Why Christians Clash with the Current Culture

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

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

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

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

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

Acts 17:1-9 paints this picture precisely.

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

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

Called to be Convincing | v1-3

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

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

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

“Proclaiming Jesus is a Spirit-empowered activity.”

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

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

Called to be Confident | v4

Consider the extraordinary outcome in Thessalonica:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Called to be Controversial | v5-9

Look what happens next:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He’s king, remember?

Angie’s Supernatural Stomach Healing

Like most westerners, I grew up somewhat skeptical of miracles. I was raised in the church and believed in God, but supernatural events seemed oddly stuck in the ancient world.

In a past post, I’ve shared how my views on this have shifted over the years. I have experienced a growing list of undeniable ‘encounters’ that I can’t explain by science or luck. But hands down, the biggest miracle I’ve witnessed is what happened to my fiancé Angie late last year.

“Angie’s story was unpredictable and unique.”

Angie has given me permission to tell her story, knowing that it will leave a powerful impression on those who read it. I was there for much of the journey, and below I tell a faithful account of all that I saw.

One disclaimer before I proceed: I have come to realise that there is no formula for supernatural events. No one can twist God’s arm for a miracle, or craft a three-step plan for success. Angie’s story was unpredictable and unique, and the ending still surprises us today.

Angie Visits a Shaman

Three years ago, before Angie was following Jesus, she backpacked through South-East Asia with some good friends. While there, she visited a shaman made famous by a well-known book and Hollywood movie. Let’s call the shaman Dewi.

For good reason did Dewi gain Hollywood fame: on reading Angie’s palm, Dewi accurately described past relationships, heartbreaks and other major events in Angie’s life. She also had striking insight into a stomach condition that had been troubling Angie for some time.

A friend of Angie took notes as Dewi described her ailment and offered suitable remedies: be sure to cook your vegetables before eating them; drink lots of water; eat five small meals throughout the day.

Dewi even suggested that Angie had demons in her stomach, and that for an additional fee they could be cast out. At this point, Angie decided that her foray into the freaky had gone far enough.

“Angie’s condition kept growing more severe.”

Though this meeting with Dewi didn’t crowd her thoughts, Angie quietly took the advice of the elderly sage and modified her diet accordingly. Despite these changes to her diet, months later back home in the USA, Angie’s condition kept growing more severe. Even small meals could land her with serious bloating and stomach pain.

After many tests, Angie had an endoscopy that revealed a condition called gastroparesis: damaged nerves were causing a delay in the emptying of her stomach.

The doctor informed Angie that this was a disease without a cure. It could only be managed by changing her diet: drinking lots of water, eating small meals throughout the day, and being sure not to eat raw vegetables. Spooky, right?

Real Healing Begins

I met Angie long after these events—just over a year ago. She had since become a follower of Jesus, and was here in Australia deepening her faith in a Bible school.

How Angie and my paths aligned is a story all of its own, but I still remember our first conversation about her stomach. Angie told me in some detail about her gastroparesis diagnosis, the amount of discipline it took her to manage the condition, and how her body would punish her if she got lazy with her eating.

At some point, Angie also related to me her experiences in South-East Asia. I wondered out loud if she might have carried home some kind of curse after dabbling with dark powers on her travels.

She explained that since coming to faith in Jesus, she had renounced that chapter of her life and asked God to cleanse her of any of its effects. She had also received many prayers for healing, but to no avail.

“I wondered out loud if Angie might have carried home some kind of curse.”

Having talked all this out, we were both satisfied that her problems were purely medical. As Angie and I began spending time together, I modified my eating to mostly match hers. My sister who studied dietetics even helped Angie with a stricter diet that—if followed rigorously—helped her avoid those common bouts of excruciating pain.

This wasn’t a perfect solution. There were far less foods Angie could eat than those she couldn’t. Any time we were invited out for dinner, we had a range of terrible choices to make: suggesting recipes to our hosts; refusing what was served; or, most often, Angie going home in terrible pain.

A few months later though, something amazing happened.

We caught up with a friend of mine called Danny. Danny happened to have travelled to the same country Angie had visited. He told us his story.

For years, Danny had suffered with a severe skin condition that caused him to break out in an itchy rash in hot weather. Despite this, a few years ago he felt God had called him to tropical South-East Asia—so he took a step of faith and went. The day Danny arrived there, his condition disappeared, and has never returned since.

