It can be hard to accept a blessing.

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My wife told me a story about something she witnessed on her way to work yesterday. The story was about a man, presumably homeless, or at least struggling to get by, begging on the sidewalk for some loose change. He had the usual collecting cup out in front of him and was calling out to passersby in the hope that generosity would come his way. Two ladies, on their way to work, stopped and took notice when he asked, ‘Do you have any spare change?’ They said no but one of the ladies rummaged around her handbag before procuring a bottle of juice and a salad wrap – what would have been her lunch – and proceeded to give it to him. He gruffled a ‘thanks’ and they went on their way and around the corner.

As soon as they were out of sight he hopped to his feet, threw the wrap to the ground and kicked it around, yelling and swearing about who knows what. The juice, on the other hand, he looked at with great deliberation before deciding that this was at least something that wasn’t completely useless to him and then went about pocketing it into his shabby overcoat. No sooner was his fit over that a policeman walked up to him, most likely keeping an eye on the situation from afar, and proceeded to question him over the outburst he had just had.

That’s all my wife saw from the other side of the road for at that moment the ‘green man’ signalled for her to cross the road and continue on her way to work. Why am I retelling the story? Probably because I think there’s something to learn about accepting a blessing in that story.

8717I recently, and completely, tore my Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) in my knee playing a game of sport. Between then and now I have gone through an array of emotions regarding it, most of them revolving around frustration and disappointment. The injury ultimately means that without surgery I am unable to play any type of sport that involves changes of direction for the knee (surfing, football, volleyball to name just a few…) and so the hunt for a specialist, an orthopaedic surgeon, began. After some calling around and my initial consultation with the specialist my wife and I have found out that intermediate surgery, for we do not have private health, is just under $5000. A lot of money.

I’ve been praying since the day it happened, as I’m sure family and friends have also been doing for me, for any kind of miracle – preferably complete healing of damage to my knee. I know its possible and I will continue to believe for it as I go through the process. But my miracle came the other day from somewhere I least expected it to come from: life group (shout out to B & B).

You’re probably thinking that life group is a fairly usual place for a blessing to come out of and you wouldn’t be wrong. What made it completely unexpected was that my wife and I did not ask for money or even discuss the costs of the operation with the whole group. What’s more is that whilst we enjoy the life group and look forward to the company of those that attend we have only been going for a short amount of time and had not previously known many of those that do attend.

ash-sad-crying-disappointed-1And so, when we rocked up to life group to be told that people wanted to bless us financially it was a bit of a tear-jerker as I blabbered my ‘thanks’ to everyone. Over the next couple of days we have received substantial and generous contributions towards that $5k figure that we are extremely grateful for.

How does this all relate to the homeless man who refuted the generosity of another? Let me tell you.

In my story, our life group represent those that generously gave of their lunch to me, the metaphorical homeless man. I may not have refused the ‘lunch’ but I had several serious reservations about accepting it; my wife and I aren’t poor and in comparison to others, aren’t struggling. Could we really accept such a blessing considering this status? I didn’t know however, the leaders of our life group, B & B, were adamant in saying that yes, we could. Why?

Each couple / individual that went above and beyond in blessing us did not feel pressured to. They wanted to. Not only this, but they wanted to give freely and with no strings attached. Because it allowed them to reflect someone bigger than themselves: Jesus. He first blessed all of us by freely and generously giving his life – the ultimate gift – so that we could experience a miracle: a relationship with God that saved us from the clutches of sin. When you truly grasp this gift it’s hard not to find ways to bless others; it’s infectious and even though you have to sacrifice something, a more powerful, warm and satisfying sensation deep within your person replaces it.

20fc888728530d8ea26bdc5f36b67885--lego-marvel-lego-batmanWho’s the policeman in this story? God. He’s the authority. Despite my concerns and reservations about accepting such a blessing I realised later, when debriefing with my wife and later praying to God, that it all actually made sense. I had been communicating with God, the highest authority, asking for some kind of miracle.

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 Gandalf: A close Lego God look-alike

It does turn out that God talks back, not in the loud booming voice, but that quiet, yet absolutely confirmative, whisper that resonates with you long after you’ve done praying. The policeman on the street was most likely asking, ‘Why didn’t you accept the blessing? What’s the issue?’ God is saying, ‘It’s alright, this blessing is meant for you. Receive it freely.’

Don’t be afraid to accept the blessing that comes your way. Receive it gratefully and allow it to transform your situation. A special thanks to everyone from my life group regardless of whether you contributed financially, prayerfully or both. We appreciate the support of you all.

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our citizenship is in heaven.

‘Dual citizenship’ occurs where an individual possesses citizenship in two countries. For example, someone may possess both citizenship in Australia and citizenship in the United States.

There are a number of ways to obtain dual citizenship providing countries’ laws allow for it. Some people become dual citizens automatically for example, upon birth, whilst others may be granted citizenship from a second country through acts like marriage or permanent residence.

Christian believers also have dual citizenship however, ours looks slightly different. Whilst we may have citizenships that show that we identify with countries on this planet we also have a second and more crucial citizenship – citizenship in heaven – and it’s important we realise what this means for us.

The apostle Paul spells this out for us in more detail in Philippians 3:17-21:

17  Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18  For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19  Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20  But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21  who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

Let’s get deep for a second and unpack this as best we can in sub-1000 words (Don’t let this discourage you from reading the rest! Keep going!)

Paul challenges his audience, the Philippians, and subsequently us today by offering two distinct and separate “walks” in Phil. 3:17-19:

  1. A Christ-centred walk or,
  2. A self-centred and earthly-focussed walk

It’s plainly clear in the language Paul uses that he leaves no room for middle ground; the walks cannot be completed in unison. It is also plainly clear that Paul encourages his believers to choose the the first of these walks – a Christ-centred lifestyle.

The latter walk is, according to Paul, seen to end in ‘destruction.’ It is revealed to be self-indulgent lifestyle where the people who choose this path deify their stomachs, find pride in their shameful acts and become overly engrossed and enslaved to earthly or materialistic things. Paul refers to these people as those who “walk as enemies of the cross,” and whilst this may sound harsh it is true as this life makes it extremely difficult to genuinely respond to the hope of salvation offered through Christ. Ultimately, the person who chooses this walk chooses to satisfy their bodily appetite over their spiritual appetite and find glory in shameful acts and thoughts rather than humility in righteous acts and deeds. They fall slave to their earthly ambitions instead of mastering them into submission in order to better focus on their relationship with God. 

In contrast for those that choose to imitate Christ through Paul (v.17), the apostle goes on to emphatically proclaim that the believer’s “citizenship is in heaven.” The term “citizenship” (politeuma) is only used three times in Scripture but only once in this particular way.

This particular use of the term establishes Philippian believers as citizens under the sovereign power of God, emphasizing that they are a part of the heavenly kingdom governed by God. The implication however, is that the Philippian Church is a colony of Heaven on Earth and that they are ‘registered’ as citizens there, not as citizens of Earth or a colony of Rome.

How is Philippi’s situation relevant to me you ask? Whilst you may not live in the Roman Empire or be subject to Rome’s laws you are FIRSTLY a citizen of Heaven and SECONDLY, a citizen of Earth if you identify as a Christian. The implications of this citizenship are integral to our faith. Identifying as a citizen of heaven first and a citizen of earth second sets the scene for adversity, persecution and suffering because the way that believers conduct themselves WILL and MUST be different than how the rest of the world operates.

We learn, through Paul’s teaching, that to be a citizen of heaven means that we live as salt and light to the world. So what can we learn from Paul’s teaching in Philippians 3:17-21? Lots but lets focus on 3 things.

