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

Today was going to be my wedding day.

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

But then corona came.

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

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

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

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

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

“Today was going to be my wedding day.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good thing we got in early.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We have too many blessings to count.

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

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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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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Last Year I Was Single—Now I’m Engaged

A few years ago I wrote about singleness. That article, Last Year I Was Unmarried—Now I’m Single, has remained one of my most-read.

I didn’t plan on it, but for a while I became a kind of poster-boy for singleness. I’ve never enjoyed the spotlight, but I was grateful for the opportunities I had to encourage people who were on a similar journey.

Well last year I was single and now I’m engaged, so I guess it’s time for an update. Not just about my life-stage, but also my thoughts on singleness and relationships from the other side.

“For a while I became a kind of poster-boy for singleness.”

Angie and I met last November through mutual friends. I promised myself I’d never go on a blind date. Now I’m so glad I broke that promise.

Angie is an absolute joy to be with. She’s full of energy, hilarious, resilient, enterprising, prayerful, and intuitively selfless. I’m beyond blessed to be on the receiving end of these qualities of hers every day.

Like many who’ve walked the relationships road, this isn’t the first time I’ve been in love. But it is the first time I’ve known wholehearted love in return. I know I’m adored by Angie—and that’s a new and amazing experience.

“I’m beyond blessed.”

Angie has been an avenue of God’s healing in my life. Through her, I have a newfound clarity about my past, and in the present a big relief that a long wait is over.

But I also want to be clear about a few things. Angie doesn’t complete me. I haven’t ‘graduated’ from singleness. My life isn’t suddenly perfect. And I don’t expect marriage to change that either.

Three things remain true in my life, even as I’ve enjoyed the ride this last year.

Singleness is better than misery

Speaking about relationships and marriage, a wise mentor once told me, “It’s better to wish you were than to wish you weren’t.” He’s one hundred percent right.

When I dated in the past, I lost count of how many sleepless nights I endured, and how many problems my prayers just wouldn’t erase. As well-intentioned as a relationship might be, the reality is that some people just aren’t compatible.

One simple test for compatibility is 2 Corinthians 6:14. God says that people who follow Jesus aren’t compatible with those who don’t. Many Christians compromise on this, believing that singleness is misery. But they pay the price later, whether through irresolvable difference or their own fading faith.

The harder lesson I had to learn is that not even all Christians are compatible—and not all Christians are easy to be with.

“Find an Angie. Like me, wait 15 years if you have to.”

So if you’re still waiting patiently for the right person, don’t rush in where you see problems, hoping that love will fix them. Trust me, it won’t.

If you’re intent on a relationship, save your love for someone who will truly reciprocate it. Find an Angie. Like me, wait 15 years if you have to. Until then, stay single, serve God, and enjoy your life.

In my original post, I said that singleness is awesome. I believe that as much as I ever did. One thing’s for sure—it’s far better than the misery of a relationship that just won’t work.

Like it or not, God is in control

If you haven’t seen the video below called Stuff Christian Singles Hear then you need to—for a laugh, if nothing else.

Christian singles hear a lot of stuff, mostly from married people, and I’m sure it’s comes from a sincere heart. But I’m not convinced that one person’s experience can be packaged into a rule for others to follow.

Well-meaning people told me almost everything in this video in one form or another, but none of it changed my situation. I believed that I would one day marry, yet I remained stubbornly single.

I could try to explain that in a hundred ways. Maybe there were lessons God was still teaching me. Maybe he was still preparing Angie. Either way, exactly what God was thinking wasn’t available to me—then or now.

“I believed that I would one day marry, yet I remained stubbornly single.”

All I know is that I had very little control over my situation. And fortunately, the same was true when I met Angie last year.

So here’s the story. I’d been serving as the youth and young adults pastor at my church—a role that I loved. But I also had a growing disquiet that stayed with me for over a year, a sense that God was soon calling me on to something else.

I faced some big challenges last year. After speaking with my mentors, I knew the time was right for me to discover God’s ‘something else’, having no idea what it was.

I handed in my resignation, and within a few weeks, I met Angie. I was also offered a new job, one that was online. This would enable me to travel to America to meet Angie’s family and friends, and also to take her to meet my second family in Indonesia, all of which we’ve done this year.

“God’s wisdom and kindness are far greater than ours.”

There’s no way I could have predicted or planned any of these events. I don’t tell my story with the assumption that anyone else’s will look the same. I share it as a reminder that, like it or not, God is in control.

And that’s a good thing, because God’s wisdom and kindness are far greater than ours. Consider the words of Tim Keller: “God will either give us what we ask for in prayer, or he’ll give us what we would have asked for if we knew everything he knows.”

Contentment can be found in every life stage

What all of this means is that we need to learn to be content in every life stage.

