October 1 2019

Why a Pro-choicer might March for the Babies

march babies

On Saturday 12th October, several thousand people of all walks of life will attend a peaceful protest in the city of Melbourne called “March for the Babies”. At the same time, a counter protest will also take place in the city. At one march will be mostly people who identify themselves as “pro-life” and at the other march will be mostly people who identify as “pro-choice”.

I say “mostly” because many people don’t like the rigidity of such terms. On the complex and sensitive issue of abortion, people often have mixed emotions, views, beliefs and opinions. Sometimes a label like “pro-life” or “pro-choice” doesn’t accurately describe someone’s position on abortion.

To clarify, let me try to summarise the two positions as generously and unbiasedly as I can:

  • prolifevsprochoiceThe pro-life position focusses on the life of the unborn child arguing for its right to be protected from abortion.
  • The pro-choice position focusses on the choice of the pregnant woman, arguing for her right to have an abortion if she wants to.

When two protests like this take place, it is easy to suggest that these two positions are absolute and that there is no overlap. The sides are polarising and people feel pressured to choose which side you wholeheartedly support. I do not think this needs to be the case. Although, I personally am pro-life, I also acknowledge that there are many positions that a person may hold and I would hate for someone to feel excluded from attending the March for the Babies, simply because they felt they were not sure they were a 100% pro-lifer.

I would even suggest that a pro-choicer might feel free to join the March for the Babies. In fact, I think there are good reasons to do so.

5 REASONS WHY A PRO-CHOICER MIGHT JOIN THE “MARCH FOR THE BABIES”

1. The march is not about taking away women’s rights.

The march began back in 2009, one year after certain abortion laws were passed in Victoria. As it says of the March for the Babies website: “On October 10, 2008, the Victorian Parliament passed the Abortion Law Reform Act, one of the most extreme abortion laws in the world. This law eliminated all legal protection for Victorian children until the moment of birth.” The goal of the march is to draw attention to these laws with a hope that they will one day be repealed. Sure, many people present at the march will have strong views about all abortion. Sure, you may disagree with people you would be marching alongside. But you would agree on one point though – that the laws in Victoria are too extreme and should be changed.

2. The Victorian laws as they presently stand allow for abortion all the way up to birth.

late-term-double-image-fetusMany people are unsure about when a human being should be granted the right to life. At the point of conception, the human doesn’t appear to have many of the qualities of what we would call a “person”, but few people can see a late term baby in the womb with all the features of a newborn, knowing that they can feel physical pain during abortion, and that they could survive outside of the womb, and still think that they do not deserve some protection. Even if you are fine with first term abortion, march for the sake of those late term babies.

3. Doctors and nurses are forced to be complicit in the process of abortion.

Often the argument is put forward, “If you think that abortion is wrong, then don’t have one.” Well, Victorian doctors and nurses do not have that freedom. Even if they believes that abortion is a form of murder, or even if the child is in its final term, then by law the doctor or nurse must either perform the abortion themselves or refer the patient to someone who will. If you are pro-choice you may also believe in a medical practitioner’s right to choose. If you think that doctors and nurses should be allowed to conscientiously object to being complicit in an abortion, then join us in marching for this law to be changed.

4. Our current laws allow for partial-birth abortion.

Partial-birth abortion, also known as Intact dilation and extraction (IDX) is a very controversial form of abortion that is banned in many places around the world. It involves killing the child on the very verge of being born, when its entire body is out of the womb except for its head. This is the sworn testimony of nurse, Brenda Shafer, who describes what happens during the procedure:

partialBirth“I stood at the doctor’s side and watched him perform a partial-birth abortion on a woman who was six months pregnant. The baby’s heartbeat was clearly visible on the ultrasound screen. The doctor delivered the baby’s body and arms, everything but his little head. The baby’s body was moving. His little fingers were clasping together. He was kicking his feet. The doctor took a pair of scissors and inserted them into the back of the baby’s head, and the baby’s arms jerked out in a flinch, a startled reaction, like a baby does when he thinks that he might fall. Then the doctor opened the scissors up. Then he stuck the high-powered suction tube into the hole and sucked the baby’s brains out. Now the baby was completely limp. I never went back to the clinic. But I am still haunted by the face of that little boy. It was the most perfect, angelic face I have ever seen.”   

Partial-birth abortion is as close to infanticide as you can get. It is killing a baby when it is almost completely out of the womb and justifying it by the fact that the babies head is not outside as well. And it is legal in Victoria.

Whether you call yourself pro-life or pro-choice, if that law turns your stomach, then join us on Saturday.

5. If an abortion fails, the living baby is left to die.

This may sound extreme, but it is actually true. Consider the scenario… During a late term abortion, the baby is removed but they abortionist failed in their attempt to terminate the child. Now they have on their hands a living, breathing, BORN child. What must they do? Well, in Victoria the child still has no right to life, and these unwanted babies are left to die without food or medical support.

Every year in Victoria, more than 50 babies die shortly after failed abortions. In 2010, Peter Kavanagh MLC (DLP, Western Victoria) raised a motion that these deaths should be investigated. The motion was voted down. They didn’t even want to investigate it. In a media release, Peter Kavanagh said: “My suspicion that abortionists assume the right to kill any baby after birth, whom they try but fail to kill before birth, is now confirmed, however, with the revelation that survivors of abortion are being deliberately neglected to death. One nurse even reports that she was told to drop a surviving victim of an abortion into a bucket of formaldehyde.”

Most people, even hard core pro-choice advocates, would agree that a child should be afforded basic human rights after it is out of the womb, and that if partial-birth abortions aren’t infanticide, this surely is. And yet, in Victoria, that is what the law allows.

If all this information about the Victorian abortion laws is new to you, then check out the following video, which explains it in a bit more detail:

There are many questions raised by the issue of abortion. There are many discussions worth having and there are many compassionate and thoughtful people on both sides of the debate.

But even if you fall more on the pro-choice side, you might still be able to stand with some pro-lifers in saying that Victoria’s abortion laws, as they currently stand, are wrong and worth protesting.

I hope to see you there.

Saturday 12th October, meet at Treasury Gardens in Melbourne by 1pm.

Click here for the Facebook event
Click here for the “March for the Babies” Website

cat Simon march

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September 16 2019

The Foetus, The Heretic & The Evangelical – a parable

A foetus was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by abortionists. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.

