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.

The White Western Perspective on Masculinity

I was at a men’s forum this week, and was thoroughly challenged to think about the white, western perspective on masculinity and the extended period of adolescence into adult years. My thoughts are clearly rudimentary and I’d love to hear yours. Comment below.

In our current culture there are three imperative stages of life in manhood. Being born. Reaching puberty. And death. (You could argue that menopause is a fourth for women). The result, is a large group of adolescence aged ~30-70. An example given was Australian personality and sporting star: Sam Newman.

It was suggested that our culture is missing Rites of Passage into manhood. Well not entirely… the closest thing we have in Australia is ‘Schoolies Week’, but alcohol, drugs, sex and violence aren’t really challenging boys to be men. Thus, so far as maturity is concerned we are left in a constant state of neither being a child, nor an adult.

You might agree that we see this daily in our communities. Adults incapable of accepting responsibility. Parents burying themselves in financial debt because they want everything, and they want it now. Father’s who express sadness and futility by abusing against their families in temper-tantrum-like behaviour. Road users who use their vehicles as weapons and their hands as abusive communication devices because they feel that they are obviously more important than their neighbours. The list is endless, we could go on with any number of examples of where adults have failed to grow up.

In generations past, education was focused on learning about your parents’ life experience and replicating it, hopefully at some point extending it. Yet with the industrial revolution and the working class moving into factories, the father-son unit was split, and something had to be done with boys too young to work. Boys were sent to school to learn how to work in and manage factories. They were expected to graduate as men, but the system had failed. Academia does not equate to maturity. The point being, that adulthood was being delayed.

And now, according to our culture, it’s viewed that we can’t get an honourable job until we’ve completed 12 years of schooling, and 3 to 4 years of post-school training, either technical or academic. The point being, that adulthood is further being delayed.

It is a generalisation, but there are now several generations of Australian men who have avoided maturity. Now, for my Christian brothers and sisters, please don’t here me in the light of our good friend Mark Driscoll. I’m not calling for more machoism. I’m certainly not asking for more testosterone. I’m suggesting that what we need is to go back to the root what masculinity is. We need to embrace maturity and rediscover what it means for men in today’s culture.

At the forum this week it was discussed that youthful men typically take pride in their ‘maleness’. But as they become older, they tend to soften becoming more even tempered. They develop a caring nurturing side to their maleness. They find increased value in family and their experiences tend to be filtered with the lens of subjectivity rather than objectivity. Thus, as far as a cultural definition, (albeit misguided), males tend to start off more masculine and grow increasingly feminine with time. Unfortunately our culture doesn’t have a positive process for this to happen, and these changes take place in the midst of various forms of trauma. War. Abuse. Neglect. Depression. Physical and Mental Trauma.

(It might be seen that the opposite is true with women, they often are conditioned by society to be more ‘girly’ as children, playing with dolls and being pre-occupied with cooking, make-up and clothes, but as they grow older becoming parents and grandparents, they develop masculine traits such as stoicism and resilience).

As males culture places us on a spectrum of genderness, and our culture defines what is acceptable depending on our stage of life.

With all respect. I think this is ludicrous.

As a Christian I believe that God has created everyone unique. Neither individuals, nor the human collective, is at the centre of the universe. (Sorry to burst the bubbles). Every being in heaven and on Earth was created to worship God as the centre.

In God’s grand design he chose to make ‘male’ and ‘female’. We have discovered that He chose to take a combination of both a father’s and a mother’s genetic code and transfer that to a conceived child. Thus, each individual is going to express both masculine and feminine qualities. There are many influences on this in the pre-natal, early developing, and adolescent stages of life.

It’s time Australia stopped trying to cookie cut males into testosterone fuelled men. It’s time Australia starting embracing men for who they are and helping them to become who they were created to be. For the Christian community it’s time to share the love of Jesus which has never been dependent on sexual disposition. The current white, western perspective on masculinity stifles our culture and stops us moving into a new era of manhood.

On an aside, but an important one. I advocate the accuracy of the Bible. I affirm innerancy and divine inspiration. The scriptures are clear that corruption has infiltrated all generations of humanity. Sexuality, especially manhood, has been warped by sin. The result is: Confusion. Loneliness. Depression. Hate. Anger. Violence. Abuse. Neglect. Rape. Even same-sex attraction.

I believe God is deeply troubled by sin. In fact, he was so concerned for those he loved, that he demanded that his Son, Jesus, receive their death sentence. A demand that He willingly obeyed.

But, I believe that scripture is less concerned about the individual sin, and more concerned about the broken relationship that it causes with God. No matter how much damage you’ve caused with the weapon of masculinity, God is more concerned about your relationship with Him.

Men, no matter where you fall on the spectrum of masculinity, and no matter how you express yourself, the gospel is still true. And it’s still calling you to action. God has the power to restore hurting and broken people into a new and beautiful reflection of His glory.

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.

Love Revived… How Should Christians Treat the LGBT Community| John Reid

I reblogged this video from John Reid. I found it while reading a blog he wrote titled 6 Ways Christians Can Love Homosexuals Better.

I very much agree with his point of view. It does raise some further questions for me, but overall it’s quite clear and the tone is perfect… It’s an outright apology, and that’s the way it should be.

I too am sorry for ever offending anyone from the LGBT community by not being as loving as I should be. I have little doubt that I have unnecessarily hurt people by trying to share my faith with them. For that, and many other reasons, I am a sinner and in need of God’s grace. If it’s you that I’ve offended, then I want to take you out for a meal and apologise in person.

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.