A poetic reflection written for my wife (who loves Ravensburger puzzles) on the celebration of our 9th wedding anniversary.
If marriage was a Ravensburger puzzle…
You’d start with an image that shows you exactly how your relationship will look in the end.
There would be no mystery, no deviation from the plan, no surprise at the end that it didn’t quite end up looking like the picture you imagined at the start.
As you worked to put it together, every piece would have its assigned place and with just a little time it would all eventually fit together perfectly, with each piece being placed down with an effortless and satisfying snap.
There would be no left overs, no pieces left to the side, nothing to be thrown away or sacrificed or accepted as simply just not meant to be.
Whenever you came across two pieces that didn’t fit, there would be no conflict, no effort to make them work together, no change or compromise required. You’d just put it aside knowing that it would perfectly fit somewhere else in the puzzle.
And in the end, the perfect picture you created would look just like you expected and portray some beautiful photoshopped mountain landscape or a cute litter of puppies or a plate of immaculately decorated cupcakes.
And before you packed it all away, you would gaze upon your accomplishment with a sigh of perfect satisfaction.
If marriage was a Ravensburger puzzle.
But marriage is not a Ravensburger puzzle…
There is indeed a beautiful perfect picture of marriage that together you are trying to create – The marriage between Christ and His Church.
But your puzzle pieces come from two different boxes and with that comes two different pictures on the cover that you each imagine you will be creating.
You jumble all the pieces together and try to sort them out.
Of course one of you likes sorting by colour and the other by shape. One likes to work on the images in the middle and the other likes to find the edges first.
And the pieces don’t exactly fit. They’re not cut with precision. Some are big and some are small and some are cracked and some are missing and some have even lost their sticker.
They take compromise, sacrifice, creativity, problem-solving, laughter, tears, communication, prayer, mercy and forgiveness.
Some pieces need to be shoved together. Some need to be cut to fit. Some need to be thrown away. And some, you’ll simply never find a place for, even though they look perfectly fine.
And now and then a couple of pieces will fit with that perfect Ravensburger snap, and it will be easy and effortless and leave you with a satisfying sigh. Enjoy those pieces.
But in the end the puzzle will be a mess.
A big beautiful 1,673.5 piece mess of a puzzle that will wonderfully display the ideal image on the box of Christ and the Church, not by its perfect symmatry, but by the love and sacrifice and joyful faithfulness by which it was put together.
There have been so many changes over the past few weeks that it is hard to keep up! The learning curve for adults and kids alike has been huge, as we have adjusted all aspects of life to a new corona environment. Our family has had fun working out how to ‘do church’ at home and I thought I’d share a few of the things we’ve been doing in case they help your family also. So here are 5 tips for making the most of live streaming church with your kids.
1) Be Prepared
One of the key things we have tried to do each weekend is ‘set up’ for church. On Saturday night (or usually Sunday morning) we pack away the toys, place out bibles, set up a table of activities and have nametags ready for when the congregation of three ‘arrive’ at church. A set up space makes the room feel different to the rest of the week and communicates that we are doing something special. In the morning we prepare kids snacks for the service, we get the livestream ready and make sure we have had breakfast (and caffeine for the adults!). The basic goal is that when church begins you can all participate without having to come and go.
2) Involve the Kids
We have found that the more we involve our daughter with this preparation, the more she is engaged with the service. Helping to set up the room, making nametags and choosing musical instruments tell her that this is something we are doing as a family together. For young children especially ‘imaginative play’ can help them get excited about church and give a sense of ‘normality’ to these strange times. Some families ‘walk to church’ by walking around the block before the service begins, others do ‘welcoming’ and we often do ‘drop off’ for Little Sunday School complete with pick-up tags!
3) Explain the Service
Livestreaming has provided us a new and rich opportunity to engage our kids in the Sunday Service. When else can you have a conversation with your kids during the service about what the word repentance means? We have used a variety of things to help engage our daughter during the service. From having a kid’s bible open with the same passage, to acting out the bible story as it’s being read or having home-made musical instruments ready for the singing. God’s Word reminds us that he wants us to explain our religious practices to our children so let’s make the most of this unique opportunity!
And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.’ ” Then the people bowed down and worshiped.
Exodus 12:26-27 NIV
4) Modelling Worship
“Church at home” gives us a great opportunity to model to our children our worship of God. More important than any creative tool you could use is the model we set as they watch us each Sunday. Making time and space in our home for church shows our kids how important God is in our lives. Our attention and participation in the service models how we listen to God in his word, talk to him in prayer and praise him in song. Never underestimate how significant a witness you are to your children simply to listening and responding to God. So make the livestream time on Sundays a priority and be aware of your own distractions. This may mean leaving your phone elsewhere if it is not needed!