We live in a culture that thrives on the exact opposite of this—namely, discontentment. Social media reinforces it. Advertising depends on it. Politics has perfected it. Our whole economy is built on it.

And we don’t help each other when we continually ask about the next big life event. First it’s, “When are you getting engaged?” and then, “When’s the wedding?” But it doesn’t stop there. “When are you having kids?” “When’s the next one on the way?” The questions continue on into retirement.

“We need to learn to be content in every life stage.”

Maybe we all just need to slow down and enjoy the present. If we can’t learn contentment in one life stage, it’s unlikely we’ll experience it in the next.

Finding the person I want to marry has been incredible. This last year has been the best year of my life. But it hasn’t solved all my problems—it’s solved some and introduced others.

And now that we’re engaged, Angie and I have a thousand plans for the future. Even now, in such a fun season, it can be easy to get frustrated at how slowly they’re all coming about.

“Contentment isn’t found in the next life stage.”

But the key to contentment in every season is God himself. Proverbs 19:23 says that, “The fear of the Lord leads to life; then one rests content, untouched by trouble.”

Contentment isn’t found in another person, or the next life stage. It’s found in God. This is as true for a newly engaged couple as it is for anyone.

So I’m going to enjoy this time with the beautiful Angie as we prepare for our wedding. But we’re going to enjoy it with God at the centre, knowing that he’s the source of our contentment.

We can be sure of this because God is love—and even the best earthly love is only a shadow of the perfect love God has for us.

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New York, or what I saw of it in 100,000 steps

It’s a city that’s always fascinated me. I remember crafting cardboard models of New York landmarks for a board game I made in Year 4.

And if you’re a regular to my site, you may have noticed that my homepage header is a photo of Times Square, also known as “The World’s Crossroads”.

But this week I finally get to see the city that never sleeps with my own eyes. I’ve only scratched the surface of this sprawling concrete jungle in the five days I’ve been here. But in that time, 100,000 steps have taken me to every site at the top of my list and many besides.

“Within New York’s greater metro area lives a population as large as Australia’s.”

I was taken by surprise at my first glance of New York’s skyline. Looking up at hundreds of antique, pixellated high-rises piercing the sky, I was transported. I found myself in the world of Batman’s Gotham City and Superman’s Metropolis—both of which, no surprise, began as fictional spinoffs of NYC.

Something felt different about this city to the many others I’ve visited, and I knew what it was right away. Around the world, skyscrapers have been built mostly in late decades from steel and glass. 

By contrast, the majority of New York’s went up a hundred years ago. This was a time when architects stunned the world by sending stone up to impossible heights. And there that stone remains to this day, forming a proud trophy cabinet to the city’s historic genius and wealth.

“Looking up, I found myself in the world of Batman’s Gotham City and Superman’s Metropolis.”

The Big Apple really is big. It’s the most populous city in America. It has more subway stations, more billionaires, and more spoken languages than any other city on earth—over 800 dialects can be heard in its streets. Most impressive of all, within New York’s greater metro area lives a population as large as Australia’s.

This city has been called the cultural capital of the world, the media capital of the world, the financial capital of the world, and just the straight-up capital of the world. It’s even been dubbed the ‘centre of the universe’—though that last one might be taking it a little too far.

The list of New York’s iconic marvels is so long that it’s easy to forget they’re all found in the same place: the Empire State Building, Times Square, The United Nations, Brooklyn Bridge, the Guggenheim, Central Park, the Statue of Liberty, the Rockefeller Centre, Wall Street, the Chrysler Building, the World Trade Centre. The list never seems to end.

“The Big Apple really is big.”

The city has such a curious past. As I’ve previously written, during the Age of Discovery, the island of Manhattan was bought in exchange for a now-forgotten ‘Spice Island’ in the backwaters of Indonesia. If only its buyers—or worse, its sellers—could know Manhattan’s value now.

Another discovery I made, confirmed by Google as I paced New York’s vast underground, is this: the terms ‘uptown’ and ‘downtown’, now used around the world, originated in NYC.

‘Downtown’ was dubbed for the simple reason that New York’s street numbers descend the further south you travel towards the city’s pulsing centre in Lower Manhattan. Now every city in America and many beyond use the same terminology. Who knew?

Then of course there were the fateful events of September 11, when we all became New Yorkers for a day. Thousands of lives were lost before the eyes of a watching world, and western civilisation was brought to its knees. We were reminded of our own mortality—but also of our enduring resilience and hope.

New York has even been dubbed the centre of the universe.”

Much of what I’ve shared so far could be found anywhere online, but what of my firsthand experiences? Three words come to mind as I reflect on my days in this city.

