The reason I’m a Christian…

This is why I follow the teachings of Jesus Christ.

First, I look outside of myself, into the world, and see absolute wonder. I see Earth, that appears to be in a constant state of change. I see the complexity of the universe. Stars. Galaxies. Other earth-like planets. I look and see the intricate nature of emotion. I see corruption. Hate and anger. Violence. Inequality. I see brokenness. Pain and sorrow. But I also see compassion, love and forgiveness. I see charity and selflessness. I get the sense that there is something mysterious about the universe. Something that the human mind can’t explain. When I look outside of myself I feel like something isn’t ‘right’ with the world that I live in. The way I see it, there is something wrong. Yet, on my own I can’t explain it.

Then, I look inside of myself, into who I am, and see something that has a purpose. I don’t consider myself to be just a bunch of particles gathered together without direction. I feel like I can achieve things. Achievements that are significant, not just to me, but to the world. I feel like I can add value to other people’s lives. And I also feel like I have the power to detract value from other people’s lives. I can sometimes be a weapon, that is something that can cause harm. I can hurt other people. I can destroy the wonderful nature around me. I see inside of myself something that is not quite right, like the world around me there is something wrong. Sometimes I am happy. Excited. Enthusiastic. And Filled with hope. Other times I am sad. Lonely. Lethargic. And feel hopeless. I get the sense that I am supposed to be better than I am. Yet, on my own I can’t explain it.

I strive to be a better me. But in all my striving I can never achieve a standard of humanness that satisfies me. What am I comparing myself to? There must be something greater than me. There must be something greater than the world that I live in. If there is not, there is no purpose to life. How can I, and my world, be the greatest thing on offer? It is beautiful. And I really do enjoy my life. But no matter how much joy I experience, I am always left craving more. I have an insatiable appetite for more. Yet, on my own I can’t explain it.

In search for more, I could turn to science and knowledge. I would do well to do so as it offers my many answers to my questions. The vast universe. The complexity of Earth. The intricate construction of the human body. But it does not answer my yearnings for ‘WHY?’ Why am I here? Why do I feel like I have purpose?

I could also turn to philosophy. The love of wisdom. I could reflect inwardly to such a deep level that I am confident even unto death that my soul is real. I could justify love and forgiveness. Hate and violence. Greed and corruption. I could even convince myself of an afterlife. Of divine powers. But philosophy does not answer the question of truth… What are the facts? How can one philosopher draw such different conclusions to another? Reflecting inwardly does not always reveal universal truths.

In the search for more I could turn to religion. If I have the sense of something more, than there are plenty of ‘extras’ available through the various religions. All regions have one thing in common. They all tell me that there is something wrong with the world. BAM. That first thing that really hits home. That’s how I felt before I even started my search.

And that’s where the similarities end, see, most religions tell me I have to do more… Chant. Pray. Meditate. Tithe. And be charitable. They say that if I do more, I will ‘be more’. Some religions are focused on reaching external gods. Others are focused on reaching internal perfection. Yet, I already feel that the more I strive to do, the further I am from achieving my own standard. Let alone the standard of ‘the more’ that I seek.

Then I heard about Jesus. I had grown up listening to people talk about him. He makes sense of my world. We are supposed to marvel at the complexities of our universe. We are supposed to feel the full spectrum of emotion. People will sacrifice themselves for their friends in ultimate acts of love, and at other times allow others to die in spiteful and vindictive ways. Jesus explains greed and corruption. He understands my longing for more.

Jesus’ teachings are found in the Bible. Every word on every page makes sense of me and my world. There is supposed to be death in my world. Pain and sorrow are supposed to be present in our lives. To suggest that I can work my way towards perfection is unrealistic. It is opposed to science, and philosophy. Jesus makes the most sense of me. He makes sense of the way I feel. Jesus does not contradict science and philosophy, he perfects them. He answers the questions that they cannot.

Jesus offers a solution to the problems that I experience with myself and those that I see in the world. A solution that I find more appropriate than any other religion. All the other religions that the world has to offer say that I can achieve it on my own. But Jesus says, I cannot, that resonates with me. That is my experience. In all my striving, I am unable to fix these problems myself, so Jesus offers to fix them for me.

In response to his offer, I choose to follow his teachings. I am here to serve Jesus. I was created to bring glory to him. That is my purpose. The bible teaches countless ways that I can do this. But all of his commands boil down to this… I should love Him with all my heart, soul and mind. In addition I should love the people around me in a similar way, treating them as I would like to be treated. Everything the bible teaches hangs on this command. Yet, Jesus makes it clear that my perfection is not measured by how well I achieve this command. My work is in response to his work. In this simple fact, I am free to be the best human being I can, without fear or condemnation. I can be the best human I can, knowing that one day, in the future, I will be made perfect in the likeness of Jesus himself.

