Who would have thought? In more ways than one, this Nazarene carpenter truly shaped technology.

Continue reading about How Jesus Shaped Languages.

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REASON / TECHNOLOGY / LANGUAGES / HEROISM / EDUCATION / SCIENCE / MEDICINE / LIBERTY / EQUALITY / MORALITY

 

In this series of blogs, I’m indebted to Indian Philosopher Vishal Mangalwadi’s The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilisation.

Why Christians should love their LGBTQIA friends the most

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Disclaimer 1: This is at least a 20-minute read, but I think it’s worth your time.

Disclaimer 2: This is a highly contentious topic, and even though my heart isn’t to be divisive, there’s probably something here to offend everyone—including, and especially, Christians (equality, right?) But let me forewarn you: if you tap out before the half way mark, you’ll only hear one side of the story. If part way through you start thinking I might just be another bigot, please scroll down to “love” and be surprised.

“Don’t judge others. Why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own?”—Jesus


Around a month ago, five judges in the US changed the course of history for their nation, legalising same-sex marriage in all 50 states. It hit saturation point in the news media; Facebook supplied a rainbow flag app used in profile pictures by 26 million people; and the world was abuzz for weeks.

I found it interesting that just a few days earlier, 300,000 people from all over Italy converged on Rome to show support for traditional male/female marriage—and all the major news outlets were silent.

Likewise, the same week as the US decision, Pitcairn Island, a tiny Pacific nation of 48 people (and no gay couples) legalised same-sex marriage—a story picked up by many in the news media. But a month previous, when a same-sex marriage bill in the Austrian parliament suffered a landslide 110-26 defeat, journalists had more important stories to cover.

Zeitgeist, n. the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history.


We all tend to think of ourselves as objective. We’re freethinkers; we make our minds up for ourselves. But are we actually aware of how much we’ve been shaped by the influences around us—especially the media?

Everything is awesome


Every era of history has a defining spirit or mood. There’s a fantastic German word to describe it: the “Zeitgeist”. The Zeitgeist of our time is this: I decide truth for myself. It’s no one else’s place to tell me how I can or can’t live my life. With just a few exceptions (like terrorism and paedophilia and Christianity) everything is awesome. The more diverse, the better.

So today, not only is homosexuality an equally valid lifestyle choice, it’s in fact a hallmark of progress. The media celebrates diverse forms of sexuality with pioneering zeal. Opposing same-sex marriage is like denying basic human rights—freedom for slaves, or the right of women to vote.

This is the story being told by the major influences around us. Increasingly, Christians are finding themselves in the minority, unsure what to make of it all. Do they roll with the Zeitgeist? Do they challenge it?

They’ve often reacted in one of two ways (or, at least, the media has caricatured it as such). They’ve either made truth their motivation, and been very unloving. Or they’ve been motivated by love for their gay friends and family, but in the process, have kissed God’s truth goodbye.

In Ephesians 4:15, Paul talks about “speaking the truth in love”. Apparently you can have both. My heart is that Christian communities the world over would be places of both truth and love—especially to our LGBTQIA friends, family and neighbours. So let’s look at both truth and love.

Truth (what’s the big deal?)


How come this is even contentious? Christians are the biggest religious bloc in western nations, and by-and-large are the main people still opposing the LGBTQIA cause. Why?

It’s quite simple really. Their sacred text, the Bible, though penned by human authors, is believed by them to be the very words of God: his expressed will for how they should conduct their lives—both for their highest joy, and for his. And in that book, the seven places that homosexuality is addressed, it’s always portrayed as being against God’s will. (“Sin” is the Christian swear word used to describe things God doesn’t like).

People who are same-sex attracted should be made to feel completely at home in every Christian community on the planet.


Before we look at those texts, there’s a distinction of eminent importance to Christians (even if to no-one else) that must be made. Same-sex attraction and homosexuality are not the same thing. Same-sex attraction means having an internal romantic affection towards someone of the same sex. Homosexual describes someone who acts on those feelings and enters into such a sexual relationship. The reason this distinction is important to Christians is because the Bible nowhere calls same-sex attraction a sin.

