March 15

The Banks of the Yarra and the Kindness of God

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?”

“Ah… yes.”

“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.

Luke 12:22-34

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October 7

Why a Pro-choicer might March for the Babies

march babies

This Saturday, 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, I expect a small counter march will also take place in the city. Last year it was called “Protest the Bigots”. 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 marches 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.

This Saturday (8th 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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June 29

“Ministry in the Dark” Survey

 ministry in the dark

Fill out the survey below, or go to this link:
http://goo.gl/forms/nEqAo3pCTQ3ASnW03

Please feel free to share this survey with anyone you know in Christian ministry.

 

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June 29

10 Problems with “The Burnt Toast” Story

 

What a sweet story with a lovely message… NOT!!

Allow me to have a not-too-serious rant about the 10 big problems with this video.

  1. Firstly, if the mum had had had such a “long and stressful day at work” and she was so exhausted that all she could put together for dinner was jam and burnt toast, why didn’t dad get off his butt and help her out? Presumably they both are working. Why is mum making dinner while dad sits at the table waiting to be fed? In the end, as I will show, his laziness led to guilt, lies and possibly even cancer.
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  2. When the toast is brought out to dad, he doesn’t say anything to his wife or acknowledge that clearly she wasn’t coping. The child even says they were waiting to see dad’s reaction, but even the child is surprised that he ignores her completely and simply talks to them about their day.
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  3. Prompted by his coldness, or maybe out of fear of his judgment, or maybe just as a cry for help, the mum then apologizes for the toast being burnt. Why is she apologizing? I guess, maybe she is just acknowledging that burnt toast is horrible and she wishes she had more energy to serve him the three course dinner he is obviously accustomed to.
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  4. The child “will never forget my dad’s reply”, and I won’t either. He straight up lies to his wife. He says, “Honey, I love burnt toast!” What is that going to do?? Either it will come across as some sort of sarcastic joke, again not really acknowledging her exhaustion, or worse still, it will come across as 100% truth. This will just leave the mum wondering what kind of weirdo has she married that actually loves burnt toast and if she accepts that, she may get the impression that in future she SHOULD burn his toast, as that is his strange preference.
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  5. The child clearly sees through his lies and that night they decide to ask their dad if he was telling the truth or lying. Dad unapologetically says that yes he was lying but that he just did it to not hurt mum’s feelings. What sort of lesson is THAT teaching his child? I can see inside their mind, Honesty Island crumbling like in the Pixar movie “Inside Out”! He makes out that lying was his only option, but there were so many things he could have said to his wife. How about, “I forgive you” or “No need to apologize, I understand you’ve had a hard day.” Or even, “I should be the one apologizing. We both worked today and you clearly deserve a rest more than me. How about I order takeout?” But no. He goes with a lie and tells his child that that’s the best way to love people.
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  6. Not only does he admit to lying to his wife, he then goes on to lie to his child – or at least tell he says something that is incorrect. He says “Burnt toast doesn’t hurt anyone, but words do.” Wrong dad. Check your facts. A quick Google search would show you that the burnt bits of toast contain an alarming high level of the chemical acrylamide – a cancer-causing toxin. His lies and misinformation does nothing to warn both his wife and child of the carcinogenic dangers of burnt food and may actually lead them to eat more of it! Good one dad!
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  7. Also, are words really that bad? They definitely don’t cause cancer, that’s for sure! But even if they can sting some times, do we really want our kids to lie rather than say words that might “hurt” people? Sure we want to teach our kids that hate speech, bullying and cruel mockery is unacceptable, but in this “safe space”, politically-correct, hyper-sensitive culture that our kids are growing up in, do we really want to teach them that any words that might hurt are forbidden and lying to someone’s face is preferable? We used to try to teach our kids resilience to words. Rather than the unscientific theory that “Burnt toast doesn’t hurt anyone, but words do”, maybe dad should have remembered the old saying “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Words may hurt someone’s feelings sometimes, but they won’t do permanent damage like break your bones or give you cancer!
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  8. The video ends with this moral: “To accept your mistakes and appreciate your differences – that is the key for a healthy and long-lasting relationship.” A nice enough message, but is that really the moral of this story? Who accepts their mistakes? Does the dad? No, he is oblivious to his lack of helpfulness, he justifies his lies and he spreads misinformation about cancer. Lotsa mistakes there that don’t get accepted. And even if we conceded that poor mum made a “mistake” by serving the Master of the House toast that was burnt, does she accept it? Well, she tries to with her apology, but her lying husband tells her that it wasn’t a mistake at all because he loves burnt toast. Very unhelpful.
    .
  9. And where does anyone learn to “appreciate your differences”? Who’s differences? The differences between a lazy, dishonest dad and a mum who works hard all day and then has to make dinner for her family? Those are definite differences, but I for one hope the child doesn’t learn to “appreciate” them!
    .
  10. Lastly, I have a problem with the claim that “accepting mistakes and appreciating differences” is actually “the key for a healthy and long-lasting relationship”. As most people know, honest and gracious COMMUNICATION is actually the key -and that is what this story seriously lacks. If the mum can be critiqued for anything, she maybe should have communicated that she needed help, although it seems the dad already knew what sort of day she had had. The dad should have communicated truth rather than lies, to both his wife and his child. And if he was so sacred of communicating hurtful words, he could have just shut his mouth, got off his chair and communicated love by actually making HER dinner!