An evangelical happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the foetus, he passed by on the other side because it wasn’t a gospel issue.

But a heretic, as he travelled, came where the foetus was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.

After a while, the evangelical felt bad that he hadn’t helped the foetus and so he went to the inn where the foetus was being cared for.

But when he saw that a heretic was helping the foetus and had provided bandages, oil, wine, a donkey and financial support, the evangelical began to worry that if he helped as well, those watching might associate him with the heretic and his heresy.

In fact, he thought, the heretic probably only took the foetus to that inn to look good in order to promote their heretical ideas.

The evangelical immediately went home to write a scathing review of the inn to warn all other decerning travellers not to go there due to its secretive association with the heretic.

Meanwhile, the foetus, not knowing or caring who came to their assistance, rested, recovered and thanked the person sitting next to them for their kindness.

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August 23 2019

A pro-life film for such a time as this

On August 21, thousands of pro-life protestors rallied in Sydney to oppose New South Wales’ new abortion laws. On October 12, thousands of pro-life protestors in Melbourne will join the annual March For the Babies to oppose the same extreme laws that were passed in Victoria 11 years ago. And as God’s timing would have it, in between these two dates, an independent pro-life film called Unplanned will be playing in cinemas across the country. Sadly, it will go under the radar of most Australians, but it is a powerful and important film that I think every Christian should know about and consider going to see. 

Screenings of Unplanned are currently being organised through the website FanForce and if you’ve noticed this film being talked about online, you might have a few questions: What’s the film about? Is it any good? How does it handle the sensitive topic of abortion? Which audience is it appropriate for?

I had the opportunity to see Unplanned twice recently and went in to the cinema with these same questions. I left deeply moved, a little disappointed, but most of all convinced that this is a film worth supporting, especially at this important time in Australia when abortion is in the public spotlight.

What’s it About?

Based on the memoir of the same name, Unplanned tells the true story of Abby Johnson, following her experiences working for eight years at Planned Parenthood, America’s largest abortion provider. Starting as a passionate volunteer, she eventually rose to become the company’s youngest ever clinic director and winner of Employee of the Year. 

The film explores Abby’s sincere motivations for supporting the pro-choice cause, as well as sharing, with compassion and honesty, her own personal story of having two abortions. Through Abby’s experience, we get a unique look behind the scenes at her clinic and see the genuine friendship and camaraderie of the staff Abby worked alongside. Stories of women seeking abortion are portrayed without judgement, though clear criticism is targetted at boyfriends or fathers who push for the termination. 

The story takes us through Abby’s interactions with the pro-lifers who often gathered outside the clinic. Although the prayerful “Coalition For Life” team come across as almost too squeaky clean, to its credit the film does also acknowledge the existence of the hate-filled anti-abortion protestors who are often so destructive to the pro-life message of love. Lastly, in the film’s quieter moments, it explores Abby’s close but challenging relationship with her Christian family, showing their loving concern and awkwardness over her chosen career.

A Confronting Scene

The focal point of Unplanned however, is captured by the movie tagline: “What she saw changed everything”. One day Abby was called to assist in the procedure room and witnessed for the first time an ultrasound-guided abortion of a 13-week old fetus. She watched as it reacted to the probing of the abortion instruments, before being dismembered and sucked up the catheter before her eyes. 

This shocking moment was the catalyst for Abby Johnson’s amazing conversion from pro-choice to pro-life and she has since become one of America’s most outspoken and influential pro-life advocates. 

Now some of you might be thinking: “SPOILER ALERT! Why are you telling us the ending before we’ve even seen the film!” Well, both Abby’s book and the film waste no time getting its message across. This scene is presented within the first 7 minutes of the film, so be prepared. Although the depiction of the fetus on the ultrasound is fairly obviously computer-generated, it is still a very confronting, uncomfortable and upsetting scene. You will not enjoy watching it, but it is an important scene and the filmmakers did an excellent job giving it the appropriate gravity.

As a little bit of movie trivia, the doctor in this scene is played by Dr Anthony Levatino, who is actually a former abortionist who personally performed over 1,200 abortions. Dr Levatino has his own dramatic pro-life conversion story (watch it here) and his presence in this scene gives it extra weight and realism. He said of this scene: “The portrayal of a live, moving fetus disappearing is very accurate. You’re watching an abortion. It’s an accurate view of what’s happening. It’s disturbing if you recognize it’s a human life.”

Abortion is Disturbing

It is also worth noting that there are a couple more graphic and uncomfortable scenes in Unplanned. They are a small percentage of the film’s run time, but confronting enough that the film was given an R rating in the US. Now, this is quite different from the R 18+ rating in Australia and is more equivalent to our MA 15+, but it is still worth noting for those who can’t cope with the sight of blood.

The Motion Picture Association of America justified their rating decision by citing “some disturbing/bloody images”. Some were shocked by this and felt it was a way of trying to suppress the film’s reach. Personally, I think it is warranted. I wouldn’t describe Unplanned as gratuitous or gory, but there are a couple of realistic bloody moments that I would not advise younger teens to see without a parent present. 

In the end, the filmmakers embraced the strong rating. Chuck Konzelman, one of the co-directors said that the rating was an acknowledgement that “abortion is an act of extreme violence.” Even Abby Johnson herself responded to the rating by saying “We are pushing the boundaries of what has never been before on such a wide scale by showing America exactly what abortion is – and abortion is disturbing. It’s violent.” 

Unplanned does not try to sanitise the reality of abortion or simply talk about the topic on a theoretical level. This is Abby Johnson’s testimony and as the poster says “What she saw changed everything”. In trying to tell her story with integrity, the filmmakers made the bold choice to let us see it too.

At the heart of it, that’s what this film is trying to do – help us see abortion for what it is. Unplanned reveals the humanity of those who work in abortion clinics, those who seek abortions, and most importantly, those in the womb. As Bernard Nathanson, another former abortionist turned pro-life, wrote in his book Aborting America, “Fewer women would have abortions if wombs had windows.” This film provides that window. 

Unplanned is Not Unflawed

Unplanned is an important film, especially for such a time as this where, both in the US and in Australia, abortion laws are presently being hotly debated. But, is it a good film? This is a question a friend asked me the other day and I knew exactly what he was asking. 