Diversity. Perhaps that’s expected in any city of this size. But evidence of it was everywhere in New York, from the chorus of accents at street level, to the smorgasbord of cuisine sold from vans, markets and cafes, and the array of religious attire worn as unapologetically as this year’s fashion.

But the diversity that really captured my attention, that I’d been warned of but hardly believed until I saw it myself, was the gulf between rich and poor, which ran along strongly ethnic lines.

“Multiple subway closures left me stranded in Harlem late on Saturday night.”

Manhattan is finite in size, so its real estate sells at a premium. Which is why I was amazed that a community like Harlem in the island’s upper reaches really is as rough and seedy as the movies portray.

This hit home for me when multiple subway closures left me stranded in Harlem late on Saturday night.

The people I spoke to that night were friendly and helpful. But there were many sleeping rough; lone young kids rode scooters unsupervised; and the rip of distant gunshots blended into the atmosphere. At every turn, music pulsed from clusters of parked cars, and it was difficult at times to see sidewalk for litter.

“The divide between rich and poor knows no geographical limits.”

All this within a stone’s throw of Central Park.

It was a sobering reminder that not only is my own nation of Australia an incredibly lucky country, but also that the divide between rich and poor knows no geographical limits.

I don’t pretend to know the solution to this disparity, but I now see the American problem more clearly.

Generosity. I’ve been kindly hosted by friends of friends in upstate New York—now friends of mine—who went above and beyond to make me feel welcome.

They’ve loaned me train tickets, cooked me meals, shuttled me to stations, pointed me to local secrets, and much more besides. I was left wondering what I’d done to deserve such generosity.

I also had the chance to visit Redeemer Presbyterian, a church I’ve followed from afar through the books and podcasts of Tim Keller.

“I’ve been kindly hosted by friends of friends in upstate New York.”

I was fortunate enough to sit next to a couple who’d been part of the church since its earliest days. They introduced me to many others in the room who were part of the furniture. If that weren’t enough, they took me out to lunch, showed a great interest in my life and prayed for me before we said farewell.

If anyone thinks New Yorkers are too brash or busy, I’d simply counter that they haven’t met the right ones yet.

History. New York has a chequered past—from its treatment of Native Americans and slaves to the unrestrained greed that saw vast fortunes won and lost on Wall Street.

But originally, New York wasn’t founded for any of that. It was one of thirteen colonies that banded together seeking democratic and religious liberty.

Those thirteen colonies boldly declared independence in 1776 with the famous words, “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…”

Liberty is still a key word for the city of New York, though these days it’s taken on a new hue. Walking the streets of Times Square, it was clear that people flock to this city to indulge every pleasure imaginable.

“Almost 250 years later, the American experiment continues.”

In that sense, New York remains a city of great liberty. I just wonder if this is the best use of its hard-won liberty—given that the excesses of today quickly become the chains of tomorrow.

A distant king is a terrible master, but unrestrained desires within are arguably far worse.

Almost 250 years later, the American experiment continues, taking the rest of the West with it, whether or not we signed up for the journey.

With that in mind, my prayer for this nation I’m calling home for six months is a rediscovery of the liberty it began with and still so desperately needs.

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

The Year in the Jungle That Changed My Life

When I was 19, I made one of the biggest decisions of my life. I moved to the jungles of Indonesia.

If you know me now, that may sound like the course my life was always going to take. Let me assure you: it was anything but an inevitable decision at the time.

My mate, whose parents were working for an NGO there, had been bugging me endlessly to visit, and I was more than content to ignore him. I felt no particular draw towards other cultures and certainly no interest in learning another language. Like a hobbit, I had everything I needed in my little shire and had no reason to leave.

“This was one of the best decisions I have ever made.”

But then God spoke, and in a Jonah moment, I knew I could ignore him no longer. And rather than a visit, I felt compelled to commit to at least a year and see where it would go.

Over a decade later and I’ve just returned from my tenth trip to this remote region. I’ve now spent around two and a half years of my life in a place that has captured my heart and keeps drawing me back.

If you’re wondering what to do with your gap year; are at a crossroads in life; or are otherwise experiencing your own Jonah wake-up call, let me share with you why this was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

The Adventure of a Lifetime

I’ve always loved camping, but I didn’t know adventure until I lived on this tangle of tropical islands.

I could tell you stories of spear fishing and jumping down waterfalls, of high-speed midnight rides on a car roof (don’t tell Mum), of climbing one of the world’s most active volcanoes (four times), and of getting lost in the jungle for days—and fortunately, making it out alive.

If none of that excites you, I could tell you about the families who’ve hosted me in their dirt-floored, bamboo-thatched homes; stories of suffering and hope that I never imagined I’d hear first hand; and the incredible friends, young and old, that I now have a lifelong bond with.