“In the days that followed, all of Angie’s symptoms disappeared.”

On hearing Danny’s story, Angie was filled with faith, confident that God could perform the same miracle for her.

And this might be hard to believe, but that’s exactly what happened. In the days that followed, all of Angie’s symptoms disappeared. She tried countless forbidden foods, full of sugar and fat, and high in fibre. No bloating, no pain.

Four days later, Angie and I went out for dinner. Without planning to, we ended up eating the cuisine of this particular South-East Asian country. Walking home, we were still rejoicing about her healing. But later that night, Angie’s stomach was afflicted again with terrible bloating.

We were confused, to say the least. Angie’s healing had been unmistakably real, but it only lasted four days. We decided to trust that it was a sign of things to come.

Our Return East

Fast forward two more months, and Angie and I set off on the same trip Danny took. Not in search of healing, but following God’s call there too. See, it was over there that I had originally met and become friends with Danny. It’s a place I have lived for several years, and Angie was eager to see it for herself.

This is going to sound bizarre, but on arriving in this part of South-East Asia, Angie’s symptoms completely disappeared once more. Her diet and disciplines were all over the place because of travel, but despite this, there was no trace of her dreaded condition.

“Angie and I set off on the same trip Danny took.”

And then, to our bitter disappointment, four days later Angie’s symptoms returned. Almost like clockwork. It was a head-scratching situation.

We chose once more to trust God that permanent healing was still up ahead.

A Total Break With The Past

Angie and I are currently in Australia. We arrived here at Christmas to spend time with family and friends, and to celebrate our wedding in a few short weeks.

Just before we came to Australia, back at Angie’s house in Wisconsin, she was packing for this trip. Looking through her memory box, she stumbled upon a scribbled sheet of paper. It was the notes that Angie’s friend wrote on their visit to Dewi!

Angie ran downstairs and showed it to me. I asked her, “You repented of all of this, right?” Angie told me that of course she had.

But just to be sure, I suggested that we take that piece of paper outside and burn it. It was a cold winter’s night, so we only went out as far as the garage, taking a big kitchen pot with us and some matches.

“Looking through her memory box, Angie stumbled upon a scribbled sheet of paper.”

Tearing the sheet up and setting it alight inside of the pot, we prayed. “God, everything represented by this piece of paper has been confessed and renounced. Now we pray that you would break any remaining power over Angie, in Jesus’ name.”

From that day until this, Angie has been 100% healed.

Over two months has gone by since that cold night in America, and Angie has tried every food she could possible crave since that time. Her gastroparesis is gone. There is only one explanation for what Angie has experienced: Jesus has completely healed her stomach.

God is real. Questions might remain, but one thing is certain: we live in a supernatural world.

As Ephesians 6:12 says, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

Though this is true, we have a greater promise from Jesus himself: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Angie and my adventures are continuing in 2020. If you’d like to stay updated every once in a while by email newsletter, let me know here.

Miracle Stories From The Australian Bushfires

The fires that have torn through the Australian landscape in recent weeks are without doubt the most widespread natural disaster in our nation’s living memory. Fellow Australians are hurting as they grieve the loss of properties, livelihoods and loved ones.

Yet in the flames and through the smoke, there is hope, and evidence of God at work. The generosity of friends and strangers, the Australian spirit of mateship, and the reminder of what’s truly precious in life all speak to the presence of God in the midst of tragedy.

Most profound of all, perhaps, are the mysterious stories that are coming in from all across the country. The Mallacoota miracle, for example, went viral when the BBC broadcast a local’s riveting account of it around the globe.

“There has been an unusual outbreak of supernatural activity right here in Australia.”

You can read about this miracle below, along with other stories of supernatural survival that have taken place across Australia since the fires began. As Aussies, we can be reluctant to talk about faith. But when miracles happen—especially in the midst of tragedy—we can’t help but sit up and pay attention.

One disclaimer before you read on: there is no hidden message of either judgment or favouritism in these stories. The Good Book tells us to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. We may never know why some people lost it all and others were protected. But we know that those who have suffered need our care and support.