The leading message in this passage is that Christians should focus on walking a Christ-like life rather than a self-centred life. Paul’s framework for imitation in verse 17 – join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us  is still applicable today.

Christians should look to recognised Church leaders who model Christ’s character and establish a mentor-pupil relationship with them. This not only allows the Christian to learn through imitation of a respected leader in the Church but also allows for the mentor to be a source of both accountability and correction. Through this imitation, accountability and correction Christians are better enabled to walk in their faith in a manner that reflects Christ and in which they master earthly desires and temptations.

A second application for Christians today is to heed Paul’s call to unity. Believers need to remain focused on the hope promised to them through Christ, His death and resurrection. This focus allows Christians to navigate the persecution and suffering that comes hand in hand with being an active, participating follower of Christ. In a world where members and groups in society are often more than ready to persecute and tear each other down, remaining unified as Christians is increasingly important. As God himself is a triune and communal God, Christians too, should walk in unity and community with one another, edifying and encouraging one another with regards to their faith.

Finally, Paul’s declaration that a believer’s true citizenship lies in Heaven, not on Earth, holds just as much stock for Christians today as it did for Philippians in the first century. Christians must constantly remind themselves that they are a colony representative of the Kingdom of God. The purpose of a colony in imperialist countries was to expand the influence of the mother country and to increase resource-income for the mother country. Christians are therefore, charged with the mandate of expanding the influence of the Kingdom of God by being a counter-cultural, yet loving, humble and accepting, force in society. Whilst ‘producing resources for the mother country’ may be a crude phrase to use, another responsibility that Christians are charged with is to win souls to Christ which can be achieved through the messages we send with our words, actions and lifestyles.

This is probably one of my favourite passages in the Bible because it reminds me of who I really belong to. When I myself am forced to make a choice between Christ and Earthly desires, this passage challenges and encourages me to choose Christ, for my citizenship is first and foremost in heaven. I hope this passage can challenge and encourage you too!

 

What are you drinking: water or wine?

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What are you drinking? Water or wine?

Story time.

Jesus, along with his mother and some of his disciples, were at a wedding when the wine ran out. Now whilst one may think this is a common and problematic issue at wedding parties today it was confounded by the fact that wedding festivities in the Jewish culture often lasted a week! Anyway, Mary, like all good mothers, doesn’t panic and instead takes charge, informing Jesus that the hosts have run out of wine.

Jesus in response says, “what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” However, Mary, again like all good mothers do, knows that her son is a capable, resourceful young man and so instructs the servants of the wedding festivity to, “do whatever Jesus tells you.” 

Jesus, like all good and obedient sons, gets to work immediately, finding six tall stone water jars that were previously used for Jewish purification rites. He instructs the servants to fill them to the brim with water and then draw some out and take it to the master of the feast. Much to his surprise what he drank was not water but wine! He exclaimed to the bridegroom, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 

John 2:1-11.

This was the first miraculous sign that Jesus performed and it signified the coming of the Kingdom of God into the lives of man.

So what are you drinking? Water or wine?

Jesus’ transformation of water into wine is still relevant to all people today.  Through the passage of the wedding of Cana in John 2:1-11 the story develops to ultimately point towards the transforming, divine and glorious power of Jesus. Verse 9 in particular records ‘water [which has] now become wine;’ wine that was renowned for being of the best and richest quality.

Believers and those who don’t yet believe should learn to focus less on the fact that there is talk of alcohol in the Bible and more on what this ‘water into wine’ symbolises; a sign that reveals that the Kingdom of God had now arrived in their midst. This sign was the first of many that began to point towards and reveal the fulfilment of God’s covenant, provision and blessing for all people on Earth.

The turning of water into wine symbolises the water of the Old Covenant and Judaism being transformed through Christ’s power into the wine of the New Testament and Christianity.

The turning of water into wine symbolises the water of the law and obedience turning into the wine of the gospel and grace.

The turning of water into wine symbolises that God’s Kingdom has arrived on Earth in the form of Christ who would ultimately transform our death and our sins into new life and hope just as he did with water to wine.

Jesus, through this sign and many others, reveals that it is not through obedience to the law and tradition that gains you a pathway to Heaven. Rather, it is in the acceptance of the graceful and transformative gift of salvation that one experiences the promises and hope of eternal life and Heaven.

This passage here challenges the ideas of religion and instead promotes living and transformative relationship with Christ.

So what are you drinking? Water or wine?

God’s desire is not for you to partake in a cheap, bland, sour and poor imitation of wine as wedding guests did in Jewish tradition on the fifth, sixth and seventh days. His desire is not for you to struggle through life feeling taxed, tried, bound and chained to laws, rules and traditions.

No, His desire is that you partake in rich, flavoursome and sweet wine of the highest quality like Jesus provided. He desires for you to experience love, grace, hope, wonder and life to the fullest by participating in a living relationship with Jesus. A relationship not bound by tradition or law but defined by love, peace, joy and hope.

It is with this ‘wine’ perspective  that we should be looking to live our lives through. Through Christ’s death for our sins and victory and resurrection over them we are no longer bound or chained by the law, customs and traditions. We are set free to live lives characterised by the rich and sweet love, peace, joy and hope of Jesus and to share this ‘wine’ with others.

So what are you drinking? Water or wine?

Putting the world back together when everyone else is trying to tear it apart.

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I recently saw Hacksaw Ridge in cinemas and if you haven’t seen it then go! Not only do I have a soft spot for war and action movies (who doesn’t?!) but I love when there is something deeper at work in a movie.

Hacksaw Ridge, starring Andrew Garfield (The better Spiderman), retells the true story of Desmond Doss, a young American who refused to carry a weapon into battle during World War II on account of his faith.

imagesWithout giving any spoilers away, Doss was at first labelled a coward and ostracised by fellow soldiers for his pacifist stance, many fearing that he would be the ‘weak link’ in the war effort; someone who couldn’t be relied on to look out for his fellow soldiers and save them when faced with enemy attack. However, Doss gains both respect and recognition when he, trained as a combat medic, rescues 75 men in the battle of Okinawa at the Maeda Escarpment (‘Hacksaw Ridge’) without firing a single shot.

Whilst Hollywood’s depiction of events, compared to that of History’s, are most likely exaggerated, inaccurate and sensational to a degree, Doss’ heroic actions remain just that: heroic and inspirational. Perhaps the most notable thing about his courageous and selfless actions are that he attributes his war effort and success to God.

hacksawIn the movie, Doss is questioned as to why he won’t take up arms whilst in attendance at training camp and he responds by saying, “With the world so set on tearing itself apart, it don’t seem like such a bad thing to me to want to put a little bit of it back together…While everyone else will be taking life I’ll be saving it.”

He then follows with Scripture. Unfortunately, I am unable to find a list of verses used throughout the movie other than the one used in the opening scene. However, it reflects the attitude and character of Jesus – a lifestyle that was characterised by love, compassion, care and wanting the best for people:

29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31).

Is this something that I’ve known as a Christian for a long time? Absolutely. However, I still felt convicted when this quote and scripture came up. I guess I need a reminder that whilst the rest of the world is so intent on tearing itself a part I can do my bit to put it back together; whilst people are so intent on tearing each other down maybe I should focus on building people up.

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A meme. @joshcollins @davestay @jamesgreensmith

I guess the reason I felt so convicted by Doss’ particular quote above is because I recognised a circumstance in which I acted differently. I was recently serving with a great group of guys and ladies on a local missions trip and we had this group chat going; we’d all make memes (those images with captions on them) of each other and send them through to the group chat in order to ‘roast’ each other and have a laugh, all of which was some light-hearted fun…until it wasn’t.

 

The meme I made and texted through was funny for a number of people in the group text but it left others feeling targeted, attacked and upset. At the time I didn’t see anything wrong with and saw no need to make amends. My thought process was: “If you’re going to dish it out to others then you’d better be prepared to receive it too!”