Culture and Language

I recently heard it said that until you understand a second language, you don’t understand your own. I couldn’t agree more. And I’d say the same about culture.

On return from my first year in Indonesia, I had fresh eyes—an outsider’s view—on things in my own culture that I’d grown up taking for granted. I can’t quantify just how life-changing that has been for me.

In the best of ways, I now question the status-quo I see all around me, and more importantly, the mediocrity inside my own head.

And there’s another link between culture and language worth mentioning. Language embodies culture. When you learn one, you learn the other. Through language, you don’t just learn to speak like your hosts, but to share their values and their outlook on life so that it shapes your own.

Growth and Perspective

When I landed back in Australia, after spending some time with a friend, she commented that I went to Indonesia a boy and came back a man. Maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but I certainly grew a lot that year—not least in my perspective on the world.

Whether it was washing my own clothes each day with a scrubbing brush, tasting the most unusual cuisine from bat to snake to sago grub, or seeing the unparalleled joy of children in the face of abject poverty—there is something about living on the outskirts of civilisation that can only alter your view of almost everything.

I can no longer approach finances like I used to. Or my fears, or my friendships, or my faith. Years later and I’m still unpacking how my interactions with the amazing people of Indonesia have shaped me.

Future Possibilities

Too many people, even those still finishing high school, have been persuaded to focus far too much on CVs and career paths, salaries and ambition. Too few are concerned about the kind of person they’re becoming.

As you make these big decisions about your future, what grid are you using? If it’s comfort, status or security, let me challenge you beyond goals like these that won’t satisfy, and that aren’t particularly attainable anyway.

Let me challenge you away from the path of least resistance and towards the path of adventure, obedience and self-sacrifice—whatever that might look like for you.

Even if it looks like a year in the jungle.

~

The organisation I serve with in Indonesia welcomes with open arms western visitors who are willing to serve and get behind their vision of physical, emotional and spiritual restoration for the poor and marginalised.

They have a particular need right now for native English speakers to teach in the school (Reception to Year 8), qualified or otherwise. Please get in touch with me if you’d like to find out more.

How Buddhism Points to Jesus

Let’s be honest, it’s the world’s most fashionable religion. Buddhism has an exciting mystique about it, especially for us spiritually starved westerners.

Mindfulness has gone mainstream, along with Zen gardens and the Dalai Lama. Buddhist themes light up our cinemas, from The Matrix to Kung Fu Panda and every Star Wars film in history.

Christians are sometimes known for their fear of other religions. But what if we got over ourselves and asked what we can learn from Buddhism—and how it might point people to Jesus?

Origins and Influence

The Buddha lived long before Christ. He was born Siddhartha Gautama, a Hindu prince, in the 5th or 6th century BC. A prophecy foretold that he’d become the greatest founder of the greatest religion in the world. Fearing this, his father kept him safe inside a palace.

But that would never last. One day Gautama ventured outside, and on his travels he encountered an elderly person, a sick person, and a corpse—confronting him with the reality of human suffering.

He called this the wheel of suffering, and he made it his life’s mission to find an escape from it. At age 29, he abandoned his wife and son and gave up everything to live as a poor man. Following the Hindu tradition, he wandered the Ganges river to mediate, fast, and learn from gurus.

“A prophecy foretold that he’d become the greatest founder of the greatest religion in the world.”

Desperate to be free of suffering, Gautama sat under a tree and vowed not to get up until he was enlightened. Six years after his search began, the moment arrived. He became the Buddha or enlightened one—and a new world faith was born.

The Buddha’s teaching career continued until his death at age 81, during which time huge crowds followed him. 2,500 years later, Buddhism is the world’s fourth largest religion; the dominant faith in a dozen countries; and is practiced by half a billion people.

The Heart of Buddhism

Buddhism is complex and varied, drawing on Hindu ideas like karma and reincarnation, and mixing with many other beliefs as it spread through Asia. But in all its diversity today, it’s built on one simple idea: escape from suffering. The Buddha developed this in his Four Noble Truths.

1. The Existence of Suffering. To live is to suffer. Sadness, fear, worry and loss are all part of life. Even pleasure is fleeting. This too is a form of suffering.

2. The Explanation for Suffering. Suffering is caused by desire. We experience the pain of hunger, for example, only because we desire food; we experience grief and fear of death only because we desire life.

“Buddhism is built on one simple idea: escape from suffering.”

3. The End to Suffering. Suffering ends when desire ends. The end goal of Buddhism is nirvana—to end all desire by realising that we don’t really exist, so we can live in this world with complete detachment.