With that being said, at the dawn of this new decade, there has been an unusual outbreak of supernatural activity right here in Australia. We are a nation in need of good news. So be encouraged by these great news stories.


A stranger saves a family from a firestorm

Andrew, Lake Conjola NSW

Not all angels have wings. This first story was shared on Hope 103.2, a radio station based out of Western Sydney. Andrew, a father of four, explains that he and his sister’s families—eleven people in all—were rescued by boat at the last minute by a complete stranger.

Camping on the banks of Lake Conjola on New Year’s Eve, they had been told of approaching fires up to 100 kilometres away. They had reassured themselves that the winds would change long before the fires were anywhere near them.

“The timing for this rescue couldn’t have been better orchestrated.”

At 11.59am, they were shocked to see the glow of flames on the hilltops nearby. In less than ten minutes, the group was surrounded by fire on all sides.

At that moment, Andrew explains that “a boat pulled up in front of us… [a man] was just yelling to us, ‘run to the jetty, run to the jetty’, and so we ran to the jetty and jumped in his boat and he took off.”

Escaping across the lake with just the clothes on their backs, they turned around at 12.09pm to see their cars and caravan burst into flames. Brett, the man who rescued them, had fled by boat with his dad, having just watched his own house burn down minutes earlier.

The timing for this rescue couldn’t have been better orchestrated. Read more about Andrew’s story here.


Half-finished house spared in “unexplained protected zone”

Hazel, Kangaroo Valley NSW

I just got off the phone to Hazel. Hazel’s daughter owns property on a knoll amongst the scrub, near Kangaroo Valley in NSW’s Shoalhaven region. Her daughter had been building a new home, but the project had stalled earlier in the summer due to the threat of fires.

When that threat turned to red-hot reality on January 4, Hazel’s daughter along with her young family fled to save their lives, leaving everything to the mercy of the flames. Unable to set even a sprinkler going for protection, they expected to return to an ash heap.

“The RFS were unable to defend the property.”

At the same time as this, Hazel explains, a local church had gathered to pray for everyone in the region. A friend of Hazel’s daughter received a vision of angels dressed as fire-fighters, spraying water in the shape of a large dome to protect her half-finished house.

Because of its remote location, the RFS were unable to defend the property from the ground or the air.

Days later, when firefighters were able to access the house in the wake of the blaze, it took them ten hours to hack through fallen trees. What they discovered was ash-covered soil still too hot to stand on, “like being on the rim of a volcano”, and burnt-out trees all around—some still glowing white.

But the house with its timber-framed roof was not even singed, and the plastic tank was still fully intact. A local who helped the fireys at the property described an “unexplained protected zone” all around the house.

There doesn’t seem to be a natural explanation for these events, but Hazel and her daughter don’t hesitate in giving God the credit.


Prayer shifts the winds in Mallacoota

David, Mallacoota VIC

David became the face of Australia for a few hours when the BBC, ABC and SkyNews shared his self-filmed account of a miracle all around the world.

The events took place on New Year’s Eve, in the small coastal hamlet of Mallacoota in Victoria’s East Gippsland. As the firewall drew close, four thousand holiday makers, along with many locals, were forced to flee to the town’s wharf near the beach.

“It went black as black.”

David describes the moment when they all found themselves trapped on the shore: “We could hear the roar. It was like a monster bearing down on us… It went black as black. The smoke was so thick it was hard to breathe.” Some were even getting ready to jump in the water to escape the flames.

Knowing that the only hope of survival would be a strong east wind to push back against the approaching fire, David gathered with two other “prayer warriors” to ask God for a miracle.

As soon as they began praying, he says, the wind “started blowing from the east a little bit… I felt it change. I noticed that the bolder I got, the stronger [the wind got]. I was yelling, ‘In Jesus’ name, thank you Lord for rescuing these souls. Push it back Lord, rescue us!’”

For five minutes the easterly blew, breaking the fire-front enough to stop it from reaching the throngs of people at the foreshore. “God saved us” is how David’s neighbours—who are not Christians—described the event.

“As soon as they began praying, the wind started blowing from the east.”

Despite hot embers flying into dry grass in his neighbourhood, the entire street that David lives on was spared. “There were no burn marks. There is honestly not a blade of grass singed,” he says.