As government restrictions are lifted we may also have the opportunity to model hospitality to our kids as we welcome other believers into our home to worship with us on Sundays. (A great opportunity to also model sacrificial love by cleaning and disinfecting in preparation!)
5) God’s Word for Everyone
The most challenging part of the livestream service is what to do during the sermon. We want our kids to engage with God’s Word but we need to hear it for ourselves also. For us, we send our daughter to “Little Sunday School” with activities she can do by herself and morning tea to eat. As a back-up we have our iPad with headphones ready so she can watch a kids’ talk whilst we listen to the sermon. For older kids, this could be a great opportunity to teach them how to listen to sermons. You could print off the sermon outline or transcript or give them a special notebook for their own notes or drawings as they listen. You could even think of one or two questions to ask them at the end.
I recognise that a lot of this is made easier for us having only one child, so if it is not possible to hear the sermon during this time either alternate which parent is ‘on duty’ or plan another time when children are sleeping to sit down and watch the sermon together. Whatever you decide, make it a priority to be able to hear from God’s Word for yourself. Remember, God’s Word is powerful so there is much for your children to learn even by hearing his word preached in the background whilst building a Lego tower.
Have grace for yourself and your kids
Even before coronavius, some Sundays are just difficult! Grumpiness abounds, kids are crazy, adults exhausted, the house is a mess and the list goes on. Your Heavenly Father loves to hear from you and provide for your needs so ASK for his help each Sunday. God has shown grace to us, so have an abundance of grace and patience for your kids and yourselves in this season. God doesn’t expect us to do things perfectly. In fact, our weakness exists so that we would trust his sufficient grace! (2 Cor 12:9-10)
So pray, prepare and try new things until you find what works for your family. We have been doing this for a number of weeks now and each Sunday we have seen more and more fruit from our efforts. Our daughter is participating in the singinging and children’s talks, we are able to hear more of the sermon and there are less meltdowns on Zoom after the service.
There has been lots of prayer, conversation and experimentation to get us to this point. But it is worth it to make the most of this and every opportunity to teach our daughter how amazing our God is and that he is worthy of all our praise and worship, both on Sunday and forevermore.
PERSON 1 – Reads some article somewhere that toilet paper might run out if Coronavirus hits our shores.
PERSON 2 – Thinks person 1 is silly for believing that article but sees them buying all the toilet paper and doesn’t want to be left with none, so buys a bunch as well.
PERSON 3 – Hasn’t read any article but sees persons 1 & 2 buying toilet paper and concludes there must be a national shortage and so buys whatever toilet paper they can.
PERSON 4 – Just ran out of toilet paper at home and just wants to find a couple of rolls. Takes a photo of empty supermarket shelves and posts it to social media expressing how silly it is that people are freaking out.
PERSON 5 – Sees multiple photos of empty supermarket shelves on social media and completely freaks out. They go on Ebay and pay $100 for a roll of toilet paper thinking it might be the last there is.
PERSON 6 – Bought a bunch of toilet paper early and is selling it on Ebay. They wrote the article and sent it to person 1.
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:
The 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.
Many 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:
“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.
Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.
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
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.
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.
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!
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.
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:
Drinking any alcohol at all is forbidden for all Christians.
Getting drunk is forbidden. To avoid this sin, no Christian should drink any alcohol at all.
Getting drunk is forbidden. Drinking responsibly is permissible.
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!
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.
This year I attended the March for the Babies and had the opportunity to have some interesting discussions with some pro-choice advocates who were attending the counter-rally. Some were aggressive and didn’t want to engage, some were thoughtful and wonderful and were saddened by the aggression of others on their side.
The following is an online conversation with one lady who wanted to ask me to defend my pro-life position. At times she is pretty aggressive, but I am not posting our discussion here to critique her, and if you are offended on my behalf at any point I ask you to let it pass. I think she asked me some interesting and valid questions that all pro-life advocates should be able to answer.
So I have posted below our conversation in full. I have made some slight editing to the grammar to make it easier to read, but I have not edited the content. This is so you can see how I engage in these discussions “in real time”.
I don’t think I handled every question or accusation perfectly, but I do hope reading this will be an encouragement to you and maybe give you some tips for your online discussions in the future.
NOTE: To make this conversation easier to read, I will format the pro-choice person in Italics and my comments will be in Bold.
I was wondering if I could ask you why you’re pro-life? As in, pro-life of a clump of cells, not pro-life of all the women who’ve died because of anti-abortion laws. do you feel like you have blood on your hands? or do you just ignore that part of it
I’d also be happy to discuss my position on this issue. But do you want it to be productive or are you just wanting to vent?
As a staunch pro-choicer and also (believe it or not) devout Christian, I would like to know where your beliefs come from. I can only imagine it to be misinformation and brainwashing. I genuinely want to know why.