The only good communicator in this story is the child, who didn’t sit on their doubts about their dad’s claim to love toast. The child asked for the truth. Those questions may have hurt the dad as they suggested that he was a liar, but like the child in the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes, this child decided to speak up. It is sad that her good communication was answered with bad communication, dodgy justifications, unscientific information and terrible life lessons.

End of rant.

Don’t take it too seriously. 🙂

BURNT FACE

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June 11

Parents, Remember the Lord

remember the lord

 

This is my take on Colin Buchanan’s wonderful kid’s song, “Remember the Lord”.

His words are great, but they’re just targeted to children. I reckon we all need to remember the message of the Chorus.Click here if you want to see the official version if not continue below.

So a week out from Dorothy’s first birthday, here is my version, in honour of all first time parents.

 

PARENTS, REMEMBER THE LORD



When you bring home your baby from the hospital ward,

And you have no idea just what’s in store.

And your heart is filled with hopes and dreams

And all of the sudden they just start to scream.

 

Chorus:

Remember the Lord, oh oh.

Remember that he is in control.

Remember the Lord, oh oh.

He’s watching your children, he cares, oh oh.

Remember the Lord, oh oh. Oh, oh.

 

You’ve read “attachment theories” and “Baby Wise”,

But it don’t take long til you realise,

In those early days if your baby’s alive

Then you’re doin okay. Just try to survive.

Chorus

 

When it’s half past 3 and they’re still not asleep

And you’re so exhausted you’re going to weep.

When they’re pooing and spewing and not doing great

Cos the breast feeding hurts and they’re not gaining weight.

Chorus

 

When you keep comparing your kid to theirs

When one can’t roll and the other climbs stairs

When one is bald and the other has hairs

When one steals toys and the other one shares

When one’s expressive and one just stares

When one’s a dream and the other, nightmare

When you know as a Christian you shouldn’t compare

But you’re trying really hard so it’s hard not to care.

Chorus

 

When you want them to grow in their spiritual life

And you think it’s all up to you and your wife

For modelling gospel faithfulness

But you really need grace cos your life is a mess.

Chorus

 

Now I don’t want you to think that havin kids ain’t fun

But it tests your character from day one

It exposes your pride. It bears your soul.

It reveals who you really think’s in control… So…

Chorus

 

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June 10

The Man in the Moon – a poem

man in the moon

 

The Man in the Moon

a poem by Simon Camilleri

 

Let us pause and consider the Man in the Moon,

For he glows with a light that isn’t his own.

Created to shine in the darkness of night

By reflecting the glory of another’s light.

 

For it’s by the sun’s light that the moon can be known

And it’s by the sun’s light that its beauty is shown.

It’s the sun that now holds all the orbits in place.

If the sun let it go it would be lost in space.

 

Yet the man in the moon wishes he could break free.

He thinks of his orbit as like slavery.

Every lunar eclipse, to the earth’s furthest side,

The moon tries to escape, and like Adam he hides

 

In the shadow of earth where he thinks none can see,

And there in the dark, he declares “Now, I’m free!”

“Now it’s my time to shine. My own light fill the skies!”

So he tries to shine light. Yes he tries and he tries…

 

But he can’t. He’s a moon. Not a sun. Not a star.