It is not what I can do, but what has been done on my behalf. Jesus makes most sense of my world and that is why I choose to follow him.

The more know about Jesus, the more sense he makes of myself, and the world that I live in. I would wager that it would be true for you as well. You should find a bible… find the book of Luke within it, and start reading about the most sensible thing this world has to offer. Good Luck.

Meme Culture

Our social media platforms are littered with them. If you’re anything like me you ignore most of them anyway. Especially the ‘Christian’ ones. Some of them are cringe worthy. Others are catchy. But whether we like it or not they are having a huge impact on Internet users globally.

Chuck Norris, Cute Cats, Cheezburgers, Dancing Babies, de-motivationals and just about any combination of the above are but a few of the culture defining memes that have been on our computer screens for almost 10 years.

But what about Christian memes? I’m going to get straight to the point. If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well.

If it’s supposed to be Christian, it’s supposed to be biblical. Feel good Christianity, that leaves the scriptures out, is like taking two Panadols for a freshly amputated leg.

Let’s leave the feel good memes that are devoid of biblical accuracy for the spiritualists and fitness junkies. Now, I should be clear, I’m not suggesting that every meme should be quoting the bible.

Take for example this meme, that I conveniently excavated from my Facebook feed this morning…

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Consider these two statements.

Happiness comes when we stop complaining our troubles.
Happiness comes when we thank God for the troubles that we don’t have.

If I’m reading my bible correctly, it’s a negatory on the first statement, and an even more profound negatory on the second.

Australian culture screams to us that if we have positive thoughts, and try our hardest to be the best we can be, then happiness will come to us. But does it? What’s your experience? If you ignore your troubles do they go away and are you left ultimately feeling happy?

What about God’s perspective? I believe he encourages us to be optimistic, and have a grateful attitude. But it’s optimism for Christ’s return, and the new kingdom. It’s a grateful attitude in response to being forgiven for our ultimate rebellion against God. This freedom is pure joy. It’s exhilarating. This news, of forgiveness and life is what Facebook users need to hear. Let’s not dilute this awesome message by living out and sharing a crossless christianity.

Here’s a meme I like.

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To me, it is finding the central message of what the bible has to say about a certain topic and communicating it in a single phrase. If you’re not interested in sharing stuff from the bible, then maybe it’s best to leave God out of it.

Christians, if you are going to share memes as a reflection of who you are, then please, for heaven’s sake, reflect an accurate image of who God created you to be.

Listen. Empathise. Love.

When was the last time you felt someone really understood you? We live in a culture where it’s all about me… yet, when was the last time that ‘me’ was really understood?

Do the politicians that service our nation make you feel like a valued part of the community? Does your boss value and treat you the way you ought to be treated? When your in public, or on the roads, do people treat you like like a valued member of the community?

To be honest, we have to look hard and wide in our community to find people who are selfless, generous, loving and caring. The problem could be two things. Either we are narcissistic and expect other people to be focused on us which leaves us feeling lonely, unwanted and/or misunderstood. Or everyone else is narcissistic in which case they are too self-centred to spend the time to get to know us in meaningful ways.

The reality is that neither of these options is 100% right or wrong. There are narcissistic people out there, and sometimes they’re us.

The result is we rarely feel like people get us. In fact, most of our time and energy is trying to understand ourselves, let alone others. So how can we expect anyone to really know us?

As a community we are actually quite bad at listening and understanding people. For the most part we haven’t mastered these arts yet. You might argue that’s what professionals such as counsellors and psychologists are for. But why do we need to venture out of our homes, sporting clubs and churches to be understood by another human. And moreover, it’s been my experience that many counsellors and psychologists see it as their job to ‘fix’ broken people, and they often feel that they can do that without having to waste time on understanding them.

It has left people in our community as detached from one another. There is a severe lack of engaging relationships. But do we have to settle for this substandard level of human interaction? Is there a way forward?

As a Christian I believe that the bible has some great, practical advice in this area. Now before you mash that back button, can I ask, wouldn’t it be nice if people would listen a little longer before they jam their advice down your throat? The bible says:

 “…let every person be quick to hear and slow to speak”.

It also says:

“If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame”.

Too often we want to fix the problem before we understand the problem. I’m certainly guilty of doing this. And I know I feel angry when people do it to me.

It can also feel like people offer us advice on how to climb out of a ditch without kneeling down to offer us a hand. It’s like they just don’t care. Some people make no effort to meet with us in our current position, but rather dish out advice from afar thinking they’re super-saviours.