As a devout Christian then, I encourage you to start from a more generous position. Presuming my ignorance or brainwashing or starting with an attack is not the best way to invite someone into open respectful dialogue.
I’m not attacking you, the criminalisation of abortion directly causes gruesome deaths of women and I wasn’t sure you had made that connection yet.
I’m sure you know I could throw the same accusation on the pro-choice side. I’m not really interested in lobbing hand grenades at each other though.
I can’t logically find a reason why someone would hold your beliefs unless they were misinformed, ignorant, or hated women. if you have a fourth option, please let me know. i haven’t had one person give me a good reason to be pro-life. I invite you to do so. I don’t think I’m being rude or aggressive at all.
It is a very valid concern to worry about the women who may try to harm themselves and their child if they find themselves with an unwanted pregnancy and feel that abortion is their only option. I do care deeply about women in that situation.
I think any legal prevention of abortion HAS to be accompanied by a huge increase of financial, emotional and practical for women in that situation. I have personally donated thousands to crisis pregnancy programs and I would do more.
Anyone who wants to simply ban abortion and do nothing to support women in need, I think is a hypocrite.
It is a hypocritical standpoint to have, to completely disregard the lives of living human beings. But I would like to know why you think abortion should be illegal in the first place.
Well, I think there are two angles to this issue – the principle and the practical.
The principle is about whether abortion is right or wrong. Should it happen in any situation?
The practical is about whether should be legal or not and whether there should be any limitations or restrictions.
They are two different issues.
You are asking about the second issue, the practical.
I think that is a trickier issue to work out how best the law should relate to abortion.
But my premise for all my thoughts on the practical side is based on the principle side.
Does that make sense?
Ok so if you want me to ask more specific questions… Why do you think abortion is wrong?
And secondly, why do you think your belief is important enough to literally take away legal autonomy over someone’s body.
Thirdly, have you heard of a man called Michel Foucault?
Philosopher right? I’ve heard the name but couldn’t tell you anything about him
French philosopher. He has written a lot about what we call biopower, the power a government has over it’s citizens bodies.
And regardless of your opinion on abortion, I think fundamentally, to take away the right to autonomy over my body through law is very VERY wrong.
And I think that not only do you have to argue why abortion is wrong, and then why your opinion on why its wrong is so important that it should be made law, but you also have to argue that governments should have power and control over people’s bodies.
I do understand that. I actually believe in the general principle of bodily autonomy, though I think it has to have limitations when it comes to how it affects others.
If you’re busy you don’t have to reply right now. But I think it’s fair to ask you to answer all of that.
They are great and fair questions to ask a pro-life person.
Having an abortion does not affect anyone other than the person having an abortion.
Well, this may be our big point of difference, but I also believe that it effects the one being aborted and that is an important factor.
And here is why I hold the belief that anti-abortion protestors such as yourself have beliefs rooted in misinformation.
Have you had a look at the REAL science behind an abortion and the stages of pregnancy? because the anti-abortion and “pro-life” movement are renowned for using falsified statistics and factoids.
Happy to look at any scientific evidence you may have that you think I am ignorant of.
I’d also like to pitch to you a hypothetical scenario to see how you answer it.
It isn’t to catch you out or trick you or anything like that. Just a thought experiment.
I’m happy with thought experiments, though you’ve asked several questions and I haven’t really had too much opportunity to answer them.
Maybe we’ll stick with one question at a time. Happy for you to pick which.
Ok if you’d like more time to answer your questions, I can sit back until you let me know you’re completely finished, and then I’ll read through it all and let you know how I feel.
Well, how bout I just start with my basic premise.
Four years ago, my wife and I attended the March for the Babies. This is us on that day.
That very morning we had just learnt from our doctor that my wife was pregnant with our daughter, who we would later name Dorothy.
Last Saturday, all three of us were back at the March with our daughter Dorothy.
I believe that my daughter has the right to be free from violence, free from harm and free to live out her bodily autonomy.
Where we differ is that I believe that was just as true of my daughter four years ago as it is today.
Is that all?
That is the basic premise.
I believe all women should be free from violence and harm.
I believe all human beings, no matter what race, age, gender, sexual orientation, social status, location or stage of development, have the right to life and to be free from violence.
My opposition to abortion is due to the fact that the human is harmed in the process of ending the pregnancy. If there was any way of not harming the human in the womb in order to end the pregnancy before the time of gestation is naturally complete, then I would be very supportive of that. I do not wish to force women to carry the baby to term and would support any alternative to that.
Do you think an embryo is a human?
Can I ask what you mean by “human”? Are you meaning scientifically is an embryo a member of the species homo sapien, or do you mean something more philosophical, like is an embryo a person with rights?
Ok let me pose a scenario to you and you’ll understand what I mean.