If you’re a movie fan like me, you have to admit, Christian films don’t have a great reputation. They can come across as contrived, corny or as subtle as a brick to the head. Christians can turn a blind eye to a multitude of movie sins when the film is communicating a message we care about, but our non-Christian friends don’t have reason to be so forgiving. They’ll notice the flaws, so we might as well be honest about them.

If you look at the unfavourable film reviews for Unplanned, apart from disagreeing with its pro-life message, you will find some common criticisms, mainly focussed on the scriptwriting. They point out it has an overuse of narration by its main character and at times the dialogue comes across as overly scripted and unnatural, especially when they are making a character deliver a zinger pro-life argument. I have to agree with these critiques. I think the film does better in its quieter moments when the performers are given space to act and the director “shows” rather than “tells” you what is going on. 

Many critics also mentioned that the film’s antagonist, Abby’s boss Cheryl, comes across as a cartoonishly evil character. In order to make us hate her as the ultimate corporate villain, the script unfortunately gives her some unrealistic lines that do not appear in Abby’s book. For those looking for an excuse to label this pro-life film as manipulative propaganda (like Wikipedia has done) this exaggerated portrayal of the villain can be easily used to try to discredit the rest of the story. I found this especially disappointing because, apart from the character of Cheryl, I thought they did a great job at portraying characters on both sides of this debate with sensitivity, realism and nuance. 

Generally, the acting is solid throughout the film. I particularly thought Ashley Bratcher, who plays Abby Johnson, gave a fantastic performance of the central character’s complex and emotional journey. Also, as an acknowledgement to a smaller character, I thought the beautiful struggle of Abby’s mother loving her daughter whilst disagreeing with her career, was wonderfully performed by Robin DeMarco. 

There are also a couple of deeply moving scenes where the film really shines. The moment when the “Coalition For Life” team pray over barrels of aborted remains is very powerful, as is a scene near the end where Abby acknowledges her own two aborted children.

The Gospel in Unplanned

When critiquing the film from a Christian perspective, I think Unplanned generally does a great job at portraying Christians – both those who are immature in their faith and ones who have persevered in prayer for years. Prayer is actually a bit of a theme in the movie and there is a real encouragement for Christians to not give up praying. 

There is one scene however, where the now repentant Abby is grieving over her involvement in so many abortions and she asks how it is possible that God could forgive her sin. Her husband takes a breath and I was hoping for him to answer with some reference to the gospel or even a brief mention of Jesus, but his only reply is a simple, “Because He’s God.” Now, I didn’t expect him to pull out a whiteboard and explain substitutionary atonement, but something as simple as “Because Jesus died for you” might have been enough. In a film that did not shy away from proclaiming bold truths, it did feel like this moment was a lost gospel opportunity.

That’s not to say there are no gospel themes in Unplanned. Abortion is acknowledged as a sin that should be repented of, though the message is not one of shame or rejection, but of understanding, mercy and the offer of forgiveness. You should feel free to see this film if you or someone you invite has experienced abortion first hand. It may be confronting, but it will not be condemning.

You might be surprised that even those who work in the abortion industry would get a lot out of this film. At the end credits there is mention of Abby Johnson’s ministry “And Then There Were None” that helps abortion workers transition out of the industry. Daryl Lefever, one of the film’s producers, informed me that since the film was released in the US, Abby’s ministry has had around one or two calls every day from abortion workers wanting out.

The real Abby Johnson

Unplanned in Australia

Unplanned is an important, powerful and timely film. It has its flaws, but considering the limited resources they had as an independent film and the opposition they faced, it is honestly a great achievement. 

The film had a tiny budget of 6 million USD (compare that to Dumbo which was released on the same weekend as Unplanned with a budget of 170 million). It had no big name movie stars to draw the crowds and several major tv networks refused to show the movie trailer due to, as one network said, the “sensitive nature of the film”. Then, without warning, on the very weekend of its release, the film’s official Twitter account was mistakenly suspended and to add insult to injury, a day after the account was restored, tens of thousands of its Twitter followers had mysteriously been removed. Despite all these setbacks, due to the support of churches, pro-life groups and curious movie-goers (as well as a lot of prayer), Unplanned surprised everyone by being the 4th most successful film in America for that weekend, beaten only by “Dumbo”, “Us” and “Captain Marvel”.

Now it’s Australia’s turn to see Unplanned. It’s our opportunity to use this film to continue drawing attention to the reality of abortion and the humanity of those in the womb. 

I encourage you to consider whether Unplanned would be a film that not only you, but maybe even your church can get behind. Check out the FanForce website and find a local screening that you can invite people to. You could even apply to host one yourself. 

If you have older teenage kids, consider taking them to discuss the issue of abortion and combat the pro-choice messages they will be constantly hearing from our society. If you have friends or family who are unsure where they stand on this issue, Unplanned would be an interesting film for you to see together. The film doesn’t try to tackle every pro-choice argument, but many have had their assumptions or their apathy about abortion challenged after seeing it. Most of all, after considering the pros and cons I have mentioned, I recommend going to see the film yourself. 

The other day I had the wonderful opportunity to contact Abby Johnson herself and ask her how she felt about her story being shown in Australian cinemas. She replied:

I am thrilled that Unplanned is coming to Australia and in many other places around the world. The impact of this film has been astounding – so many people have told me they changed their minds on abortion, that they chose life for their babies, and that they have been motivated to pray outside abortion clinics or volunteer for their local pregnancy resource center. God has worked miracles through Unplanned and I can’t wait for the people of Australia to see it.

Abby Johnson

For Australian screenings, go to: https://fan-force.com/films/unplanned/

For more about the film, go to: https://www.unplannedfilm.com/

For more about Abby Johnson, go to: http://www.abbyjohnson.org/

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August 9 2019

12 Pro-Choice Arguments for Slavery

12 Pro-Choice Arguments for Slavery

  • The problem with slavery is that when it’s illegal it drives it underground. We need to remove it from the criminal law and make it a matter of civil regulation.
  • If we ban slavery, do you know how many slave owners may get harmed or arrested from illegally trying to keep slaves?
  • If we don’t allow the slave trade, people will just go to a nearby country that does.
  • Those who claim that slaves are human beings made in the image of God and deserving of human rights are just using a religious argument.
  • If you disagree with slavery, don’t own one!
  • Forcing slave owners to give up their slaves is robbing them of their financial autonomy.
  • My plantation, my choice!
  • It’s a personal matter, to be decided between a slave-owner and his slave-trader.
  • Slaves can’t survive on their own apart from the resources given by their owners. Until they can, they are just a clump of cells.
  • Some slave owners just can’t financially survive without slaves. Banning slavery just hurts the poor.
  • Unless you own a plantation, you have no right to have an opinion on slavery.
  • Can you believe we are still being limited by an archaic law criminalising slavery in Australia that was introduced way back in 1833??
The Violinist Slave

And one final illustration…

Let me ask you to imagine this.

