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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Foolish Message | v18-25

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

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

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

“The gospel is a foolish message.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Foolish Messengers | v26-31

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

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

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

“Paul is essentially calling us morons.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“God is with the underdog.”

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

A foolish message. Foolish messengers.

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

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

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

Fired For Their Faith: The Crusade Against Christians in Medicine

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Followers of Jesus invented the public hospital.”

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

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

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

Dr. David Drew, UK, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Richard Scott, UK, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Mark Hobart, Australia, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

Victoria Wasteney, UK, 2014

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

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

“Victoria appealed the decision in court and lost.”

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

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

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

Dr. Kenneth Zucker, Canada, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sandra Rojas, USA, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Eric Walsh, USA, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Katarzyna Jachimowicz, Norway, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. David Mackereth, UK, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. David van Gend, Australia, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where To From Here?

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

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

“Cultural and political sands have shifted.”

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

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

Originally published at the Daily Declaration.

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 Islam Points to Jesus

For some in the West, Islam is a synonym for terrorism and oppression. Others seem to believe that Muslims deserve a free pass, and special immunity from criticism.

I’ll admit upfront that I’m biased too. I love my Muslim friends, and I have a deeper interest in Islam than any other world faith outside my own. For me, Islam is an acronym for I Sincerely Love All Muslims.

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

Origins and Influence

It all began with Muhammad ibn Abdullah, born in Mecca in 570AD, five centuries after Jesus. Arabia was dry, hot, and full of warring tribes. Jews and Christian cults were scattered around, but most people were polytheists, and once a year they’d flood to Mecca to worship their gods.

As a travelling merchant, Muhammad sat around campfires at night hearing many religious ideas, and the idolatry troubled him. He would often retreat to a cave near Mecca for spiritual insight. One day there, a supernatural being appeared and spoke to him. He was so alarmed that he ran home to his wife, convinced he was demonised or insane.

“Muhammad sat around campfires at night hearing many religious ideas.”

But with the help of a scholar, Muhammad concluded that he’d met the angel Gabriel, and that he was called to be a prophet. For the next two decades until his death, he received 114 messages—today making up the chapters of the Qur’an.

His theme was this: only one of Mecca’s hundreds of gods was the true God, and all the others were false idols. That didn’t go down too well—so fleeing persecution, Muhammad moved to the city of Medina.

Here the people liked him and his message about the oneness of God. They embraced him as their prophet and political ruler. It was 622AD; Islam was born.

“Muhammad would often retreat to a cave for spiritual insight.”

The people of Mecca kept troubling Muhammad until eventually, with an army of 10,000, he marched on the city. The powerless Meccans were quick to convert to Islam.

Throughout his life, Muhammad lead 66 battles, married 11 times, and was heralded as a great military leader and God’s final and greatest prophet.

Within a hundred years of his death, Islam spread as far as Turkey, France and India. Fourteen centuries later there are 50 Muslim-majority nations, and Islam is the world’s second biggest religion with 1.8 billion followers.

The Heart of Islam

Islam is built on a single idea: submission to Allah—this is what the word Islam means. Muslims practice the Five Pillars of Islam in the hope that Allah will accept them into paradise:

1. Creed. There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet. If you recite this in the presence of another Muslim and believe it, you become a Muslim.

2. Prayers. At five set times a day, faithful Muslims pray facing the city of Mecca. This involves a ritual washing, set postures and recited prayers. The Friday noon prayer is held in local mosques where a sermon is preached.

3. Fasting. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims aren’t allowed to eat or drink while the sun is up. Night time is for feasting; and celebrations are especially big at the end of this month—a time when Allah is more likely to hear and answer prayers.

4. Alms. This religious tax of up to 5% helps feed the poor, support war efforts, and spread the message of Islam around the world.

5. Pilgrimage. Every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it must visit the city of Mecca once in their life. Here, pilgrims take part in many rituals: they wear special garments, circle a shrine called the Kaaba, and spend an evening on a hill outside the city where they hope their sins will be washed away.

Jihad is sometimes considered a sixth pillar. Jihad means struggle, and while some point to the days of Muhammad and think of this in military terms, most Muslims today consider jihad an internal struggle against sin.