David Jeffery reflects on the event now in the hope that it will help people “realise that there is a God and he does love them,” and that “it’s time for people to rise up and pray… [and] get serious about God and get back into reading his word.”

Read more of David’s account here.


The fire stopped at the foot of a large cross

Lorelle, Cobargo NSW

Soon after fires ripped through Cobargo on the NSW South Coast, Vision Radio received a call from Lorelle. She gave an eye-opening description of what happened to a couple—good friends of hers—who survived the inferno in this small rural village.

Like many brave Aussies, the couple decided to stay and defend their home. But then in the middle of the night, the noise of the approaching fires grew so terrifying that they were forced to flee.

Two days later, they returned home in grief, expecting to find everything gone. To their surprise, the fire had stopped at the foot of a wooden cross, leaning up against the shed. It’s a cross that they carry down the main street of Cobargo on Good Friday to commemorate the death of Jesus.

On reaching the cross, the fire had evidently burnt around the shed and right up to the edge of the house, singing only a bit of grass and garden. When they fled, the couple had left the sprinklers going on the house but provided no protection for the shed.

They can’t explain why the fires didn’t consume the timber shed, or indeed everything on their property. Listen to Lorelle’s call here.


It was like he had a dome over his house

Michael, Wingello NSW

Michael is a volunteer firefighter from the little town of Wingello, located at the halfway point between Sydney and Canberra in the NSW Southern Highlands.

Coincidentally, the name Wingello comes from a local Indigenous word which means ‘to burn’. Wingello is no stranger to fire, having survived an inferno in the 60s that claimed three lives and dozens of homes.

“An enormous pyrocumulus cloud began raining fire on nearby scrub.”

Michael explains that a fire had been burning for weeks in adjacent national parks. “It was like a sleeping giant,” he says. But the giant awoke on January 4 when an enormous pyrocumulus cloud, caused by the park blazes, began raining fire on nearby scrub.

Michael was posted with a crew protecting the local fire station, while his wife Helen and other family fled their property. After a long and anxious wait, fellow firefighters who had been out protecting properties returned to the station at 1am with harrowing news for Michael. “We’re so sorry. We tried to save your house but it’s gone.”

The next morning another patrol passed Michael’s property and were “gobsmacked” to find his house in fact still standing. As Michael and Helen arrived back at their home, a battle-hardened firey remarked, “You guys must have some Jesus juice. I need some of that.” 

“We are people of faith,” Michael explained to me over the phone. “We’ve had our house blessed, and we’ve always tried to live a good prayer life. We really believe we’ve been spared. We credit our Lord for this miracle.”

“I pulled my blokes out, it was an overrun, but it was like he had a dome over his house.”

Michael’s front garden and workshop were burnt to a crisp. But he is relieved to describe his house in different terms. “The fire raced towards the front of our house but miraculously burnt around it… there are burn lines right up to the front door and even to the back door.”

The Sydney Morning Herald recorded the words of the local RFS captain who said of Michael and Helen’s home, “There’s a miracle one… I pulled my blokes out, it was an overrun, but it was like he had a dome over his house.”

Check out Wingello Village Store’s account of the miracle here.


My neighbour arrived just in time to save my house

Ainsley, Cudlee Creek SA

Cudlee Creek is ten minutes from where I grew up, in a steep and gully-carved nook of the Adelaide Hills. I heard of Ainsley’s story through her fiancé, who I personally know.

Ainsley explains that her next door neighbour Eric was in Melbourne for short-term work. He finished his last job and, exhausted, couldn’t bring himself to drive the eight hours back home as he’d originally planned.

“His mode of transport happened to be a water truck.”

But for some unexplained reason, Eric felt he should set his alarm for 4am the next morning to drive home. So there he was, in the dead of night, embarking on the long journey back, not quite knowing why.

He arrived home in Cudlee Creek just after the fires had broken out on the afternoon of December 20. His mode of transport happened to be a water truck with a full 6000 litre tank and a power hose!

He arrived at Ainsley’s property the moment it had caught on fire. He fought the blaze and managed to save Ainsley’s house along with another neighbour’s property, all the while protecting his own home, wife and four kids.

Eric is unquestionably one of Australia’s many great heroes of these last months. But he’ll be the first to admit he had divine help.