You’re in a fertility clinic. Why isn’t important. The fire alarm goes off. You run for the exit. As you run down this hallway, you hear a child screaming from behind a door. You throw open the door and find a five-year-old child crying for help. They’re in one corner of the room. In the other corner, you spot a frozen container labelled “1000 Viable Human Embryos”. The smoke is rising. You start to choke. You know you can grab one or the other, but not both before you succumb to smoke inhalation and die, saving no one.
Do you A) save the child, or B) save the thousand embryos? There is no “C.” “C” means you all die.
Ah, Patrick S. Tomlinson’s famous argument from October last year.
That’s not an answer.
I think you’re trying to find a way to theoretically work your way out of this problem instead of admitting that an embryo isn’t a person. And a zygote is not a person either. Between a literal clump of cells, and an actual human being, the human being is more important. every time.
I don’t think, every time.
Can I tweak the analogy a little?
No you can’t.
I’d like you to answer the question as I posed it, please. I think the scenario isn’t hiding any missing nuance. it is very straight forward in comparing the human-status of a child and an embryo.
Firstly, I am happy to acknowledge that most people’s moral instinct in the midst of the fire is to save the screaming 5 year old whose face they can see, rather than the embryos that they only see the label of. That doesn’t really prove anything. Our moral instincts are not always correct.
If you will allow me to present another thought experiment, I will explain how.
So you would choose the 1000 embryos over the 5 year old child.
I don’t really know what I would do in the midst of a fire if I didn’t know what was going to happen. If you’re asking me to choose between the two now, in a cold calculated way, you are basically presenting a version of the old “trolley” moral dilemma.
1. Would you choose to save the life of one person or one thousand people, if you could only save one option, otherwise everyone died?
2. Would you choose to save the life of a 5 year oldchild or one thousand embryos in the same circumstances?
My wife and I are dealing at the moment with infertility. If for example, there was a random 5 year old child and only say, two embryos on the table, but they were my wife and my children, then my moral instinct would probably be to save the embryos.
When you are given an ultimatum and you only can save one of two choices. Just because you choose one over the other does not in any way prove that the other is not a human.
For example, if my 3 year old daughter was in one room and 1,000 adults were in another, you can be sure I’ll probably be saving my daughter. That doesn’t mean the 1,000 men are not human to me.
That’s why I think Tomlinson’s thought experiment is clever, but it doesn’t prove what he claims it proves.
Thank you for proving to me that my original premise was correct.
Anti-abortion and pro-lifers beliefs are entirely rooted in either misinformation or hatred of women.
You don’t seem like you hate women.
But you are very misinformed and have a skewed view of what constitutes as a human being.
Great topic. So how do you constitute a human being?
The normal way. With science and logic. A living breathing fully formed human being.
I do actually think there’s a point of pregnancy where a fetus is fully formed, and in that case abortion, if it causes pain to the fetus, should only happen in cases where the mother’s life is in danger, or if the baby isn’t going to make it to full term anyway.
But this whole argument about ‘late stage abortion’ is utter crap because it literally doesn’t happen other than when the woman’s life is at risk, or the baby isn’t going to make it to full term.
What would you do if your wife found out that if she didn’t get an abortion, she would die giving birth?
Sorry, I want to understand you clearly. I agree science and logic is very important.
You said “a living breathing fully formed human being”.
Does that mean that it needs to be breathing?
And fully formed.
If you could c-section the fetus prematurely, and it could live outside of the womb on its own or with a bit of medical assistance.
Well, that’s lots of different things to constitute a human being.
No it’s not.
Can we list them so I am clear on your position?
Living, breathing, fully formed.
Do you consider a child in the womb to be breathing at any point?
I define “fully formed” as able to live outside the womb on its own. But again, that’s just me. I don’t think that should be part of legislation.
Ok, so in your definition fully formed means fully formed to a specific goal (ie, to be able to survive out of the womb).
It means fully formed.
Simple as that, not that complicated.
Because you know, the skull isn’t fully formed when they are born. Human brains aren’t fully formed til they are in their 20’s.
You know pro-lifers brains never fully form.
C’mon. Was asking for it.
Happy to end the conversation if that’s the road you wish to engage on.
You can’t say that wasn’t a good one.
Fine. I have a thick enough skin. I just am not interested in patronising each other.
So instead of patronising me, you can just admit that my definition of ‘fully formed’ is fine.
And that all you’re doing is trying to poke holes where there are none.
Well, I disagree.
I think your definition of “fully formed” is only defined around one purpose.
There are lots about a newborn that is not fully formed.
Instead of countering my argument, you are countering language.
And if you’re going to start picking apart the English language, you may as well admit that you have nothing to say about my actual argument
Don’t patronise ME when you know exactly what I mean
Otherwise I’m not interested in continuing this discussion either.