You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious slave. A famous unconscious violinist slave.

He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Emancipation Society has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the slave’s circulatory system was plugged into yours, so that your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own.

The director of the hospital now tells you, “Look, we’re sorry the Emancipation Society did this to you–we would never have permitted it if we had known. But still, they did it, and the slave is now plugged into you. To unplug you would be to kill him. But never mind, it’s only for nine months. By then he will have recovered from his ailment, and can safely be unplugged from you.”

Now, here is my question…

Are you morally obligated to accept this situation?

No doubt it would be very nice of you if you did, a great kindness. But do you have to accept it?

Shouldn’t you be free to unplug yourself from this slave?

And not just that. Shouldn’t you be free to kill the slave in whatever way seems best to you? Shouldn’t you be free to suck him up a tube or have his limbs dismembered and his skull crushed if that’s the most efficient way to be free?

Even if you discover that the slave is not just some random stranger, but as it turns out, your own flesh and blood. Your own son in fact. Even if you are the slave’s mother, shouldn’t you be free from any obligation to him? Shouldn’t you have the freedom to kill your son to gain your freedom from your son?

Even if your son the slave actually was not taken from another place and unnaturally attached to you, but naturally came into being attached to you, shouldn’t you be able to claim he has no right to be there? Even if he could not actually be expected to be anywhere else, shouldn’t you have the right to kill him?

Even if (in over 95% of cases) the Emancipation Society did not actually attach this slave to you against your will, but you were also responsible for him being attached. Even though only the slave is the true innocent victim in this scenario, shouldn’t you be free to kill him if you now want to be free of that attachment?

The answer is obvious.


If you were not aware, the above illustration is my parody of the famous pro-choice thought experiment, often called “The Violinist”.

The original was written in 1971 by Judith Jarvis Thomson in the introduction to her essay “A Defense of Abortion” and despite its glaringly obvious flaws (which my parody has attempted to highlight) it is still today often presented as the knock-out pro-choice argument.

Acknowledgments also to David Ould & Jereth Kok for contributing a couple of the “Pro-Choice arguments for slavery”.

If you can think of any more, please write them in the comments.

Or if you are pro-choice and think that the parallel I have suggested that exists between abortion and slavery is an unfair one, please comment as well.

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July 28 2019

Sonshine – a poem

No wonder ancient people

Thought the sun must be a God.

To think it is a deity

Is really not that odd.

By day its fire provides us warmth,

Its sunshine gives us light,

And reflecting off the moon

It even lights our way night.

We need the sun to give us life,

To grow our daily bread.

Without the sun our planet

Would be cold and dark and dead.

But though it is a source of life

It also makes us fear.

We must find rescue from it’s heat.

We can not draw too near.

And though we will be like the blind

If we don’t have its light,

To dare to stare upon its light

Will steal our gift of sight.

It’s brilliance is too holy.

It’s fire is too hot.

It’s size dwarfs our planet.

Yet these things are oft forgot.

As we gaze upon a sunset

And enjoy its warmth and glow,

We can take the sun for granted

And forget these things we know.

No wonder ancient people

Saw a god within the sun.

The sun is like a deity

In ways much more than one.

But the sun above is not a god.

One day its light will fade.

It is not a Creator.

Like us the sun was made.

The sun’s more like a diplomat –

A King’s ambassador.

To shine the truth of the True God,

That’s what the sun is for.

It’s blazing light and heat and size

Is brilliant allegory.

A great and glorious spotlight

Pointing to Another’s glory.

And one day there will be no sun

And there will be no night.

For the Lamb of God will be our lamp,

His glory be our light.

So when you see the sunshine

Know there is a greater One.

And let’s shine like stars towards that day

When the sun is replaced

by the Son.

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March 13 2019

Good. News. About Jesus.

Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.

Acts 8:35

Most Christians know that they should be like Philip in Acts 8:35. We should share “the good news about Jesus” whenever we have the opportunity and we should try to make as many opportunities as we can. This, of course, is challenging. We often feel like we don’t know the best thing to say, or if we do, we can easily feel nervous or even fearful about how people may respond.

In my own journey of facing these challenges, there are the three key things I try to remember as I share the good news about Jesus:

It’s good. It’s news. And it’s about Jesus.


#1. It’s about Jesus

If you want to share the heart of Christianity, your focus has to be on the Christ at its centre. The gospel isn’t the good news about you. It’s not about how your life has improved since becoming a Christian. The gospel is about Jesus – about who he is and what he has done – and we must make sure we remember that focus.

As Paul the apostle wrote:

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

1 Corinthians 2:1-2

For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord…

2 Corinthians 4:5
Do you use the “J” word?

One way I challenge myself to remember this focus is with a funny little test I call “The Three Levels of Wussiness”. If I have a face to face conversation about spiritual matters, I reflect afterwards on which words I chose to use and which I chose to avoid.

Now, if I just talked about “Christianity”, or used phrases like “As a Christian” or “my faith”, I consider that a Level 3 of being a wuss. It’s not that I said anything particularly wrong. It’s just that there is little to no risk to me or to my listeners when you keep it that vague. There’s also little to no chance that the actual gospel was communicated.

If I have a bit more courage, I may get to Level 2, which means I talked about “God”. More personal, but still nice and broad as people can often inject their own definition as to what that word means.

Level 1 is where I actually use the “J” word and talk about Jesus specifically. For me, that is clear. That is courageous. That where I might actually be sharing the gospel. Because the gospel is specifically the good news about Jesus.

You may think I’m being harsh on myself, or maybe for you, just telling people that you’re a Christian is a big step. If it is, then don’t let my “Three Levels of Wussiness” test make you feel overwhelmed. God is glorified by (and can use) any small faithful word that we say in an effort to point people to the gospel.

