The Price We Pay To Follow Jesus

What price do you pay to follow Jesus?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Following Jesus Will Cost Us This Life | v23

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

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

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

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

“Would you be willing to die for Jesus?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life is Gained By Giving It Away | v24b

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now he calls us to give up ours.

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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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.

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.

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

Part 2: Nutmeg

What if I told you that New York City owed its fame and fortune to a tiny, forgotten island in the backwaters of Indonesia?

Today the Big Apple tops bucket lists. It’s the centre of global trade. With an iconic skyline and nicknames like Capital of the World and Centre of the Universe, no wonder Manhattan is home to some of the world’s hottest real estate.

But five hundred years ago, every one of the these accolades belonged to Pulau Rhun—a tropical island where money grew on trees. Hidden away in the remote Banda Sea, this palm-studded paradise and three neighbouring isles produced Earth’s only supply of nutmeg.

“A small sack of nutmeg could fetch a London manor.”

Like its cousin the clove, this mysterious nut—thrice wrapped in a hard shell, red webbing and tart flesh—was bling for Europe’s well-to-do. It flavoured food and spiced wine, but was also hailed as a cure for infertility and The Plague. As such, a small sack of nutmeg could fetch a London manor.

It was a scramble as empires like Spain and Portugal sunk fortunes, men and ships into the spice race. Out of the fray rose the Dutch, with a business proposal that would change the course of history.

The VOC (or Dutch East India Company) was founded, promising private investors a share in unthinkable wealth. The only catch was that they help fund dubious high-seas treasure hunts on creaky ships that may never return.

So it was that in one foul swoop, the VOC created the world’s first corporate logo, pioneered transnational commerce, and single-handedly invented the stock market.

In 2017, the screens of Times Square and Wall Street shine bright with names like Apple and Microsoft. But with profits eight times their size, the VOC still stands unrivalled as the most successful business venture in all of history.

But let us return to Rhun. Here in the shade of scented nutmeg groves, a faithful band of Englishmen traded spice with friendly locals. To their delight, the island’s treacherous reefs and cannoned forts had kept the Dutch at bay for decades.

To the Dutch, however, this was an infuriating curse. Rhun was the only piece of real estate that stood between them and their ultimate reward: a worldwide monopoly on spice.

“Empires like Spain and Portugal sunk fortunes, men and ships into the spice race.”

In London, King James (of KJV fame) was so pleased with this turn of events that he traded his title for a new one: “King of England, Scotland, Wales and Pullorun”.

But it was no secret that VOC ships were everywhere and The Company’s influence grew. Soon the English found themselves outnumbered, outsmarted and outgunned. Tragically their slice of fortune fell to Dutch control.

And so Rhun’s fate would be decided at the negotiating tables of Europe. Determined to secure all of the planet’s nutmeg, the Dutch compelled England to unconditionally surrender Rhun. To sweeten the deal, they’d throw in an obscure island in the Americas known as New Amsterdam.

Little did any of them know that a few centuries later, New Amsterdam would reinvent itself as the world’s most famous metropolis.

Today, the residents of Banda still harvest nutmeg as they did generations ago. And in a delicious twist, their spice shaped another global icon. Nutmeg, it turns out, is one of Coca-Cola’s famed “secret ingredients”.

But while high-flying corporates sip Coke in Manhattan, and Banda’s farmers patiently tend to their nutmeg crops, they all remain blissfully ignorant of one thing: New York City was bought for a little island called Rhun.

Well could we label this the most incredible trade in history. Almost. For there is one transaction that trumps even this. And that is the exchange of a God, wrapped in flesh, whose death bought his creatures everlasting life.

“What he asks of us is costly: an unconditionally surrendered life.”

At his word, roaring seas are calmed, planets turn and trees sprout forth. Yet he has his eyes set on us. We humans are his joy and crown. Far be it from us to be our maker’s only masterpiece that resists his perfect will.

Yes, what he asks of us is costly: an unconditionally surrendered life. But he’s proven his great love and his unfailing commitment to us: he unconditionally surrendered his.

Let the tale of New York keep you from any foolish exchange. And at the same time, let it assure you that for all who trade wisely, the best is yet to come.

The promise stands. No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.

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Last Year I Was Unmarried—Now I’m Single

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.