I feel sorry for your daughter. I hope you never have another daughter, I truly truly hope you never have another daughter. and I hope your daughter now finds someone to guide her, properly, when she’s old enough to understand these things.
My position is that all humans are equal and equally deserving of a right to life. I think the quality that makes all humans equal can not be a sliding scale such as viability outside of the womb.
Consider this, if one child is removed from the womb and is healthy and so is able to survive, you would define them as human. But if another child is removed at the same age, but is too sick to survive or has some abnormality that means it can’t survive, by your definition that child is not human.
You are defining humanity by one’s ability (to survive).
I’m sure you don’t do that with humans at any other age.
(THE NEXT DAY)
I am sorry you believed you were being patronised during our discussion and felt you had to end it.
I definitely wasn’t patronising you and if you feel I wasn’t addressing your actual argument then I’d be happy if you wanted me to try.
I also understand if you aren’t interested in that.
Facebook conversations, even when not done publicly, are ripe for misunderstandings and offence unless both sides approach it with a lot of generosity of spirit.
I must give acknowledgement to Josh Brahm, a brilliant pro-life apologist and educator from the Equal Rights Institute in the US. I listened to THIS TALK a day or so before having this conversation and it definitely helped me engage in a more thoughtful and level-headed way.
Waking up at 5:45
To the whimpers of your 3 year old
Crackling through the baby monitor
Finding your slippers in the dark
Because you forgot to plug in your phone
So now you have no light to guide you
Shuffling through the cold house
Sneaking into her room
Trying not to wake her
Seeing that her kid feet
Are tangled in her sheets
And her bunny is out of her reach
You peel back her doona
Untangle her feet
The brief moment of cold
Causing her to stir
You quickly tuck her in snug as a bug
And place her lost bunny
Into her empty arms
She hugs it close
Snuggles into her doona
And in the dark you hear
The sweetest sound
“Thank you daddy”
You shuffle back through the cold house
With those three words warming you
Better than slippers ever could
When you see that shining, bright red cross in Hobart, you can’t help but notice that it is the wrong way up. Sure, you can see it is as a direct insult to Christianity. Or you can be inspired by what the stark image compels you to do. The black pole prevents the cross from being turned around and so to make the image seem right in our minds, it’s us that has to turn. We have to flip the image. We have to stand on our heads. We have to turn upside-down.
That’s what the cross of Jesus does… It turns life upside-down.
And that’s what Jesus did too. When the people expected the Messiah to arrive as a king in a palace, he came as a baby in a manger. When they expected him to claim Jerusalem riding into the city on a war-horse he came riding a donkey. When the Pharisees expected him to praise their moral efforts and good works, he condemned them as hypocrites, and when those who knew they were sinners deserving judgment expected to be turned away, Jesus ate and drank with them and offered them forgiveness. When he taught to the crowds that expected that we should only have to love our friends, Jesus flipped this expectation on its head and told them that they must love their enemies. And then, in the great climax of his ministry, he turned all their expectations upside-down.
When they expected the Messiah to crush the pagan Roman Empire and establish God’s kingdom by the death of those who oppose God, Jesus gave himself over to the Romans and let them torture and crucify him. Instead of killing those who opposed God, Jesus died in their place. Instead of pouring God’s judgment out on sinners, he willingly let it be poured out on himself, so that sinners could be set free.
So the message of Christianity is not – Good people go to Heaven and bad people go to Hell. It’s completely the opposite. It turns that false message upside-down. The truth that Jesus taught was that good people go to Hell and bad people go to Heaven. Those who think they’re good enough for God are the ones who will be disappointed in the end and those who acknowledge their need for mercy are the only ones who will find it.
And how do they find it? Well, they do so by heeding Jesus’ call to turn upside-down. Well, he doesn’t say “turn upside-down”. He uses the older word: “repent”. It literally means to “change your mind”. To do a 180. It means to recognise you’ve been treating God with indifference, contempt or outright rebellion and to turn that whole attitude to God upside-down. To come to him in humility and trust in Jesus – the one who turned the judgment of God upside-down and took it for you on the cross.
That’s what I think about when I see those crosses in Hobart.
I reflect on how back when I was only 16, Jesus flipped my expectations of what Christianity was all about and I responded to his call to repent and trust in that cross. And I reflect on how Jesus has continued for the last 24 years, to turn my life upside-down.
When people ask what I do for a living, I usually answer, “I’m a Graphic Designer… for a Funeral Company.” It gets a good reaction. I go on to explain that if you go to a funeral and receive a thank you card or an order of service, or watch a photographic tribute on the screen during the service… that’s the sort of stuff I do. The snazzy title for my job is a “Tributes Consultant” and I work for Tobin Brothers Funerals.