The bible instructs people to show empathy and compassion for others. It says:

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

It also says:

Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Sometimes people can be well intended but by not taking the time to come alongside us, their advice is cold and sterile. Sometimes we just want a warm-hearted friend to journey with us. Offering advice is like marinating meat, without taking the time to prepare properly, the marinade is mostly wasted.

And finally, sometimes instead of advice, we just want to feel loved. We are sometimes so detached from the people around us, that a little TLC is all we need. But in our culture, it takes most of our time loving ourselves, let alone someone else. At most, we can love our family and a few select friends.

But the bible demands more of us than that. The bible shows that we can and should love everyone in our community. Before I became a Christian I spent most of my time trying to love a few key individuals, and most of all, trying to love myself. I failed on both accounts. I hurt most of the people around me, and never truly liked let alone loved myself.

But when I experienced God’s love for me. The real, practical, intense love of the Creator. I had a new perspective on love. I could love myself because it was no longer about how good or bad I was. I could love myself because it became about how good Jesus was. I was accepted by him no matter what I had done. In turn, instead of spending heaps of time doing things to satisfy myself, in could turn that time towards the people around me. And it wasn’t just quantity, it was quality. As I experienced God’s love for me, I was able to reflect that love to others.

We love because he first loved us.

This real, deep, affectionate love from God means I am free and able to love people without having my own agenda. I can love without expecting anything in return.

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.

It means I could take the time to listen, and really understand the people around me. I don’t have to fix all their problems right away, but I have the freedom to journey with them. To come alongside them. To love them as Christ has loved me. The difference is taking the time to know the people around you. Jesus models this type of love…

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.

See the answer to not being listened to, to not being understood, is found at the cross. It is Jesus, who through the bible, shows us what pure love looks like. He shows us what it means to truly know the people he loves. Once we experience that genuine and flawless love we can express it to others. Wouldn’t it be nice if the whole world was infused with this selfless love that seeks to really understand others and expects nothing in return.

TL;DR – Three things that will help our community understand each other better:

1. Listen Longer.
2. Emphasise Earlier
3. Love the way God Loves.

The Demanding God Who Saves

Have you ever met anyone who clearly doesn’t entertain the thought of being a Christian purely because it would inconvenience them? They might call it exactly like it is, or they might not be so overt about it, but at the end of the day, the real reason that they don’t want to live a Christian lifestyle is that they assume that God will make certain demands of them and they might have to forgo their current lifestyle. But why do people who haven’t experienced God’s love have that expectation?

Is it because Christians have  placed that expectation on others as they convert to Christianity? It’s true, God does have lifestyle exceptions of his followers, but when does he expect them to change?

There is a pattern that is set out within the bible, and it’s a pattern that every Christian should be able to see. The Lord is proactive in saving his people before he starts making demands of them. Allow me to use an example.

In Exodus 20:1-2, the ten commandments start with…

And God spoke all these words: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

Before the Lord gives his commands for a righteous lifestyle, he reminds his people that He has already done all the required work for salvation. The Lord our God has already saved us, brought us out of our slavery before anything else is said or done. Other examples of this is pattern are found when the Lord saves Noah from the flood before making his covenant with him, and Jesus laid down his life well before God has any expectations of his people today.

I suppose I’m writing this pushing back against people who might suggest that, as Christians, we must expect unbelievers to live and behave a certain way before we will accept them into our Christian community. God certainly doesn’t expect us to live to his standards before He accepts us, so why should we expect others to live to our standards before we will accept them?

What follows in the ten commandments is God’s advice on a righteous lifestyle. He is essentially saying “Now that I’ve saved you from your enemies, this is an acceptable way to live”. What he is not saying is “This is the perfect way to live, and if you can’t live by these standards you have to have faith in me for salvation.” The Jewish people were not perfect before, during or after their rescue. We are not perfect before, during or after God’s rescue of us. God’s desire to rescue us is not dependent on our lifestyle choices, therefore we need to have faith in God well before we consider what a righteous life looks like, let alone apply it. We find in the pages of the bible a God who loves his people so fiercely, that they want to live a more righteous life in response to God’s love.

We need be telling our family, friends and colleagues about the awesome rescue story of Jesus Christ that is perfectly told in the bible. We need to be showing them, by action, that the Christian lifestyle is the best way to live in this world, and faith in Jesus is the only way to live in the next.

We need to be reminding the people around us that God loves us so much that He accepts us just as we are… but He loves us too much to leave us there.

Sex & Money | Paul Tripp

Reflecting on his book Sex & Money Paul Tripp shares this quick overview.

If accountability and budget were all we needed in [the areas of abusing sex and money] there’d be a whole lot more pure people, and a whole lot less people in debt.