Along with these practices there are Five Pillars of Faith which every Muslim must embrace:

1. God. Allah has 99 beautiful names. (His hundredth name is unknown). Allah is unique, and it’s blasphemy to equate any person with him; certainly, he is too lofty and majestic to have a son. Allah is our master, and we are his servants. He knows us, but we can’t know him.

2. Angels. These include jinn or genies, but most important are the two angels that sit on every person’s right and left shoulder, recording our good and bad deeds for a final day of reckoning.

3. Prophets. Moses, Abraham, David and many other Bible characters are prophets in Islam—Jesus is especially honoured as a prophet. But Islam’s final and greatest prophet is Muhammad. He’s the model for all Muslims to imitate.

4. Books. The Torah, Psalms and Gospels are holy books in Islam. In fact, Jews and Christians are considered people of the book. But the most holy book is the Qur’an. Muslims believe it was given because the other books were corrupted.

5. Judgment Day. Like Muhammad, Allah is a good businessman. On judgment day, he will weigh our good and bad deeds on a scale to see whether we deserve hell or paradise. But even then Allah is still sovereign, and his mercy is what will determine our destiny.

Muhammad and Jesus

Christians have much to learn from Islam. In a world of apathy, Muhammad led with uncompromising conviction, and he had a reverence for God that the western church desperately needs to recapture. And the cultures Muhammad has shaped are among the most respectful and hospitable on the planet.

What about Muhammad’s claims? Private visions are difficult to verify—but the Qur’an does help us build bridges with Muslims since it speaks so often of ‘Isa al-Masih or Jesus the Messiah. In fact Jesus is referred to 93 times in the Qur’an—four times more often than Muhammad himself!

“Christians have much to learn from Islam.”

The Qur’an says that Jesus was born of a virgin; that he was a healer and miracle worker who raised the dead; and that he will intercede for us on judgment day. These things are not said of Muhammad. In fact, while the Qur’an mentions Muhammad’s sins, it calls Jesus sinless—and even gives him titles like Spirit and Word of God.

Actually, this is what the Bible taught all along. There’s no theological reason for Muslims to believe the Bible has been corrupted: God can protect his books. And there’s no historical reason either: 25,000 manuscripts spanning from the second century AD are almost identical to today’s Bibles. How could forgers have edited so many documents—and no modern scholar notice?

“God can protect his books.”

The Word of God didn’t come to Jesus in a private vision. Jesus is the Word of God. His life was the message, and it was lived out in public where it could be tested by history.

Like Muhammad, Jesus called people to turn from their idols and follow the true God. The people of Jerusalem persecuted him for this. But unlike Muhammad, Jesus didn’t flee. He willingly submitted to the plan of God. That evening he was crucified on a hill outside the city—where he washed our sins away.

Because of this, our destiny no longer hangs in the balance between the good and bad deeds that we do. God has shown us mercy once for all in Jesus. The resurrection of Jesus is God’s guarantee that we’ll also be raised up to paradise.

“Jesus is the Word of God. His life was the message.”

Because of Jesus, God hears our prayers any time of the year. Because of him, we can win our internal struggle against sin. Most of all, because of Jesus, we can know God and the great love he has for us.

It is wrong for any human to equate themselves with God. But what if God equated himself with us? What if the greatest act of God’s majesty was to become one of us, and make himself personally known? What if God’s hundredth name is ‘Isa al-Masih?

“Because of Jesus, we can know God and the great love he has for us.”

Today there’s a wind in the house of Islam. In countries still shut to the gospel, Jesus is appearing to thousands of Muslims in dreams and supernatural visions. And many more are coming to faith in open nations through the love of Christian friends.

Muslims around the world today are discovering that Jesus is more than a prophet—and that following him is the true path of submission to God.

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

Check out the rest of this series:

Buddhism  |  Islam  |  Hinduism  |  Atheism  |  Judaism  |  Pluralism

Sources

Dickson, John. A Spectator’s Guide to World Religions: An Introduction to the Big Five. Sydney: Blue Bottle Books, 2004, 177-217.

Masri, Fouad. Bridges: Connecting Christians With Muslims (DVD). Indianapolis, IN: Crescent Project, 2008.

I’ve Been To Twelve Schoolies and It Gets Better Every Year

The sky was cold and dark in Victor Harbor. Music thumped in the background. Conversations were happening all around me. I looked through the crowd and saw a Year 12 student with a couple of police officers.