I love the job. It not only uses my creative skills, it’s not only a stable full-time income with a good company, but it’s also an industry that really serves people in their time of need and deep grief. I’m very grateful for finding such a great job and now I’ve been doing it for exactly one decade. Yup, ten years ago today, I had my first shift at Tobin Brothers Funerals. So today, on my 10th anniversary, I thought I’d share the wonderful story of how God gave me this job.
God’s Sovereignty and Our Decisions
I say “God gave me this job” not because I think my boss had no part in the decision (I actually rang him today to thank him for employing me 10 years ago), nor because I think I had no part in getting it, but I believe that the decisions that we make are both our responsibility and simultaneously under the sovereign will of God. The bible teaches that God is at work in and through and over our decisions.
In Genesis 50:20, when Joseph confronts his brothers who sold him into slavery and faked his death, he says to them: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” The same event is described as being born of two separate intentions from both the brothers and God.
Likewise, if you read the epistle written by James, Jesus’ brother, you’ll find this instruction:
“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.'” (James 4:13-15)
So we can make plans, but we should do it with the awareness that God’s will is ultimately the final authority as to what will happen. We are responsible for what part we play, but God is ultimately in control. Now, that idea may seem like a bit of a mystery or even a logical paradox, but when you’re talking about an infinite spiritual Being who created the universe and exists outside of all of its elements and limitations, then I am ok with there being a little bit of mystery in how the whole dynamic fits together.
Back in 2007
Ten years ago, I was in a very, very difficult place in my life. A year earlier (in early 2006), my wife had kicked me out due to my ongoing struggles with pornography. I was in the process of getting help to work through my addiction and grow up as a bloke and as a Christian, but her heart and trust in me was shattered and so after a year we were no closer to reconciliation. I didn’t know at the time that our painful separation would go on for another two and a half years before she would eventually file for divorce. At the time, I was literally spending every day agonizing about how I might win her heart back and prove to her that my repentance was genuine. One of the things I knew I had to do, was hold down a steady job. This was a sign of maturity and a quality important for a godly husband who was supposed to provide for his family.
At the time of the separation, I had just finished a directing job in my role with my Christian theatre company, The Backyard Bard. But once the separation happened, I took a step back from that ministry and so, I became unemployed. I got odd jobs here and there and eventually landed a 100% commission job doing direct marketing sales for a company representing various charities. This was bloody hard work. Some days you would work your butt off and not make one sale. And no sale meant no pay.
Fortunately, I became ok at the job and after 8 months I was still at it. I earnt pretty good money too. It was hard, soul-crushing work where every day I put myself out there and faced rejection after rejection… but that sort of mirrored what was happening in my marriage, so I guess it taught me resilience to some degree!
The problem was, the company I worked for was part of a pretty evil, money-hungry corporation that had a “pyramid scheme” type of hierarchy. I could see they were trying to groom me to step into leadership and develop my own team of sales minions, but I really wasn’t interested in turning into what I saw the managers became. So when the Christmas break of 2006 came (which was only a week), I knew it was time to at least consider looking for other work.
Seek and You Shall Find
I jumped on seek.com and looked at what was being advertised. I had an interest in graphic design, but I had two issues. One, I didn’t have any official qualifications. I didn’t even know how to use Adobe Photoshop at the time! The other problem was that, as a Christian, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to work designing advertising for companies that I might morally object to.
So, I wasn’t all that hopeful, until I stumbled upon an ad from Tobin Brothers Funerals. They wanted someone to join their department called “Memories and Tributes” creating all the stuff I mentioned earlier. They didn’t specifically require graphic design qualification (they have since changed that policy), and so I felt it was perfect! I never dreamed of working in the funeral industry, but hey, why not? I’d be serving people and doing some good in the world, and the work sounded creative and interesting. At least it was worth a shot.
So I filled in the form on seek.com and sent off my resume. Then, a few days later, my sales job resumed. I had gotten a confirmation email saying that Tobin Brothers had received my application, but after a week or two of hearing nothing I decided to show my interest and give them a call. This did not go well. The lady I spoke to abruptly said something like, “Yes, we have your application, and we will get back to you if we are interested.” This was really disheartening. I thought I would show them my enthusiasm and that might win me points, but it had backfired. She seemed more annoyed than anything. (I have since learnt that the person I spoke to gets hundred of phone calls a week from overly keen people wanting to work in the industry and so she just deals with interested people via email, but at the time I had thought I had blown it.) After that, the days went by and I heard nothing, which confirmed my suspicions. The hope of finding other work seemed dashed and so back to the grindstone I went.
Death of a Salesman
In the sales company I worked at, you had to always be in a hyper-positive mood. It was one of those “high five everyone in the morning to get pumped” cliche environments. But with my marriage still in tatters and a major lack of job satisfaction, that became harder and harder to do. This took its toll and my sales began to suffer. Big time. I went literally a whole week without making one sale. That was crushing, and my boss wasn’t happy. See, after 9 months at the job, he used me as a trainer and an inspiration for the others in the team. So when I was flat, the others began to go flat as well.