…and maybe there is some truth and legitimacy in that thought process. But! I don’t think it’s how I should have gone about the aftermath of that particular situation. After watching Hacksaw Ridge and experienced those feelings of conviction and revelation I’ve gained a new perspective.

Sure the meme roasting group text message was fun and acceptable providing everyone was having a good time and feeling okay about everything. However, as soon as someone felt vilified, targeted or upset at something it should have signified the time to draw a line, make adjustments and follow through on the wellbeing of others.

“With the world so set on tearing itself apart, it don’t seem like such a bad thing to me to want to put a little bit of it back together.”

With the world so set on tearing itself apart it seems like we, as both the human race and as Christians, have a mandate to act as Jesus did. Instead of using, abusing, accusing, defeating and degrading each other we should be intent on building each other up, apologising, encouraging, including and making amends.

stone-in-handSure, as long as the joke is fun, have fun. But as soon as words and actions begin to hurt we need to address them, instead focusing our efforts on positively strengthening others and their wellbeing. After all, how you treat one person reveals to everybody how you treat the other 99. It’s time to put down the stones in our hands that are ready to be thrown and instead extend a hand to those around us and build them up (John 8:1-11).

To the great person that I hurt the other day, I apologise.

Peace

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Expressing your sexuality as a single Christian.

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Sex.

It is everywhere.

It is witnessed on billboards, in movie trailers and on television series that air at 8.30pm. It is talked about on morning radio and discussed in magazines, both adult and teen-focused. The reality is that ‘Sex’ is everywhere. It has permeated contemporary, secular society to such a deep extent that it may be appropriate to coin secular society, ‘sexular society.’ 

1101690711_400Society’s perspective on sexuality and sex has increasingly become lax. Sex loses reverence and respect each passing day. Instead it’s perceived as nothing more than a recreational activity or a rite of passage, to be treated casually. Young adults and youth in particular are even more susceptible to this contemporary perception and treatment of sex as we have a limited memory, if any, as to how sex was perceived and treated by our parents’ and grandparents’ generations.

If we go one step further and relate to young adults and youth that identify with the Christian faith then one can notice a very big challenge. Single Christian young adults and youth face a predicament that has not been experienced on a similar scale by previous generations. According to theologian Richard Foster they face a most difficult challenge of finding a way to ‘integrate [their] sexuality and spirituality within the context of the single life.’

What’s more is that this Christian young adult and youth generation are often navigating this challenge in the semi-darkness as the multi-denominational Church is unwilling to speak about it, let alone teach on it. All this generation hears is, “Do not have sex outside of marriage!”

…thanks for stating the obvious.

Unfortunately, the Church’s silence results in a large and ambiguous ‘gap’ as to what exactly the above rule entails other than the obvious. Young single Christians who are both serious about their faith and struggling to navigate their sexuality appropriately are subsequently left confused about, and lacking knowledge of, their sexuality and how to express it.

screen-shot-2016-11-14-at-8-51-57-pmIf this silence isn’t leading to confusion and lack of knowledge then it may be leading to something worse and more dangerous: abuse of one’s sexuality. In some cases members of the young adults and youth generation use the church’s silence as a scapegoat for irresponsible and immoral sexual expression and behaviours. The silence is falsely seen as ‘permission’ to engage in sexual acts. 

 

With this all in mind, how should Christian young adults and youth respond to their own sexuality in a sex-dominated society, especially when people are now single for much longer than they were in previous generations?

 

Despite being single for much longer than previous generations, and despite secular society’s fixation with, and casual treatment of sex, single Christians – particularly young adults and youth – should remain strong in their attitude toward single sexuality, choosing instead to adopt a theocentric ethic towards sexuality rather than adopt the societal norms of the day.

Single Christians should learn to adopt a theocentric, rather than anthropocentric, ethical foundation when it comes to sexuality by looking at sexuality in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible as a basis.

The Old Testament and Sexuality

screen-shot-2016-11-14-at-9-30-06-pmThe people of the Old Testament understood sexuality as explicitly relating to marriage, procreation and family. The primary focus in Hebrew society was that of the need to procreate and bear children, especially males. It was essential to have a strong family network as large numbers could provide more production and security. Male children were especially crucial, as males were perceived as legitimate heirs to the family possessions and as heads of the house. This need to procreate is supported quite clearly in Genesis 1:28: ‘God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it,” and in Genesis 4:1: ‘Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.”’

One thing worth noting is that marriage, as a term, was understood quite differently in the Old Testament as it is now understood in the 21st Century. This Hebrew society was a patriarchal society and as a result, ‘to marry’ meant the same as ‘to possess,’ and wives were therefore treated as part of a man’s property. As a wife was seen primarily as a man’s possession, and due to society’s primary focus on procreation, there was no dating or courting stage. Instead women were betrothed to suitable men and it was usually arranged for them to be married at a much younger age, just after menstruation began (12-14 years), as this was the age that conception was possible and family building could commence.

ten-commandments-300x300The action of sexual intercourse would, no doubt, be essential in order for people of the Hebrew society to procreate and build family networks. As such, the Torah – the law books of the Bible – provided the proper context for sexual intercourse as seen in Exodus 20:14: ‘“You shall not commit adultery.”’ The term ‘adultery’ is defined as voluntarily participating in sexual intercourse with someone who is not your spouse. Thus, the only socially and religiously acceptable context for sexual intercourse was within marriage and as a result, marriage was a societal norm.

Ethicist Lisa Cahill states that biblical teaching for other sexual behaviours are fairly clear ‘despite uncertainty of the exact meaning of certain terms, prohibitions and injunctions.’ Leviticus 18:6-29 prohibits sexual behaviours that appear to be incest, adultery and homosexuality. Biblical outlines for sex in the Bible was therefore assumed to exclusively belong to faithful heterosexual marriage, as this was the only way to procreate.

As Old Testament believers were strictly adherent to God’s law – as set out in Genesis to Deuteronomy – ethical sexuality determined that the only morally, socially and religiously acceptable and righteous sexual intercourse was to be performed within the context of a faithful, heterosexual marriage. By participating and adhering to Scriptural law the society of this time subscribed to a deontological and absolutist ethical approach in that it was one’s duty to marry and procreate and that the only ‘right’ or ‘moral’ way to express one’s sexuality (intercourse) was within the context of faithful, heterosexual and exclusive marriage.

The New Testament and Sexuality

The New Testament saw an age of additional security and stability as societies were structured around permanent cities and the Roman Empire. As a result procreation, whilst still prevalent, receded in importance and a believer’s understanding of sexuality shifted from the physical family to the spiritual family.

screen-shot-2016-11-14-at-9-38-47-pmThe spiritual family – represented by the community of the church – now focused on expressing their sexuality in a community of fellowship, in discipleship and in the following of the teachings of Jesus and Paul. Both men reaffirmed Old Testament law when it came to sexual conduct but also challenged the hearts and attitudes of the people in society they came into contact with as seen in Matthew 19:3-9.

Jesus essentially championed the second-class, the oppressed, the ostracized and the despised in society. He also openly associated and affirmed women as friends, taking compassion on them. This may be best seen in John 4 where Jesus encounters the Samaritan woman at the well. Not only does He take the time to build spiritual relationship with her but also challenged her own to examine her own relationships and understanding of sexuality. Through Jesus and his teachings, which Paul later expands on, we witness a shift from physical, familial-focused sexuality towards communal and spiritual sexuality.

julius_caesar_coustou_louvre_mr1798Paul, in his letter to Corinth, emphasizes and even encourages that a believer’s sexuality can be suitably expressed through celibacy. Throughout the time of the Roman Empire and the Early Church (under the Caesars) sex served social purposes and was a symbol of domination. As a result celibacy not only served as an opportunity to devote one’s self more wholly to God but also counter the societal cultures at work within the larger Roman Empire. We see in this teaching that sexuality is linked to spirituality.