She was a little wobbly on her feet and she was wearing her tattered school dress as a costume. With a friendly word, she handed them hot donuts, and they were on their way. The whole scene made me smile.

“Every year I’m on Green Team, I learn something new.”

I’ll let the media write about drunken fights and screaming sirens—and sure, there was some of that too. But I’ve got a different story to tell.

I’m on the Green Team, a group of 500 volunteers from Adelaide’s churches, rallied by Encounter Youth to host one of the safest schoolies events in Australia. (Of the 10,000 school leavers that descended on the south coast this weekend, only one was arrested).

This is the twelfth year I’ve been a Green Teamer. Every year I come home glowing and grateful that God would use me to help bring the light of Jesus into a dark corner of our culture. And every year I learn something new. Here’s what stood out to me in 2017.

Where Green Team is, trouble isn’t

Green Team is by no means the only reason SA’s schoolies is safe. Police, paramedics, the local council and many others do an outstanding job, providing all sorts of services we’re not qualified for. Our role is far more modest—we provide banter, free food, directions, dance moves, and a phone call for help if it’s needed. It’s small, but it makes all the difference.

By the first night of the festival, Green Team has already become an army of trusted allies to the Year 12s. Remove us from a queue, a caravan park or a dark street corner and trouble brews quickly. But when we’re there, even our presence diffuses most problems before they escalate.

A culture of care spreads like wildfire

Mix drugs, alcohol, all-nighters, and inter-school rivalries, and you quickly create a culture of darkness. I’ve just described schoolies in Victor twenty years ago before things changed.

Instead, this year I saw a girl handing donuts to police officers—a scene that captured the spirit of the weekend. It’s hard to imagine unless you’ve seen it, but Green Team sets a culture of care that spreads.

“Green Team is an army of trusted allies to the Year 12s.”

This year a third of our church’s team was brand new. It didn’t matter if they were young or introverted or wide-eyed at the drunken antics. Within an hour, they got it—and they were Green Teaming like veterans. When light shines, it spreads and refracts far beyond its source, and darkness can’t overcome it.

Young people are desperate for trusted adults

I’m going to miss the class of 2017. Many were just a face in the passing crowd, but I won’t forget those I spoke with who came back the next night looking for me, or for someone else on our team who’d showed them love and remembered their name.

“I’m going to miss the class of 2017.”

Young people are crying out for trusted adults. I count it a privilege to be one of those every year, even if it’s just for the weekend. At such a fulcrum moment in their lives with the whole world at their feet, words of affirmation and challenge have a powerfully shaping effect on a teenager’s life.

Australian youth aren’t post-Christian, they’re pre-Christian

Last year’s census told us that Christianity still scraped through as Australia’s majority religion at 52%. That might be true, but the percentage is far smaller among the nation’s young people.

I spoke with one girl from a respected public school who said her whole class experiments with hard drugs. Countless schoolies, as always, asked why we volunteer—and when we mentioned Jesus in our answer, occasionally we had to explain what that word meant.

“One girl from a respected public school said her whole class experiments with hard drugs.”

For decades we’ve been talking about a post-Christian culture in Australia—and that’s still relevant for most generations. But Gen Z has arrived, and many of them are mind-blown and enthralled to hear about a God who created them and loved them so much that he suffered in their place. It’s a refreshing change from rolled eyes.

Community-on-mission is the church’s calling

I think we the church sometimes believe that the end game of following Jesus—the way to graduate as a mature Christian—is to get a career, marry, have kids, and buy a house. Those are all great things, but as Scot McKnight says, the mark of a follower of Jesus isn’t any of that—it’s following Jesus.

“How can we create more opportunities like Green Team to mobilise Christians?”

We’re all on mission as individuals. But what I love about Green Team, and what makes it incredibly unique, is that it’s community-on-mission. It’s groups of believers praying for each other as the day begins, sharing stories of breakthrough on the streets, facing fears and inadequacies together, and getting up to try it all again the next day.

This is how Jesus trained his disciples—remember the 72? This doesn’t happen much in church life anymore. But it should, because it works, and it turns believers into disciples. I don’t have an answer to this question, but you might: how can we create more opportunities like Green Team to mobilise Christians?

Past volunteers forget what they’re missing

Every year, there’s a 40% turnover of volunteers. I’m not surprised that 200 new people want to join the cause every year. But I am surprised that 200 past volunteers don’t want to continue.