My goal is not to guilt-trip you or myself. To be honest, I fail heaps of the time. It’s simply easier to answer a religious question with “Well, as a Christian…” rather than “Well, Jesus teaches that…” I do these reflections with a big awareness of my weakness and need for God’s grace and help. I simply want to challenge us to not wimp out by avoiding using the “J” word. As God gives you these opportunities to share the good news, pray for courage and remember – it’s about Jesus.

#2. It’s News

The second thing I want to remember is that the good news about Jesus may involve lots of things, but fundamentally… it’s news.

When Paul tells us to remember the gospel, look at how he summarises it:

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you… For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

1 Corinthians 15:1, 3-5

The gospel – the central message of Christianity – is not a philosophy for how to live. It’s not a list of moral rules or a system of religious practices. The gospel is not even a presentation of theological truths or a creed that people need to sign up to. Of course, the New Testament does contain all of those things, and they are good to discuss. They just aren’t the gospel.

The gospel literally means “good news”. It is a declaration of something that has happened in history – centred around the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. So, even if you’re using the “J” word but you’re not sharing the news about Jesus, then you probably aren’t sharing the gospel.

Why is that an important distinction to get right? Because it’s only the good news that is “the power of God for salvation” (Romans 1:16). It is coming to hear and believe this news that is the primary method God uses to save people. Ethical philosophy, social commentary and systematic theology are great topics of conversation, but more than anything else, people need to hear the simple news about who Jesus is and what he has done.

This also implies something else important – you can’t just use your good works to share the gospel.

I’m sure you have heard the popular saying:

Preach the Gospel at all times.

When necessary, use words.

This quote is wrongly attributed to St. Francis of Assisi (there’s actually no evidence he ever said this), but whoever said it, the way these words are often used is to argue that you don’t really have to use words to spread the gospel to the world. You just live it out.

Although, the New Testament does commend living “in step with the truth of the gospel” (Galatians 2:14), it never suggests that sharing the gospel could ever be done silently. If the gospel is actual news that people need to be informed about and respond to, then actions alone will never suffice. Like any sort of news, both the spoken and written word will need to be the primary way that it will be communicated.

Now, I say “primary” because I do think there is a place for visual mediums such as illustration, painting, theatre and cinema. I have used lots of these creative tools over my life and know that can be very effective at communicating the gospel. But no matter what tool you use, if your goal is to share the good news, then you must remember that it is news.

Like an approaching bushfire, the gospel is important news that needs to be responded to.

Consider this illustration: A bushfire is sweeping across the countryside, approaching a nearby town. That is the news and all in the town need to hear it and respond to it. Now, you could communicate this news through phone calls, text message, sirens and visual alerts popping up on people’s phones. There are many ways that you can tell people the news that a bushfire is coming.

It’s also true that if you believe this news, then you will act in such a way that demonstrates that – hosing down your house or packing your bags and evacuating the area. In fact, if you weren’t acting like that, then even if you did tell people about the bushfire, why would anyone believe it was true. So our actions definitely do back up our words, but they can not replace them.

Like an approaching bushfire, the gospel is important news that needs to be responded to. We must live lives that show that we believe the gospel, but we must not rely on just our lives to communicate it. As the first part of that saying says, “Preach the Gospel at all times”. Just remember that words will almost always be necessary.

#3. It’s Good

Sharing the gospel is not easy. The news about Jesus is challenging and for some, offensive. There is also an increasing movement in the West to simply write off the gospels as fairy tales with no historical value that requires a response. If that wasn’t discouraging enough, the bible tells us that the human heart is naturally blind to the light of the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:4) and that no one is able to respond to the gospel unless God enables them (John 6:65).

Turning hearts to respond in faith to the news about Jesus is literally an impossible task – conversion is God’s work, not ours. In that context, it almost seems futile to share the gospel. If the expectation is that, unless God acts, the message (and maybe the messenger) will be ignored, rejected, mocked and opposed, why would anyone share it? Why put yourself through that?

I used to answer that question with “Because it is true.” But I am more and more convinced that even believing in the truth of the gospel will not actually get us sharing it. More than knowing that the news about Jesus is true, we need to know deep in our soul that the news is good.

So, the third thing I need to remember in order to share the “good news” is that it is indeed good news! The gospel is the hope for the world, the light in the darkness, the solution to the problem of the human condition. It is epic enough to fix the brokenness of the entire universe and intimate enough to reconcile an individual soul to their Creator.

God the Son truly did come to earth 2,000 years ago. He truly walked the dusty roads of Jerusalem, performed miracles, taught the truth about God’s kingdom and loved people as we never could. He truly did take our sins and die in our place on the cross and on Easter morning he truly was raised from the dead and now rules the Universe! And all people, no matter who they are or what they have done are called to abandon their sin, turn to Jesus and take this free gift of forgiveness, reconciliation and eternal life. This is the good news and it is truly good!

But do we really believe that? Do we honestly believe that your friends and family will be better off if they embrace the gospel? If we do believe it is good news, then why aren’t we sharing it?

When someone has discovered a new crazy diet that has changed their life, or has started watching a show on Netflix that is blowing them away, or has just won TattsLotto, or is going to get married and everyone’s invited, they have no problem telling people about it. It is natural to share good news, especially when others can join in on it too.

But is that how you think about the news about Jesus? Or do you think about it as simply a weird set of beliefs that we Christians ascribe to, but you wouldn’t want to burden anyone else with? If that’s the case, then you will never share Jesus with anyone, or if you do, it will only be out of some begrudging sense of duty.

If you want to joyfully and naturally introduce people to Jesus, you have to be convinced, as Paul was, of “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8).

Consider these poetic words of King David:

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.

Psalm 63:1-3

His lips can’t help but speak about God because he knows that God’s steadfast love is better than life. We need to remember that too. We are such distracted and forgetful creatures. We need to daily remind ourselves and each other of the goodness of the good news.

In this “dry and weary land”, we need to spend time in God’s Word, drinking deep from the gospel and letting it overflow onto our lips in words of praise and gospel sharing. Then we will join with King David as he calls to people in another great psalm:

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!
Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!

Psalm 34:8

I hope this article challenges and encourages you. I hope for some it convicts and humbles you. But really, this article is for me. Even in the process of writing it, I have become more aware of the words I use and the opportunities I have to talk about Jesus.

Most importantly, I have become more aware of my need to continuously thirst for God and be reminded every day of the goodness of the good news. May we all spur each other on as we try to share the good news about Jesus with prayerful dependence and godly courage.