Fires burnt right up to our fence lines

Donna, Mount Torrens SA

Just down the road from Cudlee Creek, good friends of mine own a small hobby farm at Mount Torrens, also in the Adelaide Hills. I arrived home from the USA just days after the Cudlee Creek fire tore through, and Donna’s was the first miracle story I heard—the first of many that motivated me to reach out around Australia for more.

Donna and her husband and daughter fled their property soon after seeing smoke billowing on the horizon. They were forced to leave behind pets and livestock. Donna recounts, “As we drove out of our driveway on the day of the fire we prayed for angels to protect the borders.”

“Donna’s was the first miracle story I heard.”

She continues. “We stayed away in the city til the next day and as I woke the next morning, the very first thought I had in that sleepy place of not quite even knowing where you are, was this: ‘The Angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and He delivers them’.” Donna knew this was a verse from the Bible but had to look it up to discover where it was from—Psalm 34:7.

When they returned early the next afternoon, they were surprised to find that fires had burnt right up to their fence lines on multiple sides of the property. There were small exceptions to this, such as a charred watering trough, a burnt top paddock, and some melted plastic roof sheeting. But all of the animals survived. And the neatness of the burn lines is what make’s Donna’s story so impressive.

In an effort to track down similar stories, I posted Donna’s photo to my timeline. It was met with many incredulous comments from strangers, such as this one: “A fire doesn’t advance perfectly straight like that, the pine posts normally go up like roman-candles. The fence wires are still new and spotless with no smoke damage. Something has intervened…”

The paddocks in question are very hard to access, Donna explains. They would be a highly unusual and near-impossible site for a CFS back-burn operation, especially in a fire driven by such high winds. Something—or someone—clearly did intervene.


Afterword

As I compiled these stories, so many more miracles were told to me that space won’t permit. Even online you can find out about the miraculous wind change at Taree; the Moruya man who found his house still standing; and even an apparent devil face that appeared in a wall of flames.

I heard from strangers of fire stopping at a gate that had a Scripture written on it; of dozens of houses surviving amidst a sea of ash; and even of an elderly woman who lost everything, whose grandson was walking down the main street of that fire-scorched town when the wind blew a sheet of paper into his leg. It was a charred page from a Bible—Isaiah 64:11-12—and it read:

“Our holy and glorious temple, where our ancestors praised you, has been burned with fire, and all that we treasured lies in ruins. After all this, Lord, will you hold yourself back? Will you keep silent and punish us beyond measure?”

I don’t dare make judgments on behalf of God in the midst of such tragedy. There is so much still unexplained, when some lost everything, and others were miraculously spared.

But through the smoke, God is trying to get our attention. “For God so loved the world.” It’s a verse we all know. God loves Australia, this “Great Southland of the Holy Spirit”. And he is calling our nation back to himself, waiting for us to respond.

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

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

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

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

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

“Socialism is now wildly popular in the mainstream.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Socialism is seductive.”

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

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

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

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

1. Socialism strokes our ego

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Socialism asks little and promises much

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

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

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

“Socialism is the politics of envy.”

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

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

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

3. Socialism spreads when history is forgotten

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until then, socialism will retain its seductive allure.

4. Socialism appeals to the soft-hearted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Socialism is a pale substitute for compassion.”

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

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

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

5. Socialism is seen as above critique

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Socialism provides meaning in a post-Christian world

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

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

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

“We all need something to live for.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pornography is a Public Health Crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Porn makes people miserable

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

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

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

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

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

2. Porn is effectively a drug

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

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

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

3. Porn turns people into terrible lovers

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Porn destroys marriage

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

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

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

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

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

5. Porn harms children

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

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

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

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

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

6. Porn drives violence against women

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Porn makes people more deviant

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

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

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

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

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

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

8. Porn fuels sex trafficking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9. Porn decays society

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

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

“Our culture is facing an existential crisis.”

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

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

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

10. Porn offends God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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The Battle is Not Yours But God’s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Own Your Problem | v1-4

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Lean Into God | v5-12

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

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

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

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

3. Trust His Promises | v13-17

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Choose To Worship | v18-21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Wait for Victory | v22-30

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

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

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

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

And the story ends with these words:

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

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

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

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

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

Israel Folau and the Crush of Corporate Activism

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

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

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

“Corporate activism is a growing phenomenon.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Do You Really Believe?

