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.

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.

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”.

Reach the City… Reach the World…

Tonight was a chance for everyone who serves at our church to get together and get the big idea of the upcoming terms series.

It was a collection of all different people from kids ministry workers, to youth leaders, music/worship teams, senior staff, bible study leaders, media teams and plenty more. About a hundred people came together and learned how we plan on sharing one big message over the next ten weeks to our entire church. I’m so encouraged that sharing about Jesus was at the centre of the night.

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The sermon series is ‘10 Cities God Loves‘. It’s shaping up to be a journey through Acts. Looking at how desperately in need of Jesus the cities of the first century are. It will show how desperately in need of Jesus that people are. How in need of Jesus I am. It will undoubtedly reveal the transforming power of the Gospel.

I am so excited to know that not only is this being taught on Sunday in church, but the kids, youth and young adults ministries are diving into the same message with similar material. Our mid-week bible studies, Sunday worship, seniors ministry are going to all experience a taste of this crucial message as well. Every member of our church, including some families with three generations, are going to hear the same message. That we are all in need of Jesus and by God’s grace He has chosen to use to share that message with our city… with our world.

Skin Deep Beauty

This stuff pisses me off.

A 14 year old girl, as part of the competition on a talent show, gets taken to a plastic surgeon. The surgeon tells her that although she is 14, she actually looks 30. And to break into the entertainment industry she needs cosmetic surgery. (Article, and original music audition is here)

At least her mother’s response was ethical:

“We teach our children to be proud of who they are, that they should be judged not by the colour of their skin but by their good actions,” said Ruanthi, who come from Sri Lanka. “Suddenly, my daughter was told that her skin, her nose, her face are not right; my heart was breaking.”

In a world that screams that beauty is skin deep, how important is it that we teach our youth that our true identity is not found in the way we look but in the person of Jesus Christ? That Jesus Christ accepts people of all sizes, colours, races and genders. We have been created, as we are, for a purpose.

True beauty is found in a loving nature, a caring spirit and sacrificial service of others. Let’s encourage young people to find real beauty in the way they carry themselves and not the way they flaunt themselves. Let’s teach young Christians that God looks at the heart, and not at the skin. That clothes and shiny jewellery don’t add beauty they only enhance what’s already there. Let’s teach that living a life under the love of Christ is the only thing that eternally matters.

And for God’s sake: Can the adults of this generation please start leading by example?

1 Peter 3:3-4. “Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewellery, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.”

Proverbs 31:30. “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”

1 Samuel 16:7. “But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”