And you can’t be enlightened lest you know what you are.

Still as the moon’s orbit from the earth’s shadow slips,

The moon vows to try harder, the next lunar eclipse .

 

The moon is a fool. Just like you. Just like me.

There’s a reason why madness is called “lunacy”.

The moon thinks he’s so big and the sun looks so small.

If he only could see the sun’s not small at all.

 

Even to us on the earth, they both look the same size.

But it’s due to perspective, it’s a trick of the eyes.

You could fit 64 million moons in one sun!

Yet the man in the moon thinks that he’s “Number One”.

 

So later tonight in the moon’s bright reflection,

Do your own reflective introspection.

See the man in the moon. Cos if you can,

You’ll see that the moon is there in the man.

 


 

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen:

not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

– C.S. Lewis

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May 24

The Political Party I’d Like To Vote For…

vote

 

I want a political party that:

– gives generously to our needy neighbours,
– cares for the poor in our own country,
– is welcoming to those fleeing oppressive regimes,
– works towards tolerance and social harmony in our communities,
– resources and equips education, health, science and the arts,
– stewards the environment well and tackle pollution,
– protects the innocent and the vulnerable from violence,
– cares for the unborn as well as mothers in crisis,
– values every life no matter whether it is old or young,
– encourages economic stability and jobs growth,
– makes it more possible for people to buy a house,
– inspires and facilitates entrepreneurship,
– helps the unemployed,
– helps those trying to start a business,
– helps big businesses create more jobs,
– makes sure the wealthy are paying their taxes,
– prevents and punishes crime,
– re-educates criminals where possible,
– makes sure our laws are fair and reasonable,
– protects our country from the threats of terrorism and attack,
– gives individuals the freedom to think, live, love and express themselves,
– fosters a society that allows people to disagree on important issues,
– values religion as a social and individual good,
– is open and honest about its use of money,
– manages money well and reduces debt,
– guards itself from giving itself more power than it should,
– does not think its role is to control every aspect of life,
– inspires its citizens to take responsibility for their own contribution,
– is humble before the God that will judge all those in a position of power and influence,
– is not a fantasy.

 

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May 16

Captain America and the Size of Government

captain america

 

I saw “Captain America: Civil War” last night and there’s lots of things I could say about the movie. I loved the action, the performances, the dialogue and especially the new characters that are now in the Marvel Universe. I highly recommend seeing the film as one of the most fun and interesting Marvel films to date. But apart from all that, Civil War has got me thinking lots about one of the big issues central to the film – the pros and cons of big and small government.

Now, I don’t think this is a spoiler as it is revealed in the trailers and all the advertising, but the tension in the film centres on legislation that is proposed to regulate superheroes and their powers. It is called “The Sokovia Accords” with the subtitle of it being a “Framework for the registration and deployment of enhanced individuals”. Basically, the idea is that superheroes are expected to either retire or sign the document and if they sign then they can’t do any superhero work without the permission of an international panel that will monitor them, regulate them, send them out when required and prevent them from going out when deemed necessary.

Now, I was very impressed with how the movie presents the argument that this is a good and necessary thing, showing the destruction and death that many of their past actions have caused. Sure they were trying to save the world, but they ignore laws, international borders and in the end innocent people died due to their actions, and sometimes (like in the case of Ultron) they were saving the world from a threat that they themselves created.

Captain America has some concerns though. He is worried about the restriction of their personal freedom to not only fight evil, but also to make choices for themselves about how to regulate their power. He is also skeptical that a government panel would always make the best choice in how to use and regulate superheroes. As he says, it runs by people with agendas and agendas change… If we sign this, we surrender our right to choose. What if this Panel sends us somewhere we don’t think we should go? What if there’s somewhere we need to go and they don’t let us? We may not be perfect but the safest hands are still our own.”

Now, for a series of movies that are often simply a bit of popcorn entertainment, it was interesting to see one that tackled a debate about political philosophy that is very relevant for our world today. The debate is about the idea of small vs big government.

SMALL vs BIG GOVERNMENT

If you’ve never heard of this debate before, it’s basically asking how much control, influence, involvement or power should be given to the government and how much should be given to individual citizens or private organisations (like businesses, churches, families, private schools etc.).