This spiritual sexuality would have no doubt led to the building up of the church community as each believer supported each other in their celibate or abstinent journey and moments of temptation. It was also understood in the early church that sexual sin was not the isolated sin of an individual but rather a communal sin as it created disunity and disruption in the community, most likely due to the fact that sexual sin often involves more than one individual’s emotional or physical participation.

BUT! Paul doesn’t leave without sound theological teaching on how to express one’s self sexually in and outside of marriage. One of the main reasons his first letter to Corinth was written was in order to teach the church of Corinth on how they should conduct themselves and their behaviours – particularly to do with appropriate sexual behaviour – in a manner that conforms to the gospel and Kingdom of Heaven. He teaches that sex should not be withheld from marital partners (1 Cor. 7:1-7) and that those currently married should remain faithful to one another and not seek divorce (1 Cor.7: 12-16). Paul also teaches on what meaningful love looks like which is, in turn, an expression of sexuality (1 Cor. 13).

However, he also provides some guidelines as to what should not be included in a person’s sexual behaviours. In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 he speaks out against sexual immorality and as Paul himself was educated as a Rabbi (religious teacher) we can safely assume that Paul would advocate for genital sexual expression within the context of a mutual, exclusive and heterosexual marriage as taught in the Torah.

Therefore, the New Testament Christian community followed a clear theonomous approach to ethics in that believers were led by the Spirit on how to express their sexuality whilst some were spiritually called to celibacy. They were also instructed on moral sexual practices and expressions of sexuality through the Old Testament Scriptures, as well as, the teachings of Jesus and Paul. This strengthened their spiritual connection with God. Furthermore, this morally spiritual sexuality would have called upon believers to practice and develop the fruits of the Spirit and this would have also been an example of virtue ethics at work within the New Testament Christian society.

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The Developing Church: Between the New Testament and Now

If anything, sexual behaviour and sexual pleasure has been seen as suspect and even sinful in the time period spanning between the New Testament Church and the contemporary Church today. It appears that the Church, in this time period, adopted a largely absolutist and heteronomous approach to sexuality in that sexual expression was bound by clear moral axioms, prohibitions and injunctions as set out in Scripture. Furthermore, sexual pleasure and passion, even within ethical sexual expression, was seen as guilty until proven innocent and dangerous. It was therefore, taught, or at least suggested, that the only truly obedient and safe option was celibacy and virginity.

adam_and_eveNotable Church thinkers frowned on sexuality and sexual pleasure claiming that it was not spiritual. Most notably, St. Augustine expressed that sexual pleasure was dangerous as it led to an inability to resist sex, which in turn, caused people (and believers) to neglect their own moral duties, causing selfishness instead. He even went so far as to call sex a conduit for the original sin participated in by Adam and Eve. We can see that St. Augustine’s perspective has influenced the outlook Christians and society have on sex today.

Christians today can most definitely perceive that moral teachings on sexuality were largely negative in this time period. We are no doubt the recipients of the remains of this negatively held teaching on sexuality. We are left ‘psychosexually stunted or disturbed’ as we attempt to piece together a suitable ethic to sexuality that fits both today’s contemporary society and the theological teachings of the Bible. This is made many times harder by the simple truth that sex is pleasurable and the guilt that Christians encounter when they experience these pleasurable thoughts, feelings and urges. So how should we respond today to sex as both Christian singles? First we need to understand our contemporary view of sexuality.

Contemporary Understanding of Sexuality

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A 21st century understanding of the term ‘sexuality’ has almost become interchangeable with the term ‘identity.’ Secular society is increasingly adoptive of a teleological approach to sexuality in that sexuality has become so closely linked with person-oriented approaches to this moral area. Rather than the heavily absolutist approach to sexuality in the developing church, theologian and ordained pastor Karen Pack states that an ‘increasingly “open” attitude to sex within our culture has permeated the church, influencing the practice of Christians…and often leading to revisionist theology[/ies].’

As Christians are single for much longer – at least in Western society – due to dating and courting stages, engagement periods and the absence of arranged marriages, the church has steadily agreed to the cultural sexual norms of the day. The single stage is even more noticeable due to progressions in social justice which have resulted positively in females having an equal status today, as well as, also being able to have their own careers, dreams and pursuits too; a stark contrast to pre-WWI and WWII generations let alone, the Old Testament period.

Changes and developments witnessed in the 21st century have undoubtedly changed and developed society’s perception of sexuality. ‘Sexuality,’ being so closely linked with ‘personal identity,’ ‘freedom’ and ‘self’ raises an obvious dilemma for the practicing single Christian. According to Philip Turner, Dean of Berkeley Divinity School at Yale University, this link ‘amounts to an ego-centric teleological ethic in which to deny a sexual relation to oneself or to anyone else simply on the basis of marital status, sexual orientation or gender identification…is tantamount to denial of one’s sexuality and so oneself.’

scapegoatThis perception of sexuality for the single Christian results in a dilemma as it can cause the single Christian to feel trapped, denied, isolated, confused and most notably, tempted. If a single believer pairs these feelings with the greatest assurance and truth of the Christian gospel – ‘For by grace you have been saved by faith’ (Eph. 2:8) – a dangerous scenario arises. Grace, if separated from the immense cost it took for us to receive it, can be used cheaply as a scapegoat for the expression of inappropriate and immoral sexuality: genital sexuality outside of the proper context of faithful, exclusive and heterosexual marriage. In expressing this immoral form of sexuality the single Christian hopes to express their personhood through genital sexuality in order to achieve intimacy and identity, yet does nothing but limit the power of the Holy Spirit and reinforce this ego-centric and teleological approach and construct to sexuality which ultimately leads to individual and communal sin.

Unfortunately, this egocentric teleological ethical approach to sexuality is also resulting in academics calling for a different teaching on premarital sex (in all its forms). Philosopher and theologian Dick Westley argues that sex outside of marriage “need not be immoral, and may even not be sinful either. Whether it is sinful for the Christian will depend on whether it negates and contradicts one’s fundamental option of commitment to God and his dream of the Kingdom.” He goes on to argue that committed and relational sex outside of marriage should be accepted as aligning with God’s Kingdom. Westley clearly promotes a teleological and virtue approach to ethics – which is supported by academics Clare Amos and Adrian Thatcher – in that if the expression of sexuality does not conflict with one’s own personal perception of their relationship with God and that they perform pre-marital genital sex (in any form) out of the virtue of committed love than it is morally acceptable. However, this reasoning is seriously floored as a relationship with God is a two-way street and whilst the individual may not see pre-marital sex as damaging of their relationship of God, He may see differently. Furthermore, we, as the human race, do not have the authority to determine what is and isn’t a sin depending on what teleological outcome we want. Rather, sin is defined as ‘missing the mark’ or ‘falling short’ of God and therefore, what is defined as sin can only be determined by a Creator God.

This perspective on pre-marital genital sexuality and sexuality as identity is not theologically accurate and therefore, unethical. Instead the single Christian young adult or youth, despite increasingly longer years of singleness, needs to adopt a theocentric ethical approach to single sexuality.