And as you do, remember these three things – the gospel is so good, it’s wonderful news and it’s all about Jesus.

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February 24 2019

Does the Bible permit the drinking of alcohol?

There is some debate amongst Christians about what the bible teaches about drinking alcohol and getting drunk. There are generally four positions that Christians fall under:

  1. Drinking any alcohol at all is forbidden for all Christians.
  2. Getting drunk is forbidden. To avoid this sin, no Christian should drink any alcohol at all.
  3. Getting drunk is forbidden. Drinking responsibly is permissible.
  4. Drinking alcohol, even to the point of drunkenness is not forbidden.

I think the bible holds position 3. Let me show you why I reach that conclusion.

Old Testament Warnings

There are many passages that warn God’s people of the dangers of wine’s alcoholic properties. The wisdom of the Old Testament for example warns us that “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.” (Proverbs 20:1) An even more descriptive passage says:


“Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaining? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who tarry long over wine; those who go to try mixed wine. Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly. In the end it bites like a serpent and stings like an adder. Your eyes will see strange things, and your heart utter perverse things. You will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea, Like one who lies on the top of a mast. ‘They struck me,’ you will say, ‘but I was not hurt; they beat me, but I did not feel it. When shall I awake? I must have another drink.’” (Proverbs 23:29-35)

The dangers of wine were well known and for the sake of them ruling with justice and wisdom, the kings of the Old Testament were instructed not to drink alcohol at all (Proverbs 31:4-5). This was also true of the Old Testament priesthood (Leviticus 10:9) and the Nazarites (Numbers 6:1-4).


New Testament Warnings

The New Testament also warns against alcohol, describing “drunkenness” and “drinking parties” as “sin” (1 Peter 4:1-3) and in both Galatians 5:21 and 1 Corinthians 6:10 the Apostle Paul makes the very heavy statement that drunkards “will not inherit the kingdom of God”.

It’s no surprise therefore, that one of the qualifications of being an elder in the first century church was that you could not be a “drunkard” (1 Timothy 3:3, Titus 1:7) and a deacon also had to be one who was “not addicted to much wine” (1 Timothy 3:8). Likewise, godly older women were instructed not to be “slaves to much wine” (Titus 2:3). Last but not least, if there was still any confusion, Paul the Apostle gives Christians a clear command to not drink alcohol to excess: “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery.” (Ephesians 5:18)

The Bible’s celebration of wine

As we have seen, the bible in both Testaments clearly warns against and forbids drunkenness and this prohibition is especially important for anyone in any form of spiritual leadership or religious duty. But whilst it is clear that the bible forbids drinking alcohol to excess, it should not be concluded that the bible forbids drinking alcohol at all.

In fact, the bible is generally quite positive about wine as a good gift from God and there are clear passages where the drinking of wine is not only permitted, but recommended and celebrated:

“Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.” (Ecclesiastes 9:7)

“You [God] cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate,

that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man.” (Psalm 104:14-15)

“Then he said to them, ‘Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord.’” (Nehemiah 8:10)

“Oh may your breasts be like clusters of the vine, and the scent of your breath like apples, and your mouth like the best wine.” (Song of 7:8-9)

“And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins.” (Mark 2:22)

“No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.” (1 Timothy 5:23)

Although these passages are quite an endorsement for wine, the clearest and arguably most relevant passages in the bible that demonstrates that God does not forbid wine is the Wedding at Cana in John 21-11. If you don’t know the story, I will describe it in more detail later, but the point is that this passage records the first of Jesus’ miracles – the famous turning of water into wine. If drinking wine itself was sinful, then when they had run out of wine, Jesus would not have miraculously produced more. Jesus’ actions show that not only is wine not forbidden – it’s actually a good and wonderful thing.

So, to summarise, it would seem that in general (apart from Old Testament religious leaders) the bible permits the drinking of alcohol, but it does not permit drinking so much that you get drunk.

Biologically this lines up with how God has designed our bodies. He has given us a liver which has the capacity to filter alcohol at a certain rate and if we exceed that we will intoxicate ourselves which is a form of bad stewardship of our bodies and a recipe for leading us into foolishness and sin.

We are also called to be “sober-minded” in many passages (see for example, 1 Peter 1:13, 4:7 & 5:8) so that we are ready to do good, help others, avoid temptation and be ready for any action that we may be needed for.

The only position that agrees with all of the bible’s passages on alcohol, is the third position mentioned at the start of this article: Getting drunk is forbidden. Drinking responsibly is permissible.

So wine is fine but you booze, you lose.

It is similar to the gift of sex. Sex is good and should be celebrated as long as it is within the confines which God has ordained – namely, a marriage between a man and a woman. Food too is a good gift that can sinfully be enjoyed to excess. So sex can be expressed sinfully in orgies and immorality and eating food can become a source of greed and gluttony. In the same way, drinking wine can turn into drunken parties and debauchery. Of course, neither sex, food nor alcohol should be considered forbidden for Christians, but we must not abuse or misuse these good gifts either. Keep sex for marriage, eat healthy, and if you drink, don’t get drunk.

Permission not a command

Now, just because the bible says that it is ok for a Christian to drink alcohol in moderation, it doesn’t mean you have to. Many Christians have decided that for them, the best way to avoid drunkenness is to not drink at all. You are very free to hold that position. In fact, some people should. If you feel particularly tempted to drink to excess, maybe consider not drinking at all. Also, I know that some ministers choose not to drink, not because they particularly feel vulnerable, but to not leave any room of possibility for the sin of drunkenness to take hold.

Of course, others may argue that it is good for a minister to share in a drink with others, to model moderation and to avoid the appearance of suggesting that alcohol itself is forbidden. They may also see the evangelistic benefits to being able to enjoy a beer with someone as for some guys that can be a social sign of friendship and comfortability.

So, on the issue about whether you personally should drink alcohol, that is something that you must decide for yourself. The bible does not forbid it, so you shouldn’t think it sin, but it may be for you unwise.

In 1 Corinthians 6:12, just after warning against drunkenness, Paul writes, “All things are lawful for me but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful for me but I will not be dominated by anything.” If you are worried about wine not being “helpful” or potentially “dominating” you, then even if alcohol may be “lawful”, you don’t have to drink.