Schoolies isn’t for everyone, and it’s not for every life stage (though I am impressed how Green Teamers with kids still manage to get out every year). Even still, a turnover of 200 is far too many.

“Remember the difference you made in so many lives.”

If you’re a past volunteer, can I ask you to consider rejoining the movement? This year, one of our teams was made up of 25 volunteers serving 1700 campers. We need you.

I know it costs sleep and a day or two of annual leave. But remember the difference you made in so many lives. And remember when you thought to yourself that the cost was worth it—because I know you did!

If revival comes, it will be through movements like this

God worked miracles again this year, and a bunch of the schoolies we met were supernaturally healed from sprains and other injuries. Many asked about our church and now plan to come visit.

It’s been said that the closest Australia ever came to revival was when Billy Graham visited in 1959 and many gave their lives to Christ at his crusades. But let’s face the facts: the time is gone when everyday Aussies will fill stadiums to hear an evangelist preach. Now we need to go to them.

“It’s time for us to rewrite the story of the church in this country.”

I don’t know if revival is coming to Australia, but if it is, I know that it will be through movements like Green Team.

It’s time for us to rewrite the story of the church in this country, put God’s mission ahead of our comforts, and step out with prayer and boldness so that His dream will come to pass and Australia might truly become the great southland of the Holy Spirit.

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Read about my schoolies adventures in 2016.

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

I Ate No Food for a Week: Here’s What I Learnt

The irony isn’t lost on me: Jesus said if we draw attention to ourselves when we fast, the attention we get will be our only reward.

But I’m convinced that as 21st century believers, Jesus’ principle of discreetness in Matthew 6 is almost all we think about when we think about fasting. That means almost no one talks about fasting, which means almost no one practices it anymore.

So maybe I’ve just lost my reward. But it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make if I can stir some thoughts about the forgotten discipline of fasting, and help restore it to a place of normality in the Christian life.

Here are three really valuable lessons I learnt from my week of fasting.

1. Food competes with God for my affections

Food is a really good gift from God. But even good gifts from God can compete with him for our affections.

Over and over again this week I found myself thinking instinctively of food as the place to find comfort when my day had been hard or I’d faced a challenge. Apparently this is how I regularly think—but it took a week without food for me to notice.

“Even good gifts from God can compete with him for our affections.”

I experienced very few hunger pains and almost no drop in energy throughout the week.* The confronting conclusion this lead me to is that I don’t actually need food anywhere near as much as I think I do. Mostly, I just like it, and the comfort it brings.

And there’s nothing wrong with that—except when food is my first place of refuge. That’s a title that Jesus is jealous for. He wants to be the all-satisfying one for me.

Psalm 84:2 says, “My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.” The constant companionship of an empty stomach taught me this truth like no amount of prayer, reading or meditation ever could.

*Being a working week, I chose to still drink some tea, coffee, juice and broth—so it was either this or an intervention from God that sustained me.

2. The spirit thrives when the flesh is subdued

By day three or four I had a clarity of mind that I’ve rarely experienced. The best way I can describe it is that my flesh began to diminish, giving way for my spirit to be more in control.

“Fasting is an undiscovered shortcut in learning how to walk by the Spirit.”

In certain conversations, I found myself with words of wisdom and insight that surprised me. When I prayed with others, my mind was sharp and my requests felt more impassioned than normal.

The single greatest takeaway of the week was how the self-control I was practicing with food transferred directly to other areas of my life. Temptations I normally struggle with were noticeably weakened. I told my hunger to bow to Jesus, and it turned out that other desires bowed too.

Our culture believes the myth that indulging every appetite—whether for entertainment or sex or food—is the way to true freedom and happiness. In reality, that path leads to slavery and addiction.

“I told my hunger to bow to Jesus, and it turned out that other desires bowed too.”

The self-control I discovered in fasting felt like the very opposite. I wasn’t playing slave to my desires. After all, true freedom is the ability to say no, not just yes.

I’ve come to believe that fasting is an undiscovered shortcut in learning how to walk by the Spirit so that we don’t gratify the desires of the flesh (Gal. 5:16).