4. The Escape from Suffering. There is a way to be free. The Buddha had been a prince and a pauper, but neither experience dealt with suffering at its root. Under that tree, the Buddha found a Middle Way between these two extremes—also known as the Eightfold Path to end suffering:

Right understanding | embracing the Four Noble Truths

Right direction | aiming for a life of detachment from this world

Right speech | speaking truthfully, kindly, and gently

Right conduct | acting non-violently and compassionately

Right livelihood | finding a vocation fitting with Buddhist beliefs

Right effort | endeavouring to live a worthy and meritorious life

Right mindfulness | realising that all sensations are illusory

Right concentration | meditating to remove all distraction

This, in a nutshell, is Buddhism. Notice that God wasn’t mentioned? That’s because the Buddha was silent on the existence of God. In fact he was even silent on the origin of the universe. His goal was simply to discover a life of serenity that transcended suffering.

(Religion is still an accurate word to describe Buddhism. Most Buddhists today pray and take part in other rituals; one branch worships the Buddha as a god).

The Buddha and Jesus

In comparing Buddhism and Christianity, we must avoid two extremes. One is syncretism: combining these two faiths and ignoring what makes them unique and incompatible. The other is ostracism: rejecting the Buddha and his teachings completely.

There is a better way—a middle path, if you will. It involves caring enough about Buddhists to find points of contact between their beliefs and the gospel; taking down our walls and instead building bridges; asking how Buddhism can deepen our gratitude for the good news of Jesus.

“The Buddha’s goal was to discover a life of serenity that transcended suffering.”

First, the Buddha’s spiritual commitment is astounding, and it puts many of us Christians to shame. Am I seeking Jesus as passionately as the Buddha sought enlightenment? Am I as desperate to be free from sin as he was from suffering? Do I meditate on God’s Word—at all?

But let’s go a level deeper and explore Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths. How does Jesus answer the Buddha’s deepest questions about life?

1. The Existence of Suffering. Suffering is part of our life in this world. Scripture says that Adam and Eve’s sin brought a curse on the world, and now all creation groans as we long to be released from sin and suffering.

2. The Explanation for Suffering. Left unchecked, our desires do lead to misery. In the words of James, they entice us, drag us away and lead to sin, which gives birth to death. The Bible even describes us as slaves to sin—caught in our own endless wheel of suffering.

“The Buddha’s spiritual commitment puts many of us Christians to shame.”

3. The End to Suffering. The gospel offers a remarkable solution. Not unlike the Buddha, Jesus stepped down from his heavenly palace to identify with a broken human race. But rather than seeking an escape from it, Jesus took our sin and suffering into himself at the cross. All who are enlightened to this, God welcomes into an eternal serenity where suffering is no more.

4. The Escape from Suffering. Jesus himself is the path to end suffering. He is the way, the truth and the life. Suffering will still touch us in this life, but as we follow him, his Spirit enables us to live detached from sin, and to act with truth, gentleness and compassion—and many other virtues the Buddha taught.

Not so that we can earn our escape from suffering, or finally reach enlightenment. But because we’ve already experienced this in Jesus, the truly enlightened one.

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 receive 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

Cioccolanti, Steve. From Buddha to Jesus: An Insider’s View of Buddhism and Christianity. Oxford, UK: Monarch, 2007.

Claydon, David. Connecting Across Cultures: Sharing the Gospel Across Cultural and Religious Boundaries. Melbourne: Acorn Press Ltd, 2000, 99-108.

Dickson, John. A Spectator’s Guide to World Religions: An Introduction to the Big Five. Sydney: Blue Bottle Books, 2004, 47-84.

Secrets to a Thriving Young Adults Church

In high school I was shy and awkward. If you told me that one day I’d be discipling hundreds of young adults in one of Australia’s fastest-growing Baptist churches, I would have shaken my head in disbelief.

It turns out that God has a sense of humour. This has been my adventure for the last four years, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I talk to other leaders who feel discouraged in young adults ministry. Youth still in high school flock to events that are run well. But after they graduate and get their license, keeping them in a faith community is like herding cats.

“All of these secrets are totally counter-intuitive.”

It’s a huge challenge for me too. Any of my “success” I credit to the goodness of God. But there are also a few things I’ve picked up along the way—secrets that I think help our young adults community thrive.

All of them are totally counter-intuitive. So brace yourself.

#1 Give up trying to do so much ministry

Like most pastors, I nearly burnt out in my first year. Then I discovered boundaries and learnt the word “no”. I also lifted my eyes and saw a church full of talented young people.

As I began asking their help to get things done, I realised something deeper. Young adults come alive when you look them in the eye, name their giftings, and throw them off the deep end with the words “I believe in you”.

“I lifted my eyes and saw a church full of talented young people.”

Some weeks now I don’t touch a microphone. Other people preach, lead worship, run life groups, and oversee complex ministries. Out of this fertile soil more grassroots ministries spring up—some that are thriving before I even hear about them.