If Jesus has made it clear that abusing sex and money are problems of the heart, why are we still trying to address them as behavioural problems? People need more than accountability groups and budgeting tools. They need grace.

Veterans… PTSD… and the Descent to Hell

Up front: I’m not a psychologist. I certainly can’t speak with clinical authority, yet I am a returned servicemen from the Afghanistan conflict so the following is a short reflection on my post-war experiences.

There is little doubt that in the past decade or two society has made leaps and bounds on the mental health front. Prior to deploying, during my deployment and after my deployment I was asked to participate in several psychological examinations to flag any problematic areas caused by my involvement in war. Nothing came up, but I was told where to find help if it did.

Despite increased awareness, knowledge and intervention there is still an alarming trend that is seeing war veterans escape the aftermath and mental collateral damage by spiralling out of control.

Today ABC News reported that there is an increase in veterans ending up in court and in jail. The head of Adelaide’s ex-Military Rehabilitation Centre, Ian Campbell, has 16 soldiers on his books who are either in jail, before the courts or on parole. He said that “A coping mechanism is to drink or to drug,” and “I found that in the majority of cases, mental health had a profound effect on the service person’s offending.” 

So is there a reason that despite increased awareness in mental health there is a continued problem? Is it unavoidable?

One observation is that in our wider culture, not just the military, we are reinforced with the belief that we can avoid harm if we tick all the boxes. And if something does go wrong we can fix it. We live in a society that bubble wraps its citizens in insurance, WHS regulation, superannuation, warranties, health care, litigation and so on. If something goes wrong it’s always someone’s fault and it can always be fixed.  In the Army we are subliminally told that if we train harder, fight smarter, are better equipped, have better intel, have better leaders, have better support, have better risk management and have higher moral that we can avoid harm.

Yet no matter how much effort you put into preparing for war, sooner or later, something will go wrong. It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when. And while it’s not always the case, quite often, in war, no one can be blamed. An example is when a soldier dies in conflict. Medics are often the first responders to this type of tragic scene and every now and then some people are beyond saving… Yet, the medic is trained, mostly by our society, that someone is always at fault. Someone must be held accountable. In this example, more often than not the medic will inappropriately blame himself.

Upon returning home, despite huge efforts made on behalf of the ADF and associations such as the RSL and DVA, young men and women turn what was a blameless situation into guilt and shame. In an inescapable downward spiral they try and escape by all means possible. I have seen soldiers seek meaning and value in alcohol, drugs, women, cars, money and any combination of the above.

There’s little wonder soldiers who are suffering are ending up in a courthouse. So what’s an answer?

Again, I’m not a psychologist, but I do see several potential layers to the problem.

1. The problematic social behaviour, (or even becoming a recluse and not communicating / engaging);
2. There may be physical distress caused by broken bodies and/or struggling minds;
3. The possibility of pseudo-guilt and shame that’s piled on by inappropriate blame;
4. They may feel out of control. They might feel unlovable or unable to love others. This is often displayed by shunning loved ones, or lashing out in anger; and
5. If they are conscious of their faith, they may feel that even God doesn’t like them.

Inside and out, on many possible levels, someone struggling with PTSD probably feels broken. They will possibly seek to fix this brokenness, (remember our society tells us that if we tick all the boxes no harm will come our way, and if it does we can always fix it). They will possibly try and fix this brokenness and when they can’t they might resort to the problematic behaviour again. It’s a viscous downward spiral. A decent into hell.

Because this is a multifaceted problem just telling a soldier to harden up and get over it is clearly not the answer. Even if he manages to fix the problematic behaviour in the first layer, there’s still several layers that aren’t being dealt with. What soldiers need is a community of people who can support them. They need professional support, given in a safe environment where there is trust and acceptance. They need the support of their friends and family, and co-workers. They need the support of people from organisations like DVA and the RSL to get alongside them and encourage them to make good choices. And it’s not about getting one of those options to help out, it’s about getting ALL of those options to help out. What they need more than anything else is our understanding and acceptance.

About two years after returning from my deployment I entered a very dark place. Without the support of my church, friends, Christian counsellors and professional psychologists I would not have been able to recover. I am currently finishing my training to return to the Army as a padre. When I do I am going to consider it a great privilege to be able to tell people that:

Despite what our culture tells you pain and suffering are unavoidable. I am going to challenge every soldier I can by asking them… “When trouble comes, who will you turn to? What’s your game plan”.

Know the culture… Know the times

1 Corinthians 9:19-22 – Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.

Paul seeks to understand the culture around him at any point in time so that he might use it as a means to share the gospel to everyone. Below is a short video about Australian demographics. Where do you fit in? Where do the people you want to tell about Jesus fit in?