There is also wisdom in not drinking alcohol, if it will cause another Christian to be tempted to drunkenness or due to their lack of understanding about the bible, will believe you are sinning by drinking. Consider this instruction from Paul:

“I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.

Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God.” (Romans 14:14-22)

As you can see by this passage, there is nothing sinful or “unclean” about drinking wine, but also it is good not to drink wine if it causes your brother in Christ to stumble. We may have a right to drink, but we give up our rights for the sake of “peace and for mutual upbuilding”.

A practical application of this might be if you are having some Christian friends over for dinner and you know that one of them is a new Christian and believes that drinking alcohol is sinful, for their sake, you probably should not offer a bottle of wine with the meal.

So feel free to drink responsibly and feel free not to drink for your good and the good of others.

One last thing I would say is, if you choose not to drink, you should not judge any other Christian for making a different choice. If you think they are unwise for drinking due to some particular circumstance, by all means tell them in love. But do so with the awareness that you are giving them what you believe to be wise and godly counsel, and not rebuking them for sinning. In the same chapter I referred to above, Paul covers this principle: “Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls.” (Romans 14:3-4)

Could it be Non Alcoholic Grapejuice?

The last point I want to cover is the suggestion by some Christians that when the bible commends or permits the drinking of wine that drink was not actually alcoholic, it was unfermented grapejuice. In Matthew 26:29, for example, Jesus refers to wine as simply “fruit of the vine” and there’s no necessary indication that it was alcoholic. Those that argue this position, point out that fact that there is no differentiation in the original greek for the word for grapejuice and the word for alcoholic wine.

Despite the truth of this linguistic reality, I don’t think this gives a loophole to hold the position that drinking alcohol is sinful.

The reality is that all grapejuice eventually fermented naturally as they had no technology or method of preventing that. So the suggestion by those that hold this position is that when the bible encourages and celebrates the drinking of wine, it is only referring to freshly squeezed grapejuice, whereas the wine that it warns about as potentially leading to drunkenness is the older fermented grapejuice. This distinction is simply not made in the bible.

For example, in 1 Timothy, Paul first warns against wine’s addictive potential (1 Timothy 3:8), but then near the end of the same epistle, he suggests that Timothy “No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.” (1 Timothy 5:23). It is a big stretch to suggest that Paul is talking about one drink in chapter 3 but a different drink in chapter 5, even though he uses the same word for both. The more obvious conclusion is that Paul is simply talking about wine – normal alcoholic wine. Wine has the potential for being addictive, but that does not make it sinful to drink in moderation. In fact, as Paul points out, it may even be good for your health.

The Wine at the Wedding

Lastly, the story of the Wedding at Cana is for me, the best passage to demonstrate that Jesus both endorses the drinking of wine and that the wine that is being talked about is alcoholic wine, not unfermented grapejuice.

The story is found in John 2:1-11 and tells of Jesus’ first miracle. Jesus attends a wedding where wine is being served and to the great social shame of the bridegroom, they had run out of wine before the party was over. You probably know what happens next – Jesus turns six jars of water into delicious high quality wine, saving the reputation of the bridegroom and displaying his glory and power to his disciples. The question is, when this passage talks about “wine” is the grapejuice being talked about something that is non-alcoholic or alcoholic? I think it is undeniably alcoholic. Here’s why:

Firstly, there’s really no reason for thinking it is non-alcoholic. The idea of having alcoholic wine at a celebration was culturally acceptable, which is why drunkenness was still an issue that needed to be addressed even amongst Jews. Remember, even Jesus was accused of being a “glutton and drunkard” (Matthew 11:19) by those that opposed him. Jews were not “teetotallers”. The only reason why you would think that the wine at the Wedding in Cana must be non-alcoholic is because you were trying to force that idea into the story.

Secondly, as I have already mentioned, in the first century there was no way of preventing grapejuice from fermenting. So to suggest that all the wine at the wedding was non-alcoholic, you’d have to also suggest that they were supplying completely freshly squeezed grapejuice as required, to avoid any of it fermenting. This is simply impractical, especially as weddings in ancient Israel would often involve days of feasting and celebration.

Thirdly, and most convincingly, the words of the master of the feast himself tells us that the wine was alcoholic. After tasting the wine that Jesus had miraculously created, he is amazed that the bridegroom was only bringing out this fine drop at the later stages of the wedding celebration. He says: “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 2:10) Think about that. Why do you bring the good wine out first and leave the cheap grog for later in the party? Because later on, everyone is too drunk to discern or care about how good the wine is.

The ESV is slightly subtle in it’s language, but as you can see here, the root of the Greek word that is used is always referring to when someone is affected by alcohol. For example, in Acts 2:15 when Peter tells the crowd that “these people are not drunk, as you suppose”, the Greek word for “drunk” used here is almost identical to the Greek word translated as “people have drunk freely” in John 2:10.

The point is hopefully clear. The wine that was being drunk at the Wedding in Cana was definitely alcoholic, and the new wine that Jesus created was even better. I won’t even entertain the suggestion that although the rest of the wine at the feast was alcoholic, Jesus created non-alcoholic freshly squeezed grapejuice and the master of the feast still thought it was better. Try serving high quality Ribena after you’ve run out of Merlow at your next wedding and see if your guests think you’ve given them an upgrade!


Conclusion

The Bible has much to say on wine. A lot of it is good. Some of it is bad. Wine is definitely a dangerous thing and alcohol has caused much damage over the millenia because people have not listened to the bible’s warnings about it’s addictive and intoxicating potential.

But if you are wanting a straight answer as to what the bible says on the topic of alcohol and what is or isn’t permissible, here is my summary:

  • Is it permissible for Christians to drink alcohol? Yes.
  • Do Christians ever have to drink alcohol? No.
  • Is it at times wise and loving for Christians not to drink alcohol? Yes.
  • Is it permissible for Christians to get drunk? No.

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February 21 2019

Jesus’ Most Useless Miracle

The miracle of the loaves and the fishes is the most useless miracle of all… and that’s the point.

In this story, found in all for gospels, Jesus feeds thousands of hungry followers, multiplying just a small amount of food so that it not only completely leaves everyone stuffed, but so there are piles and piles of leftovers.

And yet… Despite this miraculous abundance, what will happen? Just a day later, the leftovers will go start going stale and the bellies which were so full, will be hungry once again. When you’ve eaten to the point of feeling sick, you may think to yourself that you’ll never be able to eat again, but it just takes a day and the hunger will return.