I’m still deeply involved in the life of the community. And I preach often, because that’s my main gifting. But my role has shifted significantly to discipling leaders, and helping them do the same.

“As I’ve had the humility to step down, I’ve seen others step up.”

This is a win for everyone, because if I’m honest, I’m actually not that good at most other things. That’s what all the other people in the body of Christ are for.

Too often, pastors are put on a pedestal. It boosts our ego, but the pressure is deadly. As I’ve had the humility to step down, I’ve seen others step up. And I’ve realised that’s precisely how disciples are made.

#2 Get rid of your best quality people

Right now—and most of the time—some of our best young people are off completing discipleship schools with YWAM or serving on the mission fields of South-East Asia.

When they come back, more will go. Every month we farewell people who join our church plant, or decide to serve at a different church, or who go overseas with a ministry we’re not connected to.

“Long ago, I decided that my goal isn’t to retain young people.”

If this sounds stressful, it’s because you’re not thinking like a millennial. After thirteen years of routine, young people want freedom. We want adventure without a guaranteed outcome—even without the guarantee that we’ll return. And just watch: out of gratitude for that freedom, most will return anyway.

Even if they don’t come back, it’s not a loss. Long ago I decided that my goal isn’t to retain as many young people in church as possible. That will only leave me frustrated. It’s like herding cats, remember?

“Millennials are drawn to this kind of permission-giving community.”

Instead, for the six months or the two years or the decade they are with me, I will pour my heart into discipling them as well as I know how. Then, wherever they go, they’ll be a blessing to others, and a benefit to God’s kingdom. And I won’t feel deflated.

Millennials are drawn to this kind of permission-giving community. That’s why you can keep sending out your best with the confidence that more will come and replace them.

#3 Tell them how hard it is to follow Jesus

Social media is a mirage telling us the perfect life is always just up ahead. The modern world tries to turn this dream into reality and sell us lives that are easy and pain-free.

The church has tapped into this project, and for decades now we’ve tried a seeker-sensitive approach. We hope that if we lower the bar of discipleship enough, anyone will step over it.

“We want purpose. Give us something worth dying for.”

But if you actually talk to young people today, they don’t want a low bar. We want a challenge. We’ve grown up with easy, and it’s boring.

We’ve also grown up with enough pain and mess to realise that the perfect life is a lie. We don’t want perfect; we want purpose. Give us something worth dying for—then we might have something to live for.

“We’ve grown up with easy, and it’s boring.”

Jesus is the answer to this cry. He calls us to die to ourselves daily. To put others first. To take up our cross of suffering and follow him. To live for a cause bigger than ourselves, greater than our comfort, more transcendent than the politics of our age.

Preach that, and young adults will come from miles away.

If you found this helpful, please go back and hit share or leave a comment. If you’d like to receive my blogs by email, scroll to the bottom of the page to subscribe.

For more ideas, check out More Secrets to a Thriving Young Adults Church.

We’re Not Debating Same-Sex Marriage—We Just Think We Are

Part 3 of 3

It’s still a fortnight until Australia votes, but the topic is already hot and has been for weeks. Who said Australians don’t care about politics?

Both sides have offered compelling arguments. In a recent blog, I tried to navigate these and champion a response that looks like Jesus, where principles are valued, and people are too. (Have a read of it here).

I received many warm words of feedback, from both sides. And I had to trash a lot of scathing remarks, also from both sides.

“Who said Australians don’t care about politics?”

In the end, I advocated for marriage as Jesus defines it, so naturally my harshest critics were on the yes side. And their words continue to ring in my ears.

So I’ve done some digging, and underneath their assumptions I made a surprising discovery. The debate we’re having isn’t really about same-sex marriage. It’s about other things entirely. Most surprising of all is that no one seems to notice.

“People are searching for themselves in race, politics, religion, sexuality.”

It’s not that the debate has gone off-topic. These other conversations need to be had. In fact they’re so important that if you can sway me on these, I’ll vote yes too.

So what is Australia really debating behind the same-sex marriage question? What would I need to be convinced of to throw my weight behind the yes campaign?

1. A person’s sexuality is their identity

Headlines collect like dark clouds on the horizon. Tyrants, riots, terrorism. The nightly news flickers its endless memes of a world filled with orphans, lost and scrambling for identity.

People are searching for themselves in race, politics, religion, and sexuality. All of these contribute to our sense of self—but to build an entire identity on any of them is to seal the fate of our own disillusionment.

“The nightly news flickers its endless memes of a world filled with orphans.”

The reason is simple. You can’t know who you are until you know whose you are. I am deeply known and loved by the One who created me. I don’t know a more solid ground where I camp my worth, and even begin to work out who I am.