Theocentric ethics as an appropriate response to Sexuality

It is important to acknowledge that humans are sexual creatures. Sexuality is part of our existence as embodied persons (our soul / spirit existing within the body) as seen in the resurrection of Jesus and the creation of Adam. In the creation of Adam we witness him created as both a physical (formed from the dust of the ground) and spiritual (breathed life into) life. However, the Creation story also reveals that we are incomplete and have a need for community and human bonding. The Creation story reveals this need for community as God himself is a triune and communal God and this is reflected in Adam’s need for a, ‘helper suitable for him [not animals]…[for] it is not good for the man to be alone’ (Gen 2.18). Acknowledging that we are sexual beings created as male and female in the image of God and that sexual pleasure is good is the first place for single Christians to start.

Once we acknowledge that we are all sexual beings in need of community it is then required of single male and female Christians to approach our sexuality from a theocentric, rather than anthropocentric or egocentric, perspective. Theologian and ordained pastor Karen Pack argues that Christians, particularly single ones, should approach sexuality with a ‘Trinitarian, Incarnational Ethic.’

trinity1Christian singles need to understand that God is defined by his triune (God – Jesus – Holy Spirit) nature. This Trinitarian perspective, according to Pack, ‘mandates that ethical living takes place within the context of a redeemed community, not individual isolation,’ and that Christian singles therefore, are mandated with the challenge of upholding their biblical values within the relationships experienced in the church community (1 Pt 1:13-25). A Trinitarian ethic recognises that we have been created as both needing and wanting intimate human relationship however, it does this without sexualizing relationships (i.e. genital sex).

Christian singles also need to understand that our God is incarnational within us as mediated by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit who guides and empowers us to live righteous and holy lives despite the temptations and pressures we may face. This incarnational Christian ethic allows single Christians to express healthy non-genital, single sexuality in a way that does not leave single Christians feeling trapped, confused, denied or isolated. It instead leads them to rich and deep relationships. We only have to look at the example of Jesus.

third-temptationIt is so easy for single Christians to argue that resisting sex is impossible. However, if we take a moment to acknowledge that Jesus was human then we also need to acknowledge that Jesus was able to navigate sexuality in a way that was both Trinitarian (communal) and incarnational. The single Christian needs to remind themselves that Jesus was tempted in every way yet he did not fall into sexual temptation or sin (Heb 4.15). Pack states that Single Christians, ‘can therefore embrace Christ as…[their]…foundational model for…[their]…sexuality.’

Embracing the example of Jesus means that single Christians should embrace the ethic of abstinence from genital sexual expression outside of marriage. In abstinence, single Christians should learn to accept and control their sexual feelings with the help of the Holy Spirit who is incarnate within each Christian and who empowers them to live a life that pleases God.

Therefore, the church and its community of believers provide the opportunity for expression of one’s sexuality outside of marriage. Healthy, respectful, joyful and social relationships can be developed and strengthened between all Christians in the church and these relationships release the single Christian from their isolation and teleological egotism. This allows Christians to support each other by providing both spiritual and communal encouragement and accountability to one another as they navigate their own sexuality (1 Thess. 5.11).

friends-laughing-outdoorsAll people can love others separate of genital expression. Love and sexuality can be intimate without being genital or marital. Love can encompass a range of virtues and actions that can be expressed separate of genital sex. Emotional, spiritual, intellectual and physical intimacy can all be experienced in a way that upholds a theocentric ethic regarding sexuality. Suitable physical touch (hugs, handshakes, smiles), the sharing of one’s emotions and thoughts, praying and discussing spiritual journeys with other believers and having academic or intellectual conversation can all lead to a theocentric ethic of expression of sexuality.

Application of a theocentric ethic for Single Christians on the topic of masturbation

Masturbation is a ‘grey’ area when it comes to Christian sexual expression and is one of the most frequently and universally practiced sexual activities with 95% of men and 50-90% of women having masturbated at one time or another. Why do people participate in masturbation? Because it is physically pleasurable. Participation in masturbation is definitely the result of a teleological approach in that the act of masturbation achieves the desired result of physical pleasure: orgasm. Nearly all youth masturbate and this habit can carry on into the age of young adulthood. Tradition, contemporary society and medical research have all told us a diverse range of things with regards to masturbation.

Tradition has told us that masturbation leads to sexual impotence, disease, stupidity, defective offspring and even, homosexuality. On the other hand, contemporary society today tells us that it is a rite of passage and allows the individual to explore and discover themselves and sexual pleasure. Medical research tells us that masturbation may even be a  healthy genital outlet, both mentally and physically, when sex isn’t possible. This again leaves the single Christian with conflicting thoughts about sexuality, particularly to do with masturbation: guilt, defeat and self-hatred at having participated in masturbation versus ‘discovery’ of self and pleasure.

Unfortunately, for the Single Christian the Bible does not directly teach on the topic of masturbation. There are no injunctions or prohibitions that make it clear that it is a sin and not to be participated in and therefore, it would be misleading to state that masturbation is wrong or sinful. However, in saying that Christian singles can still adopt a theocentric, or ‘Trinitarian, Incarnational sexual ethic,’ and apply it to masturbation.

Trinitarian:


Whilst the Bible does not teach on masturbation and it is not a sin in itself, it isn’t an accurate reflection of a Trinitarian, communal God. Perhaps the largest issue with regards to masturbation is that it is a self-centered and isolated activity. It depersonalises as it requires a person to turn to one’s self to satisfy sexual desires rather than turn to others and develop healthy and deep personal relationships that express sexuality appropriately, as well as, develop and promote rich spiritual community. desert-island-adsOr, if we use the words of Richard Foster, masturbation is “sex on a desert island.” Masturbation does not promote or build community and healthy, meaningful relationships which is a major hallmark of the Christian gospel and the inclusive message of salvation for all. 

Incarnational:

Furthermore, masturbation can be dangerous due to its ability to lead to sins that are prohibited and taught against in the Bible (both Old and New Testament). Masturbation is closely linked to sexual fantasies, lustful thoughts and pornography. It is a nigh on impossible for masturbation to occur in an imageless or thoughtless void. Erotic, lustful and pornographic images, thoughts or feelings come to mind during masturbation and these images are clearly spoken against by Jesus in Matthew 5:28: “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

Masturbation can also become obsessive. Obsession can quickly lead to forms of idolatry. People obsess over money, fame, influence and more. Sex, and masturbation, can also lead to obsession which can be dangerous grounds for idolatry, which is a sin as seen in the 10 Commandments. The Commandments reveal that we are to have and worship only one God: the Trinitarian God. The only legitimate ‘obsession’ Christians should have is the one true God and therefore, control over our bodies, thoughts and actions are required to demonstrate this.

Masturbation versus a Trinitarian, Incarnational ethic of sexuality

Therefore, as Single Christians or married Christians, we are called to express our sexuality in a way that builds spiritually healthy and meaningful relationships and that build up the community of believers around us. Masturbation endangers this as it does not promote or reflect the Trinitarian and communal God but rather, fosters isolation and the turning in to one’s self for pleasure. Furthermore, masturbation endangers our ability to reflect a righteous and holy God due to the sins that it can so easily lead to. Single Christians again can overcome these issues by recognising the incarnate role of the Spirit in their lives that empowers them to not only resist dangerous, tempting and sinful activity but also to seek healthy and appropriate non-genital sexual expression in a spiritual community of like-minded believers.

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Concluding thoughts: What should Single Christians (Youth and Young adults) take away from this blog?

Thus, single Christians, including young adults and youth, express their sexuality socially and spiritually within the inclusive church community with the aid of the incarnate Holy Spirit at work within them. They do this by remaining abstinent of genital sexual expression outside of marriage. Despite living in an age where people are single for much longer – due to a myriad of reasons – the single Christian is still called to an attitude and ethic of sexuality that focuses on the theocentric, rather than the anthropocentric, realm. They are called to live theonomous lifestyles that call upon the guidance of both Scripture and Spirit within a community of believers.