If the miracle was about giving people true satisfaction, it was an epic fail. Nice party trick Jesus, but it doesn’t solve anything. And that’s exactly what Jesus is wanting his followers to see.

In John 6, we read that a day after the miracle the crowds are back looking for Jesus. But weren’t hungry for Jesus himself, they were hungry for more fish sandwiches.

Jesus says:
“Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” (John 6:26-27)

And what is the bread that does not spoil? The bread that Jesus describes as coming “down from heaven and gives life to the world.” (6:33)?

He tells them:
“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

Jesus didn’t come to provide our need for daily bread – though he demonstrates in the miracle that he can and in the Lord’s Prayer he does instruct us to pray for that provision. No, Jesus came to BE our daily bread.

Jesus repeats this declaration in 6:48-51…
“I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

The point of the miracle of the loaves and the fishes was not to show us that Jesus has come to fulfill our bodily desires. It actually fails to do that. The point was to show that no matter how much bread we eat, our bodies will always be hungry. And our souls are the same. We need bread that truly satisfies. We need bread that doesn’t simply help us stay alive for a few more days. We need bread that gives us eternal life.

We need Jesus – the bread of life.

The miracle of the loaves and the fishes is an amazing miracle. But it is also so clever. It is deliberately over the top, and at the same time, deliberately useless.

May we get the point of it and seek after Jesus, not for the temporal things he might give us, but for himself.

After Jesus explains that this was his whole point, many of his followers who were simply following Jesus for the free feed, were disappointed and offended.

John 6:66 says: “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.”

Jesus then asks his 12 disciples: “You do not want to leave too, do you?”

And Peter replies with an amazing answer that shows that they actually now get the point of the whole episode…

“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (6:68)

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February 19 2019

No wilting wallflower

Today, a young sister in Christ died.

I didn’t know her very well, but it was impossible to miss her. In a church community in a denomination that some might expect to have strong gender expectations, I was always impressed by her wonderful bucking of feminine cliches, shaving her head to support cancer research and proving that a godly woman can be as bold and enthusiastic as anyone. She definitely was no wilting wallflower…

And yet, as God’s Word says, all flowers fall and in the end, everything is hevel.

This life is fleeting, even for the bold flowers that stick out from the bunch.

My comfort in the loss of this godly woman is the confidence that she trusted in the One who does not fade away, who could hold her soul secure in the joyful hope that one day these bodies that sometimes betray us, will be resurrected, restored and renewed in the New Creation.

Until then Suz Bell.

“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” (Philippians 3:20-21)

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February 12 2019

When Google Learned the Gospel

Back around March last year, I noticed that when I asked my Google Home about Jesus, it responded like an overly polite person at a party who had just been asked about some controversial issue of theology:

“Religion can be complicated and I’m still learning.”

Yeah, right Google! Don’t give us that fake humility. You’re just afraid to nail your colours to the mast!

Who Do You Say I Am?

Well, to give Google a break, there are many different views about Jesus amongst Google’s customers. Muslims believe Jesus is a prophet but not divine. Jews believe he is a teacher but not a prophet. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe he is the Archangel Michael and some skeptics even doubt Jesus existed at all!

Even back when Jesus walked the streets of the Middle East, there were lots of views about who he was. Jesus actually asked his disciples this very question:

“And on the way [Jesus] asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”
And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.”
And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.”” 
(Mark 8:27-29)

So at least the disciples understand who Jesus was and what he came to do… Well, not exactly. Peter did initially answer the question correctly, but in the very next few verses, it all goes downhill. Jesus tells his disciples that he has come to die on the cross and that same Peter pulls Jesus aside and rebukes him for getting his mission wrong (see Mark 8:30-33)!

Fortunately, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, his disciples finally came to more fully understand who he was and what he had come to do. This is seen in the clarity of the unanimous testimony about Jesus’ identity throughout the New Testament gospels and epistles. If you want to know who Jesus is, it is shouted from every page of the New Testament.

There are many passages I could point to, but one of the boldest (and my favourite) comes from Colossians 1:15-20…

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”

Google’s Still Learning

Despite this, I do understand Google’s tentativeness in giving a definitive answer to the question “Who is Jesus?” It is an important question and much of the population of the world disagree on the answer.

Also, to cut Google even more slack, last year they made it a policy to answer “Religion can be complicated and I’m still learning”, no matter which major religious figure you asked about.

They received a lot of criticism at the time from people who suspected Google of deliberately targeting Christianity and this was Google’s official attempt at explaining their reasoning:

A New Answer

Well, that was a year ago, and gone is the answer “Religion can be complicated and I’m still learning”.  Religion may still be complicated, but Google seems to have done some learning. Or at least, whatever algorithm they had set up to side-step the taboo topic of religion, they have now opened the doors to allow Wikipedia to answer your religious questions.

I discovered this recently when I asked my Google Home the questions “Who is Jesus?” and “Who was Jesus?”, and I was rather surprised by the way it answered…

To “Who is Jesus?” Google replied:

“The Gospel of Matthew emphasizes that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s will as revealed in the Old Testament, and he is the Lord of the Church. He is the “Son of David”, a “king”, and the Messiah.”

To “Who was Jesus?” Google replied:

“Jesus (c. 4 BC – c. AD 30 / 33), also referred to as Jesus of Nazareth and Jesus Christ, was a first-century Jewish preacher and religious leader. He is the central figure of Christianity and is widely described as the most influential person in history.”

Both pretty good answers if you ask me!

In fact, after a bit of experimenting, I found a few other questions that have great answers. If you’ve got Google Assistant, try these out:

  • What is God?
  • What is the gospel?
  • What is the only rule of faith and practice?
  • What is the chief end of man?

Now as fun as it is to ask Google questions, you don’t need to own the latest voice-activated technology to ask “Who is Jesus?”. The answer is not found in the robotic voice of Google, but in the living Word of God. My hope is that if you are curious about the identity of Jesus, you might pick up a bible and read one of the gospels or New Testament epistles for yourself. Two thousand years after he asked it, Jesus’ question to his disciples still echoes to each one of us: “But who do you say I am?”

Google was right last year when it said that religion can be complicated. The answer to the important question of Jesus’ identity is neither simple nor easy. But like Google seems to have done in the last year, there is indeed much to be learned.

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