A small government approach is one where the government has as little involvement as possible in the affairs of its citizens. Small governments may still provide basic, necessary services (military defense, police, fire, water, electricity, sewerage etc.) and they may also provide services like welfare for those that cannot obtain work or health services, but the weight of the power and responsibility rests on individual citizens and organisations.

Big government, as you can probably guess, is the opposite approach. The government has a substantial level of involvement and regulation, and the weight of power and responsibility does not rest on the citizens but the government that presides over them.

Now, each of these approaches or politics philosophies have their pros and cons. Small government focuses on people’s individual libertarian rights to live their own life, raise their own kids and express their own values. Generally, most individual people want small government because they don’t want to be told what to do, especially by a government that may not share your values. Generally, small governments create more prosperous countries as they aim to encourage and empower enterprise and individual creativity. The problem with small government is that people’s individual values can be pretty selfish. Small government allows for the rich to get richer with no concern for the poor if they don’t want to have any. Also, small government creates a society of mixed values and behaviours, which means that tolerance is very important and social harmony can be challenging.

Big government has its own set of challenges. On a positive note, big governments aim to prevent the poor from getting poorer and the rich from getting richer, and through government regulation and oversight aim to create a more equitable society that is free from the individual abuses that small government can bring about. The problem with big government is that it can be just as abusive as individuals. The big government approach assumes responsibilities that, under a smaller government, are distributed to individual citizens. This often involves raising taxes and taking power and freedom away from its citizens, which can kill enterprise and may encourage bigger businesses to take their industries off shore where they can prosper in a country with less restrictions. Also, in an attempt to create social harmony and restrict the values of individuals and businesses that it deems bad for society, a big government will inevitably seek to enforce its own set of values on society and it will have the power to do so. This may be ok if its values are good, but who doesn’t believe that their values are good? As Captain America says in the movie: “it runs by people with agendas and agendas change”.

Basically, both big and small government philosophies are wanting the same goal – they aim to help create a prosperous society where all citizens can flourish and where evil is restricted. They simply represent two opposite ends of the spectrum of how to achieve that goal. Small government primarily gives that responsibility to individuals and free enterprise and aims to make the government have as little power as possible, and big government gives the government the primary responsibility and consequently much more power and influence to achieve that goal.

BIG & SMALL GOVERNMENT IN MY EXPERIENCE

Personally, I believe, as most do, that a balance between the two is necessary. In regard to gun control for example, I am glad that I live in Australia which has taken a big government approach to the issue. Guns are extremely restricted and the only guns I know of anyone owning, are rifles used for shooting pests (like rabbits and roos) out in the country. This means that I also don’t personally know of anyone who has been shot, either deliberately or accidentally, and Australia – with a population of over 23 million – in 2014 experienced only 230 gun-related deaths. The US in contrast, has a population of 316.5 million, which is 14 times the population of Australia, but in 2014, the US had 146 times the amount of gun-related deaths (33,599 deaths).

So when it comes to guns, I am happy that the government restricts my and others personal freedom to own, carry and use guns. The big government approach in this situation has literally helped lives to flourish and has created a better society for all citizens (except arguably for those who wish to own guns of course).

Another area of big government that I have benefited from is Australia’s healthcare system. Although I may not agree with everything my healthcare tax dollars are put towards (abortion for example) I think we have a great system that allows pretty much everyone to receive the care they need. Important medicines (like the diabetes medication I take daily) is majorly subsidized and I can see diabetes educators, nutritionists and other health specialists free of charge because of this soft form of universal healthcare that we have. It’s not without its problems, with the public system overrun and susceptible to overuse, but I am glad we have this semi-big government approach to this vital service.

So, I see the good of big government, but like Captain America, I also see its dangers. Captain America’s concern in the movie “Civil War” is primarily about how a government body may have a different set of values to an individual citizen (or superhero) and how their increased power and influence may be used to serve their own agenda rather than the citizens themselves. Captain America suggests that the big government approach is a form of “surrendering our right to choose” and proposed some theoretical examples where this might be a problem: “What if this Panel sends us somewhere we don’t think we should go? What if there’s somewhere we need to go and they don’t let us? We may not be perfect but the safest hands are still our own.”

As a Christian, I am most concerned about the big government approach in its potential effect to and restriction of religious freedom. In a big government, if the government deems certain beliefs or values to stand in the way their particular view of what makes a “good” society, they may use their increased power and influence to restrict or even criminalize those beliefs. This may seem extreme, but it happens in many countries even today.