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Can You Still Love?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Will You Speak Out?

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

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

“Political silence is tough to shake.”

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

Now is the opportune time for Christians to speak out.

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

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

So will you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Foolish Message | v18-25

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

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

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

“The gospel is a foolish message.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Foolish Messengers | v26-31

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

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

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

“Paul is essentially calling us morons.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“God is with the underdog.”

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

A foolish message. Foolish messengers.

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

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

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

Israel Folau and the Fight for Underdog Status

Over two months have passed since Israel Folau found himself in the media spotlight, and buckets of ink are still being spilt as his story develops.

In recent days, the focus has shifted to Izzy’s GoFundMe campaign. He’s hoping to raise $3.0M for his legal showdown with Rugby Australia.

In this and every other stage of the Folau saga, there is a hearts-and-minds battle taking place. It’s one you may not have noticed, but it’s the fight for underdog status.

“Since May, Rugby Australia have been on the nose.”

The code itself has waged war on one of its own. Rugby Australia have bullied Izzy and rendered him, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the underdog. And this is a problem for them given that Aussies love underdogs.

From the beginning, public support for Folau has been huge. Quiet Australians have already donated $600,000 to his campaign. Some were even persuaded to make their election vote a vote for him and for religious freedom.

Rugby Australia can’t afford a public outcry in Folau’s favour. They could go bankrupt if their crusade against him fails. At the very least, their esteem among ordinary Australians is at stake.

“The code itself has waged war on one of its own.”

And since May, Rugby Australia have been on the nose. They realise that if they want to save their own reputation, they have no choice but to destroy Folau’s.

Here’s the rub. There’s no way they can paint themselves as the underdog, given their imposing role as his employer and their impressive corporate alliances.

But they can paint Israel Folau as a bully and a bad guy, if they can just find a victim. And that’s exactly what they’ve been doing, with tireless support since May from most of the mainstream media.

“There is a hearts-and-minds battle taking place.”

When Izzy made that now infamous Instagram post, they hauled him before a tribunal and had him interrogated like he’d actually bullied someone, like someone else was the underdog.

In reality, he’d posted a Bible verse. It was directed at no particular individual, and it simply stated what Christians have always believed about sin and salvation.

When Israel expressed concern in a sermon last week about the transgender agenda in schools, almost every major news outlet smeared him immediately, carrying identical misinformed stories. They said he was on the attack again—this time against transgender youth. Again, as though someone else was the underdog.

“Rugby Australia have bullied Izzy and rendered him the underdog.”

In reality, Folau never targeted any transgender youth. His concern was with radical government policies, a concern that many quiet Australians share.

When Izzy took to GoFundMe for support in his legal battle this week, the media swooped again, suggesting this was a “brazen money grab”. They accused him of diverting funds away from sick and dying children on the crowdfunding site. They argued that someone else was the underdog.

In reality, it’s Israel Folau who is the underdog. He has been from the beginning.

“Aussies love underdogs.”

He’s lost his career and his only source of income. He’s been banned from both codes of the sport he loves, despite his spotless moral character. He’s faced a relentless and coordinated public smear campaign.

On top of all this, he’s facing millions of dollars in legal fees. The stand he’s taking isn’t merely for his career. He seeks to set an important legal precedent for religious freedom in Australia at a time when this freedom is worryingly unprotected.

“As Australians we’re born with the right of freedom of religion, and the right to freedom of expression,” says Folau. “The Christian faith has always been a part of my life, and I believe as a Christian it is my duty to share God’s word.

“In reality, it’s Israel Folau who is the underdog.”

“Rugby Australia tore up my employment contract for doing just that—that’s wrong. Every Australian should be able to practice their religion without fear of discrimination in the workplace.”

As the saga continues to unfold, some think they’re taking the moral high ground by opposing Folau. Even Christians are swallowing the spin that Israel Folau is the bully, and someone else—anyone else—is the underdog.

His haters say he should sell one of his properties to fund his legal fees. I wonder if they’d be happy to do the same if they’d already had their career and reputation stripped from them?

“He’s been banned from both codes of the sport he loves.”

Let common sense prevail. Let the quiet Australians decide who the underdog really is.

Going by the growing success of Izzy’s GoFundMe campaign, I think we have might have our answer.