3. Fasting is a means, not an end

Given that I haven’t done it much before, this week I found myself becoming preoccupied with the physical aspects of fasting. In fact, towards the end of the week, I almost lost sight of why I began. If it has no greater purpose, not eating is a strange thing to do and has little value.

“Fasting isn’t an end in itself: it’s a means to seek the presence of God.”

I had to remind myself that biblical fasting isn’t a detox program, and it’s not some form of self-suffering or hunger strike. For all the purposes it has in Scripture—discipline, insight, answered prayer, spiritual breakthrough—its primary purpose is actually to draw near to God.

In a busy week, I found some time to do that. But next time I fast, I’ll be looking to leverage more value out of my fast: more time to be alone with God, to meet and pray with others, to read, and listen to teaching, and ponder. The reason I will is because fasting isn’t an end in itself: it’s a means to seek the presence of God.

The lessons I learnt this week have been invaluable, and I hope they’ve stirred something in you. If they have that’s good, because Jesus didn’t begin his teaching on fasting with the words, “If you fast…” but rather, “When you fast…”

He’s assuming we’ll be doing it again.

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Secrets of the Spice Islands

pirate-ship-wallpaper-high-definition

Part 1: Cloves

One small island fascinates me more than any other. This volcano rises like a perfect cone from the emerald sea. Nestled on its eastern shores is a busy township, ever watchful of the belching sulphurous cloud above.

Even before I step off the boat, a sweet, pungent aroma fills my nostrils, carried on the tropical air. It is the smell of cloves drying in the midday sun—green flower buds blushing three days to a deep crimson-brown.

Welcome to Ternate. Before the dawn of modernity, when ships carried giddy explorers to every corner of the globe, this secret paradise and its four near neighbours boasted the world’s only clove forests.

“In Europe, cloves were said to be worth their weight in gold.”

That fact would be a footnote on the pages of history—except that medieval Europe’s hunger for spice was insatiable. To the rich, cloves were the ultimate symbol of affluence.

For three thousand years, this tiny wooden nail had been shipped across the world to flavour foods, preserve meats, numb pain, and infuse perfume. If that weren’t enough, clove was rumoured as a choice aphrodisiac. And more lately, as a cure to Black Death—the bubonic plague that had decimated the continent.

Venice was Europe’s spice gateway, and as a result, the canals of this seaport city dripped with wealth. And merchants all the way from here to Arabia, India and the far-flung Orient held two of the world’s most jealously-guarded secrets.

maluku

The first was the spices’ mysterious origin, believed by many to be the lost Garden of Eden somewhere across the seas. The second was the dizzying profits being made along the spice trail.

Truth really is stranger than fiction: between their source in Asia and the markets of Europe, cloves underwent a one thousand percent markup. In cities like London and Paris, this spice was said to be worth its weight in gold.

“The spices’ mysterious origin was believed to be the lost Garden of Eden.”

These were times of swashbuckling adventures, of pirates, and a yearning for exotic lands. But no kingdom sailed the unmapped world for sport. It was only as Europeans closed in on the spice trade secrets—namely, that wealth unimagined was theirs if they could bypass middle-men and trade directly with Asia—that the Age of Discovery was born.

Portugal had bravely ventured round Africa’s southern cape, and the spices of Asia lay before them. Not to be outdone, Spain surprised the world and sailed west, searching for a quicker route to the Spiceries.

clove

Along the way, they happened upon a continent unexpected, which we now know as America. But this was not the prize. South round the Americas they went, pushing boldly into the uncharted Pacific.

Finally their worm-eaten ships laid anchor at Ternate. These adventurers had done it—they’d sailed to the far side of the world. Cordially welcomed, they traded their gold and textiles for more cloves than they’d ever dreamed of. Then evading the Portuguese through Asia, they limped back home.

“They had just completed the greatest voyage in naval history.”

Three years had passed. When the journey began, their ships numbered five and their crew 237. Alas, scurvy, dysentery and perilous storms had reduced them to 18 haggard sailors on a single carrack. But they had just completed the greatest voyage in naval history, having circumnavigated planet Earth.

More importantly, they’d tapped into the world’s most lucrative market at its source. The single haul of cloves and other spices brought home by the crew would pay for the venture and all its losses several times over.

circumnavigation

This was only the beginning. For the next two hundred years, wars would be fought, empires would rise and fall, and the most unbelievable real estate deal in history would be made—all in a bid for monopoly of the spice trade.