One day, we were set up at Flinders Street Station, trying to get passers-by to stop and consider signing up to support World Wildlife Fund, and I was trying my best to keep my energy up, but it was like walking through treacle. It got worse and worse and eventually my boss, seeing how I was failing in my role as his model salesman, took my name badge and told me to go on a break.
Break I did. My heart was broken from my wife’s rejection and my spirit was broken from my constant failure, and so I broke down in an emotional sobbing mess as I walked away from Flinders Street Station and down by the Yarra River. I sat down on the grass by the water, praying to God, asking him what I should do.
You see, I used to have this principle that you shouldn’t ever leave a job, unless you had another one to go to. This was especially relevant to me at a time in my life when I was trying to woo my estranged wife. She already didn’t want anything to do with me, I didn’t want to also be unemployed.
I wasn’t sure what God wanted me to do. Should I leave the job because I knew I couldn’t stay there long term? Or should I buck up, get my crap together and work harder to get my sales back? Was this the job God willed for me, or did he have another? And how could I know what God’s will was? I definitely didn’t want to be out of step of his will. That would surely lead to more failure and misery. But if I didn’t know which path was God’s will, how would I avoid that disaster? These were the thoughts that were tearing through my heart and mind as I prayed in my own private inner Gethsemane – my soul overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death as I cried to God, “Yet not my will but yours be done!”
The Kindness of the Father
Eventually, I rang a guy who I had become friends with through the support group I was attending to work through my struggles with porn. I told him about my dilemma and my utter terror of living out of step with God’s will. I knew the fate of my marriage was ultimately in God’s hands and so I was afraid of stepping out of line or disobeying his will (even unknowingly). I thought that if I did everything God wanted me to do, then – and only then – would God bless me and my marriage.
After hearing all this, my godly friend said: “Simon! Don’t worry so much! God is your heavenly Father. You’re his child! He loves you no matter which decision you make. Even if he does have a plan and you make a wrong choice, he will use your mistakes. Just try to make the best choice you can and let God look after the rest.”
His words, honestly, were life-changing. They exposed my faulty understanding of God and how his will worked. The revealed to me my “works-based” confusion about who God blesses and why. And most importantly, they reminded me of the kindness of God. If I am in Christ, then God is my Heavenly Father and he is kind. I don’t have to overly stress about seeking his will if it is unclear. I don’t have to fear confusion or doubt or ambiguity. I just have to be his child, trusting him and walking with him as best as I can.
Now that I have a daughter (from my second marriage), I understand that message even more. She just needs to hold my hand and walk with me. If there are unseen dangers, I have her back. If she wanders off, I will look for her and find her. I don’t want her worrying about whether or not she is out of step with my will in order to secure my blessing and love. She is my daughter. I am God’s child. And knowing the Father’s kindness should give us peace. As Jesus said: “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:9-11)
The Leap of Faith
I was comforted by my godly friend’s council, but he hadn’t actually told me what I should do… other than trust in my Heavenly Father. So I walked back to Flinders Street Station, grabbed my name badge and tried to get back into work. My mind was still full though with questions and reflections, so the rest of the afternoon was a write off for sales. As I left for the day, my boss pulled me aside, clearly still disappointed with my lack of performance. “Simon,” he said, “I want you to go home and think about whether this job is really for you.”
All the way home and into the evening, I struggled with what to do. In the end though, I had to answer my boss’s questions honestly. No, the job wasn’t for me. I was happy to keep working at it if that was God’s will, but in the absence of a clear instruction from God, I simply had to make a choice.
I had to give up my principle of never quitting a job if you have nothing to go to. I entrusted my needs to the kindness of my Heavenly Father, grabbed my phone and gave my boss a call…
“Hi. It’s Simon. I’ve been thinking about what you asked me, and I think it’s not fair to you or me if I stay in the job.”
“So, you’re quitting?”
“Yeah I think that’s best.”
“Well, I thought you were better than that Simon. But if you want to just give up, then I agree. You should go.”
His harsh words stung as we ended the conversation, but I knew I had done the right thing. So that was it! I was unemployed! I’d taken the leap of faith trusting that God would provide me my “daily bread” and eventually guide me towards some other work. I also trusted that being unemployed would not railroad whatever God was doing in my marriage. God was my Heavenly Father and I placed my life in his hands.
So what was next? I didn’t know. I didn’t have any prospects or other options. It had been over two months since I had had that disheartening phone conversation with Tobin Brothers and I had not heard a peep since, so I had given up on that and faced an indefinite season of unemployment. How would I survive? Well, I had a little bit of money in the bank and so I thought, I’d have a break for a week or two and then I would get back into looking for a new job. It may take a while, but I knew other Christians facing long-term unemployment, and so I knew God could see me through it as well.