For which reason, people who are same-sex attracted should be made to feel completely at home in every Christian community on the planet, right alongside the rest of us who struggle with all sorts of inward temptations and sinful tendencies. And while people who are living a gay lifestyle generally won’t feel comfortable in Bible-believing churches, they should certainly be made to feel loved and welcomed like anyone else.

This distinction is important because the Bible never calls same-sex attraction a sin.


Given that all the Bible’s references to homosexuality are negative, one of the following must be true if LGBTQIA lifestyles can be celebrated:

(A) The God of the Bible doesn’t exist
(B) God’s laws change with time and culture
(C) On closer inspection, the Bible doesn’t actually forbid homosexuality

(A) is how many resolve the issue: possibly there is no god, or maybe there is, but he or she is fine with whatever, and is far less opinionated than the Bible’s God. This leaves (B) or (C) as the solution for Christians who embrace not only LGBTQIA friends and family, but their lifestyle choices too.

Do God’s laws change with time and culture?


(B) essentially goes like this: In the ancient world, people were more homophobic, and were unaware of modern concepts like orientation (internal desires that are wholly independent of conscious choice). The people who wrote the Bible were speaking with relevance into their situation, but surely God’s standards for our world are more culturally appropriate now.

The problems with this position are at least threefold:

1. Paul (who we’ll hear from a lot) wrote, “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate… I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.” (Romans 7:15,19). That sounds a lot like orientation.

2. Paul was in fact being culturally inappropriate by opposing homosexuality. Homosexuality was practiced and defended in the ancient world, and he made himself very unpopular by writing against it.

3. If God’s standards on homosexuality have changed, what other standards have too? Adultery? Drunkenness? Love for neighbour? How do we know which of them have changed and which he still wants us to uphold? And if homosexuality is the stand-alone case, why does it get special treatment?

For obvious reasons, (B) is a difficult (and not very scholarly) position to hold, which is why most LGBTQIA-affirming Christians will opt for (C). So let’s inspect those seven texts more closely.

Does the Bible really forbid homosexuality?


Genesis 19:1-29 tells the story of Lot, a man living in the city of Sodom, who hosts two visiting men in his home. “The men of Sodom, young and old, came from all over the city and surrounded the house and shouted to Lot, ‘Where are the men who came to spend the night with you? Bring them out to us so we can have sex with them!’” Lot begs them, “Don’t do such a wicked thing.” The story goes on, ending with God destroying the city of Sodom with fire and brimstone for its wickedness. (The Judges 19 story bears many similarities to this one, so I’ll let you hunt it down).

Some point to Ezekiel 16:49—“Sodom’s sins were pride, gluttony and laziness, while the poor and needy suffered outside her door”—arguing that these are the sins God judged Sodom for, not homosexuality. But this creates a false “either/or” dichotomy when clearly it’s “both/and”. True to Ezekiel, Sodom was punished for neglecting social justice. But it’s undeniable from Genesis that their sexual sins were also cause for God’s judgment.

The objection is also made that homosexual rape, not homosexuality per se, is what upset both Lot and God in the story. Possibly that’s true. But the further we look in the Bible, the less likely that appears.

Which brings us to Leviticus. “Do not practice homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman. It is a detestable sin.” (18:22). And, “If a man practices homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman, both men have committed a detestable act. They must both be put to death, for they are guilty of a capital offence.” (20:13).

If Christians are happy to eat oysters and wear mixed-fabric underpants, why do they insist the Leviticus teachings on homosexuality matter?


To be sure, Christians today do not believe that those who identify as homosexual deserve the death penalty. If they do, they need to scroll to the half way mark of this blog, and examine their hearts. Christians know that this was the law God gave to Israel; capital punishment for this “detestable act” was specific to that nation in that time of history.