In 23 out of 49 Islamic countries, it is illegal to convert away from Islam and it is also illegal for non-Muslims to share their faith in such a way that they might encourage a Muslim to convert. In Malaysia, it is illegal to leave Islam in every state other than Negeri Sembilan. In this state you have to apply to the courts if you want to convert and the vast majority get denied. This is what it looks like when the big government approach takes over religious expression in a country.

This is not only a problem if a religious government gains control and establishes a big government. It is also an issue in socialist secular countries as well. In China for example, freedom of religion is majorly restricted to only five government-sanctioned religions. Of this five, there is only one protestant group allowed which the government has called the “Three-Self Patriotic Movement”. It’s teaching, appointment of leaders and ability to meet freely is tightly regulated and defined by the government. Naturally, they do this because, as every government does, they want their country to flourish and be prosperous for all its citizens, and they believe that complete freedom of religion would jeopardize that goal. Politicians of any country’s government may have this concern, but it is only those that have a big government approach, that are afforded the power to be able to enforce it.

Now you may still think that examples like Islamic countries and socialist China are extreme and bear no resemblance to democratic Western countries, but in the last decade the threat to religious freedom has been growing. Generally, Western countries have been influenced by Christianity, which at its heart teaches that faith in Christ is something that must come freely and can not be forced or enforced (although I acknowledge at times in history this has been foolishly attempted by some rulers). Countries influenced by Christianity have therefore encouraged a separation of Church and State and have enshrined a freedom of religious belief and expression into many of its laws.

THE BIG GOVERNMENT TREND IN THE WEST

What we are now seeing, as Western countries peel off the Christian veneer and as more secularist politicians gain power and influence, is that governments are finding their values and the values of many religious people are starting to become more and more in conflict.

In London earlier this month, some Orthodox Jewish schools were investigated by government education inspectors and have now been told by the courts that they must promote “fundamental British values”. Presiding judge Hugh Brayne said that the ruling was to ensure that students at the Jewish school would “be equipped to enter modern British society, which accepts as part of its diversity civil partnerships, gay marriage, families with same-sex parents and acceptance of transgender persons”.

In the States, just last Friday, in a classic big government approach, the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education issued a decree that told all public schools in the country that they had to provide access to toilet, locker room and shower facilities to students based on the gender they identify with rather than based on their actual sex. It wasn’t a law (as schools are under the legal jurisdiction of the state not the federal government) but they have said they would withhold federal funding for those schools that do not comply.

In Australia, these issues are also very relevant with a similar thing happening with the Victorian Labor government pushing its values about sexuality and gender by enforcing the controversial sexuality education program “Safe Schools” in all public schools, whether or not school staff, parents or even students wish to sign up to the program. Also, an article last week in The Daily Telegraph calling to remove the tax free status of churches unless they meet the criteria of a government review. “What is necessary now is for all religious organisations to submit annual financial reports and for the government and Australian Charities and Not-for-Profit Commission to review their tax-exempt status.” Now, as much as I think it is valid to stamp out any abuses of the tax free status by religious organisations, it is concerning if financial incentives were ever used to influence churches to align with the values of the government.

In regard to the push for reform of the legal definition of marriage in Australia, questions about big vs small government are integral to the debate. On one hand, a small government approach would suggest that individual citizens should have the freedom to marry however and whoever they choose, or to define marriage however they want. Unfortunately, the parties that openly support the change, such as Labor and the Greens, are generally also supportive of the big government approach. This makes many Christians very concerned that once the change becomes enshrined in law, they will not have the freedom of religion to teach what the bible says about marriage, sexuality and gender in Christian schools, Universities, public forums or possibly even churches. Such teaching will be deemed “hate speech” and “offensive” and a big government approach will see it potentially being legislated against in order to enforce conformity to the government’s values.

A similar concern is felt for Christians involved in businesses that provide services for weddings, such as bakers, wedding planners and photographers. In a small government approach, these Christians would have the freedom to conscientiously object to supporting an event that they believed was morally objectionable based on their religious convictions. I’m still thinking through my position on this, but it is clear that under a big government approach, there will be no debate – they will have to conform to the government’s new definition of marriage or they will be fined for discrimination. We have already seen this happening in some Western countries. Possibly the most well known was a little bakery in Oregon run by a Christian couple who informed a lesbian couple that they couldn’t in good conscience make a cake for their wedding, and a court ordered they pay $135,000 to the couple for the emotional damage caused.