Today a bottle of cloves is sold for just three dollars on a supermarket shelf, yet this spine-tingling tale of the Spice Islands remains one of the greatest stories never told. Now that you’ve heard it, permit me to leave a few thoughts with you.

“Empires would rise and fall, all in a bid for monopoly of the spice trade.”

These bold explorers sacrificed life and limb, braving deadly seas and enemies unknown, all for dried bark, seeds and buds. What about you? As you toil from dawn til dusk each day, what’s the prize you’re seeking? Like these sailors, is it a treasure here on earth, vulnerable to rust, moths and thieves—or will it last eternally?

ternate

Jesus warned that we could gain the whole world and yet forfeit our souls—and that the only way to avoid this greatest of errors was to surrender our lives for his sake. Is this message as forgotten for you as the history of the Spice Islands, or does it ring with warm familiarity?

O, that we would seek God’s kingdom and righteousness with the passion that monarchs and men had for spice.

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Read Part 2 of 2 | Secrets of the Spice Islands: Nutmeg.

How Jesus Shaped the West: Heroism

Mosaic of Alexander the Great

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

What changed us?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading about How Jesus Shaped Education.

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

 

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

Last Year I Was Unmarried—Now I’m Single

fairylightstrees

When my older sister happily married at 21, I was going to be just as happy and just as married by the time I was 21. So I thought.

This year I turned 31, and I am very much single. The strangest thing about this isn’t my persisting life stage, but that it took me over a decade for my life stage to actually dawn on me.


There’s a world of difference between not yet married and single.


Shouldn’t the fact that I’m single have been more obvious?

Well up until a few short months ago, I’d spent over a decade considering myself not yet married. But there’s a world of difference between not yet married and single.

Not yet married means lack, yearning, incompleteness, discontentment. I’d had a decade of it, and finally called enough enough. Now I’m single. The great thing about single is that it actually just means single.

New Beginnings, New Furniture

An odd set of circumstances lead me to being single.* Mid last year I was about to move house, but three months would pass before my new tenancy began. I looked around my place and realised that, through the generosity of friends and strangers; the frugality of my student years; and the help of a score of ex-housemates who’d married and moved out, I was now the sole owner of a large collection of horrific-looking furniture.

To store this junk for three months would cost time, effort, and money better wasted elsewhere. The only sensible option was to give it away.


For me, marriage is no longer ultimate. I don’t lack, I’m not incomplete. I’m not merely content being single. I’m satisfied.


As one smiling, thankful Gumtree customer after another collected their free chairs, tables and random dust-collecting oddments, the weight began to lift from my shoulders. I imagined what it would be like to purchase furniture for my new rental that didn’t make me cringe, and that I actually enjoyed using.

Three months later, I did just that—along with new linen, plants, furnishings, and a veggie patch. This is an embarrassingly mundane paragraph for me to write. Except that these changes embodied a defining paradigm shift that brought with it unforeseen contentment. My life was no longer on hold for some future, imagined event. In fact, even the word contentment—implying toleration—fails to capture it. I’m now not merely content being single. I’m satisfied.

If I marry and have children, it will be a blessing from God and a dream fulfilled. I think marriage and family are incredible, and I love and support my many friends who are enjoying that life stage. But for me, marriage is no longer ultimate. I don’t lack, I’m not yearning, incomplete or discontent. I’m not unmarried. I’m single. See the difference?

The Shrine to Romance

You can’t go through an experience like this and not have it affect the way you think about other spheres of life. For me, as a pastor, this has made me question some of Christian culture’s fundamental values.


In the church, have we gone beyond marriage is good to marriage is ultimate?


Rightly, church communities place a high value on marriage, children and family. God does: so should we.

Parallel to this, the world would have us believe that romance is everything—that the companionship, sex and fulfilment found in an intimate relationship is the summit of a lifelong search, the fullest expression of what it means to be human.

Could it be that the Christian culture I grew up in confused those two messages? In the paragraph above, have we simply replaced the word romance with marriage? Have we gone beyond marriage is good to marriage is ultimate? Has family become a synonym for fulfilment?

We Celebrate What We Value

That message may not be preached, but from the vantage point of a single, it seems widely implied. Scripture esteems singleness as perhaps even preferable to marriage in the freedom it affords us to serve the Lord without distraction. But where is singleness celebrated in the church?