And relevant to this, God also called things like eating shellfish and wearing mixed fabrics “detestable” in Leviticus. He had his reasons: another (culturally complex) topic for another time.

So if Christians no longer believe in the death penalty for homosexuality, and are happy to eat oysters and wear mixed cotton/lycra underpants, why do they insist that this teaching about homosexuality in Leviticus is still relevant now?

“God made them male and female from the beginning of creation. This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife…”—Jesus


Simply put, as a minimum, Christians believe that any commands from the Old Testament that are repeated in the New Testament still apply to them today. And while the New Testament has nothing to say against oysters or Bonds underwear, it does warn against homosexuality.

And this brings us to Romans 1, a passage that describes a whole world that has turned against God, with homosexuality addressed as one example:

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… Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other. And the men, instead of having normal sexual relations with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men, and as a result of this sin, they suffered within themselves the penalty they deserved.” (v24, 26-27). More to come on this.

And the final two we’ll look at are the so-called “vice lists”:

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.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).

The law is for people who are lawless and rebellious, who are ungodly and sinful, who consider nothing sacred and defile what is holy, who kill their father or mother or commit other murders. The law is for people who are sexually immoral, or who practice homosexuality, or are slave traders, liars, promise breakers, or who do anything else that contradicts wholesome teaching…” (1 Timothy 1:9-11).

Homosexuality was as widespread in the ancient world as it is in ours.


Those who bring new interpretations to these texts rest their case on the “not that kind of homosexuality” argument. It goes like this: What the Bible is condemning is wrong or abusive gay relationships common in the ancient world, not the healthy ones we have today. Pederasty (a sexual relationship between a man and a boy) was common in the ancient world. Some of these relationships were even exploitative. It’s these that God condemns. Or perhaps what’s going on, at least in Romans, is that God gave heterosexual attraction to some people, and same-sex attraction to others, and what God forbids is heterosexuals who go against their God-given orientation.

Again, the problems here are at least threefold:

1. This is an argument from silence. The texts don’t specify that pagan pederastic practices, abusive relationships, or heterosexuals are in view—this is a novelty of modern interpreters. And without such qualifications, all three passages evidently forbid homosexuality in general.

2. Homosexuality was as widespread in the ancient world as it is in today’s. And not simply pederasty. Every kind of homosexual relationship known today was known then, from lesbian relationships to gender-bending marriages to lifelong same-sex companionships. And there was no more moral consensus among the ancients about it all than our world has today.

3. All such arguments ignore key phrases in the texts themselves—phrases making it clear that both people in the relationships described were willing participants. In Romans the phrase “each other” appears three times, and the fact that “they burned with lust for each other” especially rules out both abuse and heterosexuals. And without being too descriptive, 1 Corinthians uses two Greek words behind “male prostitute” and “homosexual” that actually identify the receiving and giving man in the sexual experience. Both are held responsible.

Many would add that “Jesus never condemned homosexuality, so neither should we”. However, in Mark 10:6-9, Jesus makes his views on marriage and human sexuality very clear: “God made them male and female from the beginning of creation. This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one. Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together.

God’s true purpose for our sexuality


In fact Jesus wakes us up to the bigger picture. See, for Christians, it’s not just a question of God’s opinion on homosexuality, but in fact his true purpose for human sexuality in general. And as Jesus points out, the entire storyline of the Bible speaks to that purpose.

In the beginning, God didn’t create two men or two women—or a tribe of ape-like hominids on the plains of Africa. Here’s where a Christian’s stance on Genesis as history or myth really comes into play:

God creates a man. Then saying that “it’s not good for the man to be alone,” from Adam’s rib he makes Eve—“a helper who is just right for him”. God then declares, “this explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one”. He blesses their union and tells them to make lots of babies and fill the planet. And they could, because he’d given them the biological bits and pieces to make it happen.