Sexual intercourse and genital sexual expression remain solely for and within the context of faithful, exclusive and heterosexual marriage. This needs to be protected and perceived as holy and sacred by the single Christian as non-marital and unfaithful sex will affect both the embodied individual, as well as, the community.

God bless!

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References/Further reading:

Amos, Clare. “Marriage – and Its Alternatives: An Anglican Perspective, Yesterday and Today.” Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations 17, 3 (July 2006): 269-279

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship. New York: SCM Press Ltd, 1959.

Cahill, Lisa Sowle. “Sexual Ethics: a feminist Biblical perspective.” Interpretation 45 no.1 (1995): 5-12.

Fee, Gordon D and Stuart, Douglas. How to Read the Bible Book by Book. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002.

Foster, Richard J. “Sexuality and Singleness.” In Readings in Christian Ethics: Issues and Applications, edited by David K. Clark, Robert V. Rakestraw, 155-165. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1996.

Grenz, Stanley J. Created for Community. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998. 

Grenz, Stanley J. The Moral Quest: Foundations of Christian Ethics. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1997.

Grenz, Stanley J. “The Purpose of Sex: Toward a Theological Understanding of Human Sexuality.” CRUX 26, 2 (June 1990): 29-34.

Grenz, Stanley J. Welcoming but Not Affirming: An Evangelical Response to Homosexuality. Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1988.

Gudorf, Christine E. Body, Sex, and Pleasure: Reconstructing Christian Sexual Ethics. Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press, 1994.

Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Wheaton: Crossway, 2001.

Koszarycz, Yuri Josef. “Sexual Morality and the Catholic Tradition.” Australian Christian University. http://www.mccauley.acu.edu.au/~yuri/ethics/sex.html [Accessed via Moodle link on Nov 13, 2016].

Maguire, Daniel C. “Sex and the Sacred.” CrossCurrents, 54, 3 (2004). http://www.crosscurrents.org/Maguire0304.htm [Accessed Nov 13, 2016].

Pack, Karen. “Single and Sexual: The Challenge of Holiness for Unmarried Christians.” CRUX 46, 2 (2010): 13-18.

Rohr, Richard. “The holiness of human sexuality.” Sojourners, (October 1982): 30-32.

Thatcher, Adrian. “Postmodernity and Chastity.” In Sex These Days: Essays on Theology, Sexuality and Society, edited by Jon Davies and Gerard Loughlin, PAGE NUMBER 122-140. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997.

Turner, Philip. “Sex and the Single life.” First Things First, no.33 (May 1993). https://www.firstthings.com/article/1993/05/002-sex-and-the-single-life [Accessed Nov 13, 2016]

Westley, Dick. Morality and It’s Beyond. Mystic: Twenty-Third Publications, 1984.

The ‘M’ Word

Masturbation.

Shivers! Did I really just say that? Did you just sit up a little higher in your chair? Did you just check over your shoulder to see if anyone else could see what’s on your screen? Why?

scaleMasturbation is perhaps the most frequently condemned yet most universally practised sexual activity that there is. If there was such a thing as an ‘ethical judgement scale‘ then the sexual practise of masturbation swings from one extreme to the other in society.

Masturbation, for some, is considered and condemned as a serious sin; sometimes so serious that it is seen as worse than adultery or sex outside of marriage. For others masturbation is perceived as ‘normal,’ as something that should be placed in the same category as brushing your teeth. 

I for one, do not personally condone the practise and I would like to make that clear from the beginning. This is not a blog advocating for masturbation. However, in saying that, I think that we, as the Church, need to have a better answer for those that have questions regarding masturbation that go beyond the simple, yet underwhelming answer of silence or repression.

111033476Regardless of your perspective on it, one thing is clear: 90% of males and 50-90% of females have previously masturbated or currently do (McCary, 1982). Sure, you may be thinking, ‘so what? That statistic is 34 years old,’ however, society has become even more exposed to sex – and therefore, masturbation – since then. Forbes states that from 2009 to 2010, 13% of all web searches were porn-related. An article from the Sydney Morning Herald states that this is now actually somewhere closer to 30%. I encourage you to look for the statistics yourself but if one is able to take anything away from this then it is ‘sex [still] sells’ and masturbation is still an issue up for discussion today.

So who is affected by masturbation and why is masturbation dangerous?

Participation in masturbation has occurred universally from man to woman, young to old, continent to continent. However, it is more widely practised by adolescents (youth), young adults and those that are single (Foster, 1995).

The topic of masturbation, especially for Christian believers, provides even more of an issue as the Bible does not directly deal with masturbation. There are no laws, injunctions or teachings that are evident in the Bible specific to masturbation. Therefore, any help that we get from the Bible will be indirect, yet invaluable nonetheless.

Whilst masturbation isn’t addressed directly in the Bible as a sin it can be very dangerous as it leads to sin and obsession:

  • Masturbation is connected with sexual fantasy and is ultimately image-driven (whether that’s by pornography or images conjured in the mind). Jesus does teach against lust in Matthew 5:28 where he says, ‘But I say to you that everyone who looks [including pornography or conjured images] at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery [sin] with her in his heart.’
  • Masturbation can lead to obsession. It can become a habit that dominates everything and separates sexual fantasy from sexual reality and acceptable sexual practises. Furthermore, when something becomes an obsession it becomes idolatrous in nature, which is sin in itself.
  • Masturbation depersonalises the true meaning of our sexuality as humans: ‘True sexuality leads to deep personal relationships with another [whether platonic or romantic] but masturbation is sex on a desert island,’ (Foster, 1995) with no other party needed. Masturbation involves the satisfying of one’s desires instead of the healthy turning outward towards another person as sexuality was and is designed by God in the beginning.

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The Church’s current response:

Believers – single/married, young/old, male/female – often approach the Church seeking guidance on this very issue because it does prove to be confusing, unclear and concerning. However, believers are also often met by the church’s reply of cold silence or a counsel of repression: ‘You shouldn’t do that!’ It’s a sin.’

Both of these responses are largely inadequate.

Why is silence inadequate as a response? Sex and sexuality is talked about more than once in the Bible and Jesus himself didn’t shirk away from teaching on issues of sex andScreen Shot 2016-09-05 at 10.00.20 pm sexuality. Neither did Paul. Why then should the church remain silent? And why should its silence be ‘cold’ when Jesus always took the time to address people and provide adequate teaching and answers?

Why is repressing and ‘squashing’ those that come for guidance inadequate as a response? Because the fact is that we were created as sexual beings in God’s own image
(Genesis 1 and 2). God has designed our body and spirit to participate and enjoy sexuality, in the right context of course. A repressive answer such as, ‘Do not masturbate,’ simply isn’t satisfactory as it ultimately sets believers and those approaching christianity for the first time – all of who are sexual beings – up for failure.

This failure, experienced the next time masturbation occurs, can produce feelings of guilt, shame, bitterness, disillusionment, defeat and self-hatred in people. “Oh! I’ve failed. I have to be better. I won’t do it again…I’ve sinned again. I’ll never be good enough. What’s the point in trying to resist? I give up. I hate myself.”

Both answers are inadequate and unacceptable. The Church has an opportunity to provide much needed practical guidance on an issue that is quietly swept under the rug by the majority of society.

So what should our response as the Church be?

Church-Tower-with-Bell-Coloring-PagesLet’s get one thing straight. When I refer to the Church I refer to all Christians inclusive of both you and me and not just limited to that of church leadership. Nor do I refer to a specific church. Instead I refer to the Church as all believers. We have an opportunity to provide sound mentorship, support and welcoming in response to an issue that is confusing, difficult and dangerous.

Our response? A response that proclaims balance, control and perspective towards the issue of masturbation (Foster, 1995).