Church-wide events are shaped predominantly with the family unit in mind. Unlike engaged couples, singles who decide to remain as they are instead of settling for a poor choice in life partner aren’t applauded. Community matriarchs are more likely to enquire with young people about a rumoured relationship than the joys and struggles of ministry as a single person. Singles aren’t honoured with glorious ceremonies, lavish banquets and generous gift-giving for consecrating themselves to single-minded service to God.

I don’t think singleness needs to be lauded with all the pageantry of marriage. But I am trying to identify a sanctified idolatry, widespread in Christian culture: if you’re married, you’ve made it. If you’re single, don’t worry, you’ll get there eventually.

With this message we do a great injustice to singles. The words second class citizen spring to mind.


Singleness is just as “Christian” as marriage. So how can singles be celebrated in church life?


We do a great injustice to those in our midst struggling with same-sex attraction. If even after much prayer that attraction remains for a lifetime and they choose to walk the narrow way of Jesus, our message to them is that even with such selfless sacrifice, they’ll never make it.

We also do a great injustice to the many young people who, and I’m quoting now, “just had to get married because I couldn’t be alone”. Isn’t God supposed to fulfil of that depth of longing? This injustice is multiplied when the one they married doesn’t walk with Jesus. They have the love they were told was the end-game, but now ministry is a lonely road, or far worse, an abandoned one.

Singleness isn’t better than marriage. But it’s certainly not worse. According to Scripture, singleness is just as “Christian” as marriage. What we celebrate as a community makes it clear what we value as a community. So I’ll just leave this question here: how can singles be celebrated in church life?

Singleness Can’t Be Done Alone

Like marriage, singleness has its pros and cons. I admire my older sister and my brother-in-law who with incredible patience and skill are raising three adorably mischievous boys I get to call my nephews. And I breathe a sigh of relief when we tuck the boys into bed after Monday night dinners and I wonder at how they survive each day.

I’m thankful for uninterrupted sleep, the freedom of a dawn surf whenever my calendar allows, quiet times that are in fact quiet, and the ability to work a 60 hour week at church when I need to, without any of my relationships paying the price. Paul was for real when he wrote about the undivided priorities of the single life.


Singles don’t have families of their own, so they love being made part of one.


But I’m also thankful to people who understand its difficulties—like my older sister and her family (and other friends—you know who you are) who don’t “host” me for “events” but consider me a member of the family, welcome anytime. Singles don’t have families of their own, so they love being made part of one.

I’m thankful to those who understand that I’m a verbal processor and, without a partner to debrief the day with, know to ask, “how was your day?”

I’m thankful for the many people in my church who recognise that though I don’t have a family to go home to, and though my time is therefore flexible, I still need boundaries and time out and opportunities to just be me, not a pastor.

Right Where God Has Me

Last year when I was still unmarried, puzzled, my senior pastor asked me why I’d been taking so few holidays. I was aware that this was the case, but likewise couldn’t work out why. I love time off. And then it occurred to me: married couples have guaranteed company when they holiday, but for me, four weeks of time away alone would only remind me of how desperately lonely and unmarried I was.


Singleness has its challenges, and it takes some creativity—and the considered help of others—to do it well. But it can be done well.


Now I’m single. As I write this, I also happen to be on holidays, on a beach on the NSW coast. I’m away camping with my younger, also single sister. Tomorrow I’m hiking for four days with a mate who’s married but knew I had holidays and invited me along. I’m thankful for people like this too. Singleness has its challenges, and it takes some creativity—and the considered help of others—to do it well. But it can be done well.

Life hasn’t turned out quite the way I expected. I’ll never be married at 21. I won’t be a young dad like I once hoped. I’ve had to grieve over that. I’ve loved and lost, more than once. It hurt, more than I naively imagined it could. I’m single—not for want of trying, but because it seems this is where God wants me, for now at least. Like marriage, it’s not ultimate. But it is good, and I am thankful.

* The other odd circumstance was being hosted, along with a bunch of pastors, by Kimberly Smith, where she gave us a copy of her book, What We Cannot Be Alone: Understanding Singleness In God’s Family. Thanks Kim for giving me language to express these thoughts. If you’re single, and especially if you’re married (for the sake of singles) please buy it and read it.