Song of Solomon is a book of the Bible dedicated entirely to the beauty of sex—inside marriage, of course. (Curious that it never mentions babies. Apparently God created sex for pleasure as much as for offspring). The two players in this book celebrating intimate love are, no surprise, a man and a woman.

From beginning to end, God’s plan for human sexuality is clearly and beautifully portrayed as one man, for one woman, for life.


Throughout the Bible, marriage is used as a metaphor by God to describe the relationship between the groom, Jesus, and his bride, the church. In fact the Bible is book-ended by a man/woman marriage: Adam and Eve in Genesis, and Christ and the church in Revelation. From cover to cover, God’s plan for human sexuality is clearly and beautifully portrayed in the Bible as one man, for one woman, for life.

Why is this topic so contentious? Because for a Christian to wholeheartedly celebrate LGBTQIA lifestyles, they must go against the testimony of Scripture, the views of Jesus and the apostles, the understanding of the church for two millennia, and—many would add to this—the fundamentals of biology and reproduction. And for most Christians, that’s understandably far too great an ask.

Love (the half-way mark)


Well done, you made it. So we’ve looked at truth, from the perspective of the Christian God. What about love? Why should Christians love their LGBTQIA friends the most?

Many don’t. Many stop at truth. On meeting a gay person, all some Christians have to say is, in effect, “You’re wrong. You’re sinning.” Maybe they don’t even bother to engage at all, thinking that if someone has chosen a gay lifestyle, they’re beyond the reach of God’s grace—so why bother?

If Christians want to be like Jesus, they must love radically the way he loved.


If you’re reading this and you’ve been hurt by that kind of Christian, I want to say to you, I’m so sorry. It was wrong that you were treated like that. That’s not okay.

Being a Christian is about far more than believing the Bible. It’s not less than that, to be sure. But primarily, being a Christian is being a “little Christ”. That’s what the word Christian actually means. And the Jesus I know cared most for those who felt the most marginalised and the most distanced from God.

Love. Don’t marginalise.


I began by saying that the Zeitgeist and the media are pro-LGBTQIA. That is true. But it’s also true that, in 2015, same-sex attracted people and those who identify as gay are mistreated and misunderstood in many homes, families, schoolyards, workplaces and religious settings around the world. In some Islamic nations they are even put to death.

It’s the misunderstood and mistreated that, in my reading of the Bible, Jesus had the most time for. So if Christians want to be like Jesus, they’re not just going to hold radically to the truth he held to, they’re going to love radically the way he loved.

Let’s start with something simple. The blog you’re now reading was the sermon I preached last night to the church at which I’m a pastor. Last night, I dropped this one on our youth and young adults: using the word “gay” (or even the concept) as some sort of insult or joke is one of the quickest ways to completely undermine your witness for Jesus today. To many, it’s as offensive as the curse “Jesus Christ!” is to us. Convicted about this a few years ago I stopped doing it, expecting others would too—but I’ve continued to hear it in Christian circles. Let me be really frank: it absolutely has to stop.

Luke 7:36-50 tells a story, known to many Christians from Sunday School, about a prostitute (who elsewhere we discover is called Mary) who interrupts a lunch date between Jesus and a holier-than-thou Pharisee by the name of Simon.

rubens

Christ at Simon the Pharisee | Sir Peter Paul Rubens | 1618

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Uninvited, she joins them and breaks an immensely expensive alabaster jar filled with perfume, pouring it over Jesus’ feet, mingling it with her tears. Kissing his feet over and over, she then dries them with her hair. (In the ancient world, only the lowliest of servants would touch feet stained by the dusty roads—so try to capture the gravity of this moment).

It’s a silly Victorian-era sensibility that has lead many Christians to follow the culture in marginalising the people they are called to love the most.


Simon’s internal thoughts are central to the story. He thinks to himself, “If Jesus was a prophet, he’d know what kind of woman is touching him. She’s a sinner!