BalanceWhen I refer to balance I do not mean a balance of masturbation and ‘non-masturbation’. Not at all. Instead we, as believers, should promote an awareness in those struggling for answers about masturbation of the importance of having a balance between an obedience to God’s call and an understanding of his grace and forgiveness. This balance provides us with two things. By having an awareness of being obedient to God’s call we can shape our relationship with sexuality in accordance with God’s intended design for sexuality – relationship (platonic or romantic) with others, rather than satisfying urges of the self. By understanding his grace and forgiveness we safeguard our hearts and minds against the dangers of guilt, shame, self-hatred, condemnation and the shattering of self-esteem when we inevitably fall short and stumble.

Control: We need to respond with a message of control. Self-discipline, in the form of routines, systems and accountability partners goes a long and practical way in protecting us from pitfalls and dangers that potentially lead us to sin; in this case, lust and idolatrous obsession at the very least.

Perspective: We need to respond with a message that promotes perspective. We shouldn’t respond with silence or repression. There is no point denying the fact that we are sexual beings who are designed to experience and enjoy sexual activity. However, this message also calls for a realist perspective that experiencing and enjoying our sexuality is most likely not in the form of masturbation but instead, in union with another under the covenant of marriage.

Human sexuality is a massive talking point and we as the Church and Christian believers have a real opportunity to welcome appropriate discussion on these issues, provide practical teaching and counter a culture dominated by sex, something that is often portrayed as a trivial, everyday thing.

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Clark, David K. and Rakestraw, Robert V.  Readings in Christian Ethics: Issues and Applications (Chapter by Foster). Baker Academic, 1995.

McCary, James Leslie and McCary, Stephen P.  Human Sexuality. Wadsworth Pub. Co., 1982

Having a covenant relationship with God

What does having a covenant relationship with God look like? How does it impact on the lives we live each day as Christian followers? How does it affect our outlook on life and how we should act towards others? Let’s have a look at the Old Testament Israelites, God’s ‘chosen people’, for some answers.

God’s ‘chosen people’ arguably started with Adam and Eve, the first two humans on Earth, with whom he made a covenant. “I will look after you, walk with you and talk with you. I will do life with you. Look after creation and steward it well” (Genesis 1 and 2).

2762_5860_553It gained even more definition with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob where he promised them that he would make them a ‘great nation‘ (Genesis 17:4-5). That his descendants would rule as Kings and that they would live in the land of Canaan, the promise land.

mosesHowever, God’s covenant with the Old Testament Israelites appears to have reached its zenith in Exodus where God delivers the Israelites from Egyptian bondage, freeing them to pursue the promise land. As the Israelites’ trek through the desert we see God establish a covenant with them. He says to them through Moses, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex 19:5-6).

If we look at the last scripture in particular we can take away a couple of things about His covenant with the Israelites that are still applicable to us today.

1. Living as God’s covenant people means living in relationship with God as His covenant partner.

“If you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant…”

Creation-of-Adam - CopyWhilst God freely showed grace and mercy to the Israelites and rescued them from Egypt (salvation) living a life in covenant with Him is more than just receiving. It meant that the Israelites had to choose to live a certain way and adopt a certain lifestyle. For us this also means choosing to live a certain way and adopting a certain lifestyle. Through doing this we begin to live in relationship with God as his covenant partner.

2. This chosen lifestyle isn’t simply to follow a code of conduct and moral obligations.

Code_of_Conduct_(United_States_Military)

Yes. God does call us to live a certain way. To remove the profane practices from our lives and to adopt His truth and His way but not so that we are simply following rules for obedience’s sake. Do not get me wrong; obedience should be practised, not out of obligation but out of desire.

Rather, the reason we choose to live in a certain way and enter a relationship with God as His covenant partner is so that we can model the ‘holy nation’ that he has promised the Israelites would come be (Ex. 19:5-6). This isn’t just relevant to the Israelites. It’s relevant to us, as seen in 1 Peter 2:9 in the New Testament.

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, to proclaim the virtues of Him who called you out of the darkness into His marvellous light.”

This verse tells us WHY we choose this lifestyle. Not because of blind obligation. Instead, we choose this lifestyle so that we can model this holy and righteous life towards the rest of the world. “To proclaim the virtues of Him,” towards your family, friends, coworkers. Towards complete strangers. The only problem is how do we know what a holy and righteous life looks like?

3. God’s divine character is revealed through his covenant: live according to His character.

God revealed how to live a holy and righteous life through the establishment of his covenant with the Old Testament Israelites. He demonstrates love, grace, mercy, provision and justice towards them by rescuing them from Egypt, providing for them in the desert and promising them the promise land. He teaches compassion, courage, peace and joy through his actions and through his character.

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And in case we forgot…He did it all again which is so clearly displayed in the life of Jesus. To live a holy and righteous life means to emulate God’s own character both in your personal life and in your life towards others.

Living out a covenant lifestyle with God, with Jesus and with the Holy Spirit means to live in relationship with Him as His covenant partner. To emulate His character, both as an individual and as a community of believers, towards others therefore, modelling a holy and righteous life to the world.

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Waking up in the Garden of Eden

garden-of-eden

My alarm regularly goes off at 6.00am in the morning. To some (tradies) that might not be so early but for me, it is. Sometimes, I lie there and wish that Adam and Eve didn’t stuff up and that we were all still in the Garden of Eden, swimming in the rivers sparkling with gold, naming animals and eating fruit…in other words, having a good time. I mean how good would it be to not have to go to work and spend time doing what you want to do?

But recently I’ve had the revelation of how complacent my fantasy construct of the Garden of Eden was. Whilst I’m sure the Garden of Eden was absolutely stunning, beautiful and amazing God didn’t just task Adam and Eve with relaxing, eating and hanging out. In fact it says in Genesis 2:15 that, ‘the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.’

como-cuidar-bonsai-podarGod commanded mankind (both man and woman) to work on the land and keep it. In other words, He asked them to steward it and keep it in order. To prune it and look after it so that it would grow and thrive.

I guess this is where my mind flicked a switch. It dawned on me of how complacent and dangerously comfortable it is for followers of Christ to get lost in the fantasy of pursuing the idea of a Garden of Eden in which the only thing that matters is our own ‘pursuit of happiness’.

I’ve heard of multiple academic, geographical and theological theories as to where the Garden of Eden may be located and I can understand the temptation in wanting to know where this garden exists, if it still does. However, it has become instantly apparent that we do not need to look for the existence of the original Garden of Eden because we are each living in our own Gardens of Eden. 

Each of us has a Garden of Eden where our job is to do more than just rest and relax and have a good time. Just as God commands Adam and Eve to work the ground and keep it in Genesis 2, so we must realise that this is a command for us too.

In Mark 8:34 Jesus clearly states to the disciples and the crowd around him, ‘If you want to be my followers, you must forget about yourself. You must take up your cross and follow me.’

handsI drive to work every morning and on my way to work, more often than not, I see a man in front of his house, on his hands and knees, tending to individual plants and flowers in his garden. Sometimes, he is removing weeds. Sometimes, he is watering plants. And, at other times, he is pruning dying or undesired petals and leaves. Regardless of what he is doing on any particular day I notice that his hands and knees are dirty and that his brow is covered with sweat.

The point? The point is that we each have a metaphorical Garden of Eden to tend to and look after. And it’s not easy. It requires you to get ‘dirty’ and ‘sweaty’; it requires hard work. Jesus doesn’t pretend that it isn’t hard either. He clearly says in Mark that you must forget about yourself – your pursuit of happiness and comfortable living – and must take up your own cross and follow him.

In other words, we need to put our agenda second and live for Jesus’ agenda first.

His agenda impacts on eternity. Ours lasts only a lifetime.