LIKE A TREE BESIDE THE RIVER OF TRUTH

If Western countries don’t want to end up like the oppressive governments mentioned earlier, then they need to be wary of the way the big government approach is being used and accepted more and more. As I explained earlier, the big government approach can be at times helpful. It is definitely a powerful strategy which can use its influence for great good, but at the same time it can be used for evil and oppression as well.

That is why I think the movie, Captain America: Civil War is so interesting in today’s climate. It raises a debate that some people don’t realize needs to be debated. It points out the danger of giving the power over many into the hands of a few. It has made me think through where I stand – be it Team Cap or Team Iron Man. It’s actually a hard choice at the start as both sides make their case quite well, but in the end, Captain America’s concerns are shown to be valid.

Now, I may think through these issues and come to my own conclusion, but in the end, I see my own country slowly sliding towards a bigger and bigger government. With a federal election only a couple of months away, this debate could not be more relevant. I only have one vote though, and so my calling is to simply what I think is right. As the government gets bigger and uses its increased power to try to restrict views that it disagrees with, I will try to remember the words in the movie that inspire Captain America as he sat in that solemn church – words that, in the original comic, Captain America spoke himself:

“Doesn’t matter what the press says. Doesn’t matter what the politicians or the mobs say. Doesn’t matter if the whole country decides that something wrong is something right. This nation was founded on one principle above all else: The requirement that we stand up for what we believe, no matter the odds or the consequences. When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth, and tell the whole world – ‘No, YOU move.’”

I don’t know what saying “No, YOU move” might look like in my own circumstances, but I guess over time, I’ll find out.  I also don’t know exactly when a big government approach is better than a small government approach, and visa versa. It’s very complex and I hope I haven’t presented the issues in an unfairly simplistic way. I guess, the more I think about it, the more I feel I side with Team Cap and a small government philosophy. At least in a general sense. Small governments can seem cold and harsh to the poor and the weak, but at least they don’t restrict individual citizens and charitable organisations from caring for those in need. It seems to me that a big government that is corrupt can do much more harm than a small government that is cold. But hey, what do I know? I’m no political analyst. I’m just a guy who saw a cool superhero movie. I’m just someone who is thinking through his position on all these issues. I’m just a Christian. I’m just an individual citizen.

you move

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February 28

Trump does not get the Gospel

trump get gospel

Recently the Pope made a statement that implied that Donald Trump was not a Christian. He pointed to Trump’s plan to build a wall between the US and Mexico and said “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the gospel. As far as what you said about whether I would advise to vote or not to vote, I am not going to get involved in that. I say only that this man is not Christian if he has said things like that.”

Trump responded with this statement: “For a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful. I am proud to be a Christian… No leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question another man’s religion or faith.”

Firstly, I want to say that Trump is completely wrong in regard to the right of a religious leader to question another man’s religion. In fact, the apostle Paul would say that that is one of the responsibilities of a religious leader. Consider Paul’s instruction to his trainee-minister, Titus: “[An elder] must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. For there are many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced, because they are disrupting whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach—and that for the sake of dishonest gain.” (Titus 1:9-11) Paul even models this in his public rebuke of Peter which he mentions in Galatians 2:11-14, when Peter was clearly “not acting in line with the truth of the gospel”.

Jesus himself also warns us to watch out both for false believers and for the fact that we might be a false believer ourselves. In Matthew 7:13-23 Jesus says:

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

Now, we have to be careful not be too quick to judge someone as a false believer. Jesus even warns his followers to have this caution in Mark 9:38-41. But in order for us to clearly proclaim and protect the gospel message, we need to be able to call a spade a spade. When someone has no understanding of the Christian gospel or shows no fruit that should accompany someone who claims to be a Christian (see Galatians 5:16-23), then we should feel free to suggest that that person is not a Christian.

Now, there may be many, many reasons for someone to consider that Donald Trump is not a genuine Christian. You could point to his unrepentant boasting about his various extramarital affairs, or his sexistracist and ableist comments, or his foul language, or his commitment to bring back the practise of water-boarding and worse, or his threats of violence against those that oppose him, or his general arrogance and ego. These examples show that the fruit of a life shaped by the Spirit of God – namely love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – are severely lacking in Trump, and might be considered enough to conclude that he wasn’t actually a Christ-follower. As Jesus said, By their fruit you will recognize them.” (Matthew 7:20).