In other words, “Eww, she’s icky.” Sadly, for many who have grown up in the church, and who are also products of their schoolyards, their reaction is exactly this towards the same-sex attracted or gay. “Eww, they’re icky.” And it’s this silly Victorian-era sensibility that has lead many Christians to follow the culture in sidelining and marginalising and even hating the people they are called to love the most.

Christians, take the plank out


Let me get preachy. Christians, are we like Simon the Pharisee? Do we simply find homosexuality alien and distasteful, completely apart from any gospel convictions we might hold, apart from any desire to see people restored to sexual wholeness, enjoying their sexuality the way God intends? If so, that’s the flesh in us, not the Spirit. And it’s horrifically ugly.

Christians are quick to point out “big sins” like homosexuality. But are we as quick to recognise the sins in our own lives that make us just as unqualified for God’s kingdom?


One of the greatest ironies in this story (and one you’ll only find by looking at the parallel account in Mark 14:1-9), is that Simon the Pharisee used to be Simon the leper.

In that culture, disease made you unclean. Leprosy, like other sickness, was seen as evidence of your sinfulness. Culturally you were required to call out “unclean” as you walked down the street so all the nice “clean” people wouldn’t accidentally touch you on their way. Simon used to be that guy. Now here he is, cut and polished, well housed and fed, and looking down his nose condemningly at a prostitute.

Simon wasn’t guilty of so-called “big sins” like prostitution. His sins were more respectable. Petty sins like theft and greed and cheating and lying and breaking promises. Where did I pull those examples from? You remembered: they come straight out of the “vice lists” of 1 Corinthians 6 and 1 Timothy 1.

“I am as undeserving of God’s love as the worst of sinners, but Jesus rescued me. So how dare I look down my nose at people who sin differently to me?”


See like Simon, we Christians are often quick to point out that “big sins” like homosexuality are forbidden by God and bar people from heaven. But are we as quick to recognise that the sins in our own lives are equally as serious and make us just as unqualified for God’s kingdom? Sexual sin is also mentioned: that includes things like pornography and sex outside of marriage. Do we take them as seriously as we do homosexuality? According to God, we should.

The Gospel, remember!?


Jesus said that people like Mary who’ve been forgiven lots, love lots—and that people like Simon who’ve only been forgiven a bit, love only a bit. Truth be told, it’s not that Simon was only forgiven a bit. It’s that Simon thought he’d only been forgiven a bit. He was a true Pharisee. He had self-righteousness nailed. He had a black, judgmental heart. Christians, are we the same? Or do we realise just how much we’ve been forgiven?

“The gospel is this: We are at the same time more sinful than we could ever dare imagine, and more loved and accepted in Jesus than we ever dared hope.”—Timothy Keller


I was once disqualified from God’s kingdom because of all my sins. I was once a spiritual leper, unclean and unwanted. What made me eligible for heaven and for a relationship with God had nothing to do with me cleaning my life up. It had everything to do with Jesus cleaning my life up for me. Jesus said to me, “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.

I am as undeserving of God’s grace and kindness and love as the worst of sinners, but Jesus rescued me. So how dare I give up on anyone else, or look down my nose at people who sin differently to me?

Timothy Keller has said, “The gospel is this: We are at the same time more sinful than we could ever dare imagine, and more loved and accepted in Jesus than we ever dared hope.”

Jesus came to us in our brokenness and sin and transformed us by his grace. If we can’t radically love our gay friends and family and neighbours, then we’ve completely missed everything he came to accomplish.

Our task isn’t to judge people outside of the community of believers for not living the right kind of lifestyle. It makes zero sense for Christians to assume that those who don’t know Jesus and don’t have the Holy Spirit empowering their lives, either can or want to live like a Christian. Our task isn’t to judge, but to love.

If we can’t radically love our gay friends and family and neighbours, we’ve completely missed everything Jesus came to accomplish.


The verse that directly follows 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 says, “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.” Can someone turn around from a homosexual lifestyle? Absolutely they can. (The media won’t tell you these stories, but there are plenty out there). People did in Corinth, and people can today.