What is His agenda? His agenda is to save lost people and love on them for eternity. This requires us, as Christian followers, to become more single-minded and committed about sharing him with others, through our actions and our words (Mark 8:35).

Get uncomfortable people. Let’s get to work.

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Why Fear isn’t a good evangelism tool

fear

Have you ever been on the receiving end of somebody saying, “Accept Jesus as your Lord and Saviour or you’ll burn in the fiery pits of Hell!”? Or have you, as a Christian yourself, ever cringed as others that share your faith evangelise with statements such as, ‘If you don’t repent from your sins now then your judgement will be destruction and suffering with the Devil”?

Don’t know what I mean? I’m sure you have heard something about certain Churches in the US (that I will leave unnamed as they don’t deserve the publicity) who use this fear, and hate, as a twisted form of evangelism in an attempt to forcefully connect person with Saviour; non-believer with Christ.


hold plant editEvangelism, if you do not know, is simply the spreading of the gospel – of Jesus as saviour and redeemer – to the community who may not yet know God or who once did but decided to walk away.

Now that the scene is set and that all relevant terms have been defined, let’s have a look at what the Bible has to say about ‘fear’.

Fear is mentioned in the Bible 523 times and it is used in three major ways. Firstly, the term is often referenced as having a fear of the Lord. This fear is equivalent to having a reverence for The Lord’s power and glory as ultimate King and Judge; a deep respect, appreciation and value of His rule. Having a ‘fear of the Lord’ is stated in many verses throughout the Old and New Testaments (Psalm 111:10, Proverbs 14:27, etc.). The Bible teaches that by having a fear of the Lord, you will receive wisdom, knowledge, life, contentment, safety, love and more. 

Secondly, the Bible uses the word in the context of something that can be overcome. For example, a ‘spirit of fear’ that can be overcome by love and discipline (2 Timothy 1:7) or ‘fear’ that can be overcome by perfect love (1 John 4:18).

Finally, the Bible commonly uses the term, ‘Fear not’ or ‘Do not fear’, in passages of scripture. Isaiah 41:10 tells us to, ‘Fear not, for I [God] am with you,’ and Deuteronomy 31:6 says, ‘Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.’

If we, as Christians or as readers of the Bible, combine these three uses of the term ‘fear’ we have a number of verses instructing us that to have a fear of the Lord is to have a deep reverence for Him, that any fear that we may have in our own lives can be overcome by His perfect love and lastly, that we should not worry or live in fear because the Lord God is with us and will never leave us.

 LOVE > FEAR

So if we bring this back to the topic of using fear, as we understand the term today, as a tool to evangelise we can observe that the practice is inconsistent with biblical teaching. Jesus, as well as His disciples, did not use fear when evangelising and witnessing to crowds. Instead, they used examples of God’s love, goodness, faithfulness, forgiveness, mercy, grace and more to illustrate the life-changing experience one has when entering a relationship with Jesus the saviour.

If these acclaimed preachers and teachers used examples of God’s love, goodness and faithfulness as tools for evangelism why would we do anything differently from those we model our faith on? 

These tools promote connection in the community, place value on each individual person’s life and truly reflect the character of Jesus; 3 integral aspects to living out a Christian faith.

In finishing, if this still hasn’t convinced you that fear is not a viable tool for evangelism then consider this verse:

Romans 10:9 – ‘If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.’

It is one thing to get someone to confess something out of fear yet have you truly succeeded in your evangelism if they do not openly and willingly accept this belief in their heart? For someone to openly and willingly accept the belief that Jesus is Lord in their own heart, soul and spirit they need to come to the decision of their own free will and choice.

Thanks for reading.

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Seven ways to spot a homeschooler

Stereotypes exist everywhere! We’ve all heard that blondes are ‘dull’, that certain races can’t swim or drive, that those that live in the south of the United States must be rednecks and that those who wear glasses must certainly be nerds.

Are these stereotypes factually-based? Are these stereotypes true to the hilt? Most certainly not. They should be taken with a grain of salt as we must remember that everyone is an individual and that people cannot possibly be boxed into a category based solely on pre-existing stereotypes.

In saying that, stereotypes exist because some trend or pattern does exist generally. Let me take you through some of the stereotypes that face the modern-day homeschooler…

Ah, the adventurous life of a home schooler…navigating the special school ‘subjects’ of cleaning one’s room and vacuuming, playing soccer by themselves at ‘break time’ and not interacting, yet alone seeing, another living soul outside of their immediate family for weeks on end.

And then BANG! The homeschooler finishes secondary school and attends the homeschooling graduation ceremony. Next day – real world. Whilst these homeschoolers may have just graduated school they’ve only just begun lesson 101 in the big, wide world of social interactions and accepted popular culture.

As a result, this apparent inexperience does not go unnoticed by the rest of society. We are left wondering about this seemingly alien species. Who are they? Why do they stand out? What makes them so different? Let me help you out. Here are seven ways to spot a homeschooler.


1. They hang out with siblings more than friends

23de6b04c06750c3a2a9687c8ecc2378It’s not always the case but more often than not these homeschoolers have a minivan’s worth of siblings attached to them. It’s not fair to say that they have more siblings than they do friends…but they do seem to spend abnormally large amounts of time with their siblings.

Don’t get me wrong! My siblings are great and I enjoy hanging with them…just not all the time. If you’re friends with a former homeschooler and you’ve invited them to the movies expect their siblings to also tag along.

 

2. They always seem to have a family lunch on

Ever tried to invite a homeschooler to the beach, to a mountain climb or to a pool party on a Sunday? It doesn’t work. They seem to have a very high rate of family lunches that all occur on Sundays. How this manages to occur, when they have family dinners throughout the week, is beyond me.

 

no-dating-4803. What’s dating?

There is no such thing as dating for a former homeschooler. There is also no such thing as kissing before marriage. Semi-arranged marriages and awkward wedding day kisses only!

 

bowl-cut-and-bangs4. Bowl cuts and hand-me-downs

If you’re looking to identify a homeschooler through physical means look no further than their haircut and fashion. Bowl cuts, mullets, shirts 2 sizes too big and pants 2 sizes too small are all familiar indicators that you are currently gawking at a homeschooler.

 

url_看图王5. Unique fashion sense

If the homeschooler managed to avoid the ill-fitting, hand-me-down clothes then their fashion sense is another giveaway. Hawaiian shirts, as well as, the jeans-sand shoes combination are stock-standard wardrobe choices for a homeschooler.

 

 

159136-425x282-Light-Saber6. Lightsabers, bows and arrows

A homeschooler’s toys growing up were…let’s face it, really cool. It’s just that they are still playing with these toys as an adult.

 

7. Dogs really are their best friend

They seem to have a gift with animals. Sit, Lie down, roll over, beg and shake. These animals will do it all for them without question. Cesar Millan make way, here comes the homeschooler.

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There you have it. 7 characteristics, commitments, appearances or possessions that enable you to identify a homeschooler…if stereotypes were 100% true.

But they aren’t. The homeschoolers I know may display aspects of these stereotypes at times but that is, by no means, a bad thing. It doesn’t belittle them nor does it define them.

Furthermore, I completely accept and respect the decision that families and parents make when it comes to their child’s education. The decision should be based on the family’s beliefs, needs and lifestyle.

If the beliefs, needs and lifestyle of a particular family are more conducive to home school or distance education then go for it. If they are more conducive to a public school then go for that. I acknowledge that it is a weighty choice and I respect the choices that parents make with regards to what is best for their children.

If you are a homeschooler and find yourself getting worked up or offended by this please don’t. I, myself am a former state-schooler and I am sure that the former private school students create these lists about state-schoolers. Maybe you guys can create a list about them…

Hope you enjoyed the fun peace-sign-copy