I get it. Voting no can seem like a frontal assault on someone’s identity. But to any who feel that way, I want to plead with you that you are loved, and you are so much more than your sexuality.

2. This vote is a referendum on people’s humanity

It’s for the same reason that I refuse to see a no vote as a statement that anyone is subhuman. Framing the debate this way helps the yes cause—but it does terrible damage to those it’s trying to protect.

To the woman caught in adultery, Jesus offered a caring, if complex, response: safety from her would-be executioners, and a life-changing commission. Go and sin no more.

“You are loved, and you are so much more than your sexuality.”

God knows, the church has a long way to go before it looks like Jesus in this scene. Still, the Saviour’s point is clear: someone’s lifestyle isn’t to be confused with their humanity.

Vote yes or no this September, but remember the vote is about marriage, not people’s status as human beings. We’re all made in the image of God, and that’s a truth no survey can change.

3. Religion should stay out of politics

If religion should stay out of politics, then as a Christian, I should abstain from this vote altogether. But then so should everyone else.

To think the public square is religiously neutral is to commit insanity. Everyone’s beliefs influence their political views—this is just as true for the secular humanist as for the devoutly religious.

“To think the public square is religiously neutral is to commit insanity.”

Separation of church and state is about letting the government and the church both influence society for good, without either thinking they are the other. It’s not about a religion-free society. (A few communist states tried that last century and it didn’t turn out so well).

If you’re a Christian and you feel terrible about imposing your view on the rest of society—in this or any other vote—take comfort. If you don’t like the result of the postal vote, the rest of society will have imposed its view on you.

4. Less Christian influence in society is a good thing

The inquisition, the crusades and priestly abuses shock us all. The church has many apologies to make and a lot of trust to regain.

But for decades now this narrative has drowned out all else. You wouldn’t know it, but the role of Christianity in shaping our science, medicine, education, technology, democracy, reason and yes, equality, was nothing short of monumental.

“The commentariat has told us to disdain our Christian heritage.”

If all the church did through history was interrogate, kill and abuse, I’d be the first to jump ship. But I’ve done my homework. If the West divorces itself from the legacy of Jesus, we’ll only know what we had once it’s gone.

Even atheist Richard Dawkins has his reservations. This avowed critic of the church has “mixed feelings about the decline of Christianity, in so far as Christianity might be a bulwark against something worse.”

The commentariat has told us to disdain our Christian heritage. But most of us don’t even know what that is. And we abandon it at our peril.

5. Marriage is just about love between two people

I’ve heard that this vote is just about two people who love each other—it’s not about kids or broader society. But if this vote is about marriage, then by definition it’s about both kids and society, because all three are unbreakably linked.

Not all married couples have children. But marriage has and always will play a crucial role in raising the next generation. That’s why the government has such a vested interest in it.

Can any combination of genders parent? I’ll leave that to the experts. But to isolate marriage from all other relationships is to misunderstand it completely.

6. Ultimate fulfilment is found in sex

It’s not just porn saying that a life without sex isn’t worth living. The entertainment industry has preached that sermon for a hundred years, and no one questions it.

But we should. Many who are sexually fulfilled are miserable. And many who are celibate are more than satisfied. Jesus was. (And yes, he was a flesh and blood human).

“Many who are sexually fulfilled are miserable.”

Sex is a beautiful gift from God, but like all of his good gifts, we tend to carve an idol out of it. The thing with idols is they promise you the world, taking you to the highest of heights, only to push you off the edge and let you plummet.

Jesus will never do that. He came to give life, and life abundant. What can’t truly be said of sex can always be said of him. In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11).

I will vote yes next month if anyone can convince me these six points are true. Until then, let’s keep not debating same-sex marriage.

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Read the rest of the series on Same-Sex Marriage:  PART 1  |  PART 2  |  PART 3

Same-Sex Marriage Might Set the Church Straight

Part 1 of 3

Last night on a mild winter’s evening in Adelaide, hundreds of people packed an auditorium, spilling into foyers and corridors in what became a standing-room only event.

During a week of wall-to-wall media focus on same-sex marriage, it was by happy coincidence that a UK pastor had come to our city to call on Christians to better support those who identify as LGBT+ or same-sex attracted.

Doubtless what drew such large crowds is that Sam Allberry (who has also authored the book “Is God Anti-Gay?”) is himself same-sex attracted, but because of his love for Jesus he’s chosen to remain single and celibate.

“People spilled into foyers and corridors in what became a standing-room only event.”

Much about the night struck me, including Sam’s common-sense perspectives and his deeply pastoral approach to the topic. Most of all though was how uncomplicated his call to Christians was: that the church simply be the church, and embody the love of Jesus.