And whether God uses our love to work a new creation miracle in someone’s life, or whether our love makes no noticeable difference at all, we are still called to keep on loving. In the decades to come if we’re hauled before courts and dragged to prison for standing our ground (as many Christians fear—perhaps rightly), our commission remains the same: to love like Jesus.

Are people born gay or do they choose?


There’s one objection I haven’t addressed: “I was born gay: God made me like this, and surely he wants me to live a fulfilled life.”

Behind this idea is an assumption that says, “God made me perfect just the way I am.” That sounds great in greeting cards but it’s not a teaching of the Bible. Once again, a Christian’s view on Genesis as either myth or history has great relevance.

All of us are broken. Everyone struggles with sinful desires.


God did make creation perfect in the beginning, but we stuffed it up. At the fall of Adam and Eve, the world came under a curse, the effects of which we still experience daily—including in our genes. I was born with bad joints just like my mum, and a bad temper like my dad. Others are born with cleft palates and epilepsy—and genetics are also a factor in some mental illnesses. If we think all these things are perfect, why do advanced nations spend billions of dollars trying to fix them?

Every one of us is loved by God and made in his image, but we’re also full of imperfections. The reason the “born this way” versus “it’s a choice” debate has no relevance for Christians is because even if there are genetic factors in sexual orientation (which may well be the case), it’s actions, not attractions, that the Bible calls “sin”. All of us are broken. Everyone struggles with sinful desires.

The reason the “born this way” versus “it’s a choice” debate has no relevance for Christians is because it’s actions, not attractions, that the Bible calls sin.


The church of the future


Life is messy, and dealing with these realities in our lives won’t always be straightforward. But can I suggest four words for Christian communities to consider as we seek to love our LGBTQIA friends the most?

Community | As communities of believers, we absolutely need to be a soft place for people to land. What if this Sunday your friend sitting next to you in church turns to you and says, “I’ve never told anyone, but all my life I’ve felt same-sex attracted”? Without flinching, without a hint of “that’s icky”, without a word of judgment, we need to be able to turn to them and say, “I struggle with all sorts of things too. Isn’t it so good that we both have a home here.” The church is a hospital for the sick, not a museum for saints.

Healing | Many LGBTQIA people, including some who are friends of mine, can clearly point to an abusive event in their past that triggered same-sex attraction for them. This isn’t the cause for everyone, but it is certainly the cause for some. Jesus heals. He absolutely does. Churches need people equipped to walk that healing journey with those who have been hurt. I’m so thrilled to be part of a church that has such a ministry team. If your church is yet to equip such a group, what needs to happen for you to get there? What can you do?

The church is a hospital for the sick, not a museum for saints.


Sacrifice | For some people, on this side of eternity, same-sex attraction may remain a long-term struggle. Jesus and Paul talk about those who choose not to marry for the sake of the kingdom. That might be you. (Or you might happily marry heterosexually, but continue to deal with same-sex attraction). And it might not seem fair. Reality is, every Christian has a cross to carry. If life had gone a bit more according to my plan, I would have met and married the right person ten years ago. There are a lot of struggles that come with being a single 30 year old trying to live a pure life. But if you’re someone who chooses not to marry, more loudly than anyone else you are declaring to the world, “Jesus is enough”.

Identity | I look around in the media and the story I’m consistently hearing about homosexuality is that coming out is some sort of all-defining salvation experience. Coming out is literally promoted as the modern-day equivalent of being born again. In our world today, sexual experimentation is nothing less than a search for identity. Founding identity on sexuality is an empty promise, and one guaranteed to disillusion. Our sexuality is a great and awesome thing, but it wasn’t designed to bear a load so weighty. We are so much more than our desires. Sex is not the pinnacle human experience. Psalm 42 doesn’t say, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so I long for sexual fulfilment”—but rather, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so I long for you, O God.” Our sexuality isn’t our identity. Jesus is. Sex is good, but Jesus is far better. And he is enough.