That night I went to bed at peace with my decision, remembering my friend’s words: “Just try to make the best choice you can and let God look after the rest.”
New Every Morning
“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning;great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion;therefore I will wait for him.'” (Lamentations 3:22-24)
So I woke up the next day, staring into the great unknown. I had my breakfast and began to enjoy my first day of “holidays”.
That was when the phone rang…
“Hi, this is Wendy from Tobin Brothers Funerals. May I speak with Simon Camilleri?”
“Yes, I’m Simon.”
“Hi, Simon. Sorry that it’s taken so long for us to get back to you. You applied for a position a few months ago. Are you still interested?”
“Great! When would be free to come in for an interview? Do you have any time on Monday?”
“Actually, I have LOTS of time! I just quit my job last night!”
I immediately regretted saying that last bit in case it made me look bad, but I was so blown away I couldn’t help but express it! Literally the morning after I quit my job, I get an offer for a new one! I truly believe that God orchestrated the whole scenario. He could have easily gotten Tobin Brothers to contact me a day or two earlier and if he had, I would never have faced that spiritual dilemma on the banks of the Yarra River. I would have quit my job without ever needing to question whether I truly trusted God. But like a loving Father, God wanted to teach me something important. God let me get to a place where I would see my need and how dependent I was on his provision. God wanted to challenge and refine my trust. God wanted to teach me to rely on him as my Heavenly Father and to find my confidence and security in his kindness rather than in my employment.
So once that lesson had been learned, he could then let Tobin Brothers give me a call. True, I decided of my own will to apply for the job and I decided of my own will to quit my sales job three months later. True, Wendy from Tobin Brothers decided of her own will to give me a call on the next morning. But the fact that my quitting and her calling came only hours apart, was a message of God’s kindness and sovereign provision that I could not miss.
I Didn’t Get the Job
Now, just because God miraculously provides a perfectly timed job interview, is no guarantee that you will get the job. Just remember that if this same thing ever happens to you!
Over the weekend I had seen the Will Smith movie “The Pursuit of Happyness” which tells of a man who does not take his opportunity for employment for granted, and so inspired by this, I did everything I could to prepare for the interview. Not only did I put together a graphic design folio (as best as I could), but I even studied the philosophy of the company and committed to memory their company motto of the 6 C’s: Care, Competency, Contemporary, Creativity, Community and Celebration.
I went in prepped and I was called back for a second interview, giving me even more confidence. Though I didn’t have the graphic designer qualifications, I think I made up for it in my attitude and genuine desire to serve people in their time of need.
Despite this, I didn’t get the job.
It was between me and another girl and she had a bit more experience in graphic design than me, so she got it. Fair enough, I guess. But I was, as you can imagine, disappointed. Tobin Brothers was disappointed too actually, and they said, although they didn’t have a job for me in this department, they’d still like me to join their team as a Funeral Director’s Assistant. This would not be a creative job at all, but I thought, maybe this is how God was getting me to where he wanted me to be. So I said I was interested.
There was just one problem… They didn’t actually have a Funeral Director’s Assistant job available. They just would like to keep me on the books to consider me if one of those roles ever came up (which they did now and then). They understood that I was looking for work and that by the time there was an opening that I may have found another job, but they said, “That would be our loss.” What a nice compliment!
I didn’t help me with my unemployment situation though and I remember my parents quickly encouraging me to not be disheartened, to “get back on the horse” and to look for other work.
But I didn’t.
It wasn’t because I doubted the wisdom of their encouragement. I just sensed that God was doing something with this Tobin Brothers job. I just felt like God was saying, “Just wait Simon. I have something in store for you.”
I didn’t have to wait long. A few days later later Tobin Brothers called me back saying that the lady they hired decided that the job wasn’t for her and they asked if I could start pretty much straight away!
10 Years of Gratitude
So that’s how my job at Tobin Brothers Funerals began. I started my first shift on Wednesday, 14th March 2007, and I can honestly say after 10 years, I am still incredibly grateful to God for his provision.
In the last 10 years I have faced a lot of experiences that have challenged my faith and deepened my trust in my Heavenly Father. The most devastating came around 2 and a half years into my time at Tobin Brothers, when my wife eventually decided to file for divorce. That event raised many more questions for me in terms of the sovereignty of God in the midst of our suffering, but that is for another blog another time. What I can say is that as I went through the divorce, I did remember that moment on the banks of the Yarra and the way God had provided for me with such wise timing.
The wonderful way God had provided my job at Tobin Brothers taught me about his sovereignty, his wisdom, his comfort and his kindness. Lessons that I think God knew I needed to learn before greater trials than unemployment came into my life.
Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear.For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?
“Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith!And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it.For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them.But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.