So uncomplicated in fact that as a single person, I realised that all of Sam’s advice for providing care to the LGBT+/SSA community is just as relevant to the church in providing care to singles like me.

“One of the unexpected perks of singleness is a unique perspective on the world.”

As Christians we’ve often been so intoxicated by the world’s ideas that we’ve drifted asleep at the wheel. A nation-wide debate on the definition of marriage is waking us up from our slumber.

For which reason, if marriage legislation in Australia does change, maybe it’s as much an opportunity for us as it is a threat. I have as many reservations about this mass cultural experiment as the next person, but if it does pass as law, consider how same-sex marriage might set the church straight. It would awaken us to:

1. A truer grasp of the purpose of marriage

One of the unexpected perks of singleness is a unique perspective on the world. Call me a cynic, but I think Christians have idolised marriage.

Marriage is a gift from God. I love celebrating weddings, and I cheer on all of my married friends—and I look forward to being married myself when God’s timing comes. But secular doctrine says a fulfilled life orbits around a sexual relationship. Rather than critiquing this, the church has simply insisted that said idol be blessed with vows.

“Call me a cynic, but I think Christians have idolised marriage.”

But as Sam points out, when Jesus taught about the sanctity of marriage in Matthew 19:3-12, the disciples’ reaction was to ask why anyone would dare embark on such a high and costly calling. In response, Jesus encouraged them to seriously consider singleness. And with that, the discussion ended.

In other words, marriage and all of its blessings are worth it—if you’re willing to pay the cost. The primary purpose of marriage isn’t to make all of your dreams come true but to conform you to the image of Christ. Marriage isn’t the holy grail of satisfaction. Biblically, it wasn’t actually created to fulfil us, but to point us to the One who can (Ephesians 5:32).

2. A deeper love for those longing for intimacy

Another dogma of the present culture is that sex and intimacy are synonymous—so much so that we can’t even imagine an intimacy that’s not sexual.

But as Sam explained, in the Bible they’re distinct. It’s possible to have a lot of sex and no intimacy—and just as possible to have a lot of intimacy and no sex. Jesus, Paul and saints through history have shown us that it’s possible to live without sex, but no one can live without intimacy.

To be intimate means to be deeply known and loved. One of the biggest struggles for those who are LGBT+/SSA (and may I add, single) actually isn’t sexual temptation, but loneliness.

“It’s possible to live without sex, but no one can live without intimacy.”

And this is great news, because it means the solution isn’t more PhDs. It’s love. In fact, it’s a particular brand of Christian love: the forgotten art of biblical friendship where soul meets soul and where church is family. Sam’s heart cry is for the church to become the kind of community where anyone choosing to forsake an ungodly relationship for the sake of the gospel would find themselves with more intimacy at the end of that transaction, not less.

We should never treat anyone as a sort of project for our own self-congratulation—but we must aim to love well. Nuclear families whose highest purpose isn’t merely their own joy but the enfolding of others into that joy are all the richer for it.

3. A greater disgust at our own sin than others’

Said Sam, when Paul called himself the chief of sinners, he hadn’t surveyed the entire first century church to make that discovery. He was simply choosing to be more disgusted at his own sin than that of others.

And such must be the case for us too. If our internal reaction to anyone in the LGBT+ community is, “eww, they’re icky,” then we’re far more influenced by Victorian sensibilities than by the gospel. The gospel guards us from hypocrisy by showing us the log in our own eye before we offer to help our friend with their speck.

“Paul chose to be more disgusted at his own sin than that of others.”

As Sam says, none of us are straight. We’ve all got skewed and twisted desires. Even if he were healed from homosexual lusts, Sam explains, he’d still have heterosexual lusts to deal with, leading to no net increase in holiness.

To follow in the footsteps of Jesus, all of us are going to have to say no to some of our deepest sexual desires, simply because that’s a part of what it means to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him.

4. A clearer vision of the good news of Jesus

Where my heart most resounded with Sam’s, where I looked at his same-sex attraction and saw my singleness in the mirror, was in a quote he shared by Aiki Flinthart: “Those who hear not the music think the dancer is mad.”

Jesus is that music. The world will never understand the choices we make in following Jesus until they understand just how much Jesus means to us.

“Those who hear not the music think the dancer is mad.”

Same-sex attraction is a unique struggle, but to see it as an altogether different struggle than any other is to miss the radical sacrifice Jesus calls every believer to. But more than that, it’s to miss the highest privilege all of us have—which is to point the world to Jesus as the all-satisfying bread of life, who is worthy of even the greatest sacrifice.

“I am the bread of life,” said Jesus. “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again.” (John 6:35).

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Read the rest of the series on Same-Sex Marriage:  PART 1  |  PART 2  |  PART 3