Now, you have to be careful judging the reality of someone’s conversion based on the fruit you see. We are all flawed works-in-progress. Someone may be a genuine follower of Christ and still have a lot of bad fruit that God is working on over time. The example I mentioned before where Paul publicly rebuked Peter (Galatians 2:11-14) was an example of one Christian rebuking another Christian. Paul accused Peter of “not acting in line with the truth of the gospel”. The problem with Trump though is not that he isn’t acting in line with the gospel, it’s that he doesn’t even know the gospel in the first place.

TWO CRITERIA TO BE A CHRISTIAN 

When Jesus called people to follow him right at the beginning of his ministry he said, “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the gospel!” In order to be a Christian (a Christ-person) Jesus commands two things: “Repent” and “believe the gospel”. This message is echoed later in Jesus ministry when he explains what the heart of his message is: It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32) and after Jesus was resurrected this call to “repent and believe” was carried on by his followers, as can be seen in Acts 20:21, “I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.”

Turning to God in repentance for our sin and believing in the good news about Jesus for our forgiveness is the simple requirement for the salvation that God offers. If you have not done this, then you are not a Christian and you can not claim that name. If you do not show evidence of having done this, then other people are right to (as Trump puts it) question your faith and religion.

The gospel message is the thing God uses to bring people into his kingdom. As Paul writes in Romans 1:16, “the gospel…is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes”. Because of this, it is important that we are clear about the gospel, it is important that we defend the gospel and it is important that we protect the gospel from being corrupted over time. One of the ways to do this is to not be afraid to call someone out for not having the right to call themselves a Christian – either due to their lack of “repenting and believing” or due to their lack of the fruit that should accompany it.

As I mentioned about, it is easy to see that Trump is lacking in the fruit, but I think the thing that makes it even clearer that he is not a Christian, is the fact that he has not “repented and believed”. This video clip makes that abundantly clear.

Trump is asked the most basic of questions that a Christian should be able to answer without hesitation: “Have you ever asked God for forgiveness?”

Trump first tries to avoid the question, talking non-stop for a full minute trying to win the crowd by name-dropping his minister. When he is forced to confront the question he stumbles over his answer saying: “I’m not sure I have. I just go on and try to do a better job from there. I don’t think so. I think if I do something wrong I just try and make it right. I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t… I don’t think in terms of that. I think in terms of let’s go on and let’s make it right.”

Not long after this interview, Trump was questioned about his answer and his understanding of Christianity on CNN.

Interviewer Anderson Cooper asked Trump: “The idea of repentance. Is that something that’s important to you?”

Trump answered: “I think repenting is terrific.”

Cooper: “But do you feel a need to? As part of forgiveness.”

Trump: “If I make a mistake then yeah, then I think it’s great, but I try not to make mistakes. I mean, why do I have to, you know, repent? Why do I have to ask for forgiveness if you’re not making mistakes? I work hard. I’m an honorable person. I have thousands of people who work for me. I’ve employed tens of thousands of people over the years.”

Cooper: “You give millions to charity.”

Trump: “I give millions. I built the Vietnam Memorial in Lower Manhattan, with a small group of people!”


JESUS CAME FOR THE SICK

As has been often pointed out by Christian commentators, if you do not see the bad news of our sin and need for forgiveness, then you will never see the good news of Jesus’ offer to die for your sin and provide you that forgiveness. It’s like chemo. You’ll never go do it if you don’t realise you have cancer.

In Luke 5:30-32, the Pharisees ask Jesus, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answers, It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Jesus describes himself as a doctor, and if you don’t know you’re sick, you won’t go to him. Jesus has come for sinners, not those who think they are “righteous”.

Trump falls into the exact same problem the Pharisees did in Jesus’ day. When asked about whether he has asked God for forgiveness, Trump says “I don’t think so”. When asked about what he thinks about repentance, Trump says “Why do I have to repent?”. Trump does acknowledge that he may have made some mistakes, but that doesn’t drive him to his needs before God. In fact he says, “If I do something wrong I just try and make it right. I don’t bring God into that picture.”

In his mind, Trump is his own saviour. And if asked about whether he feels a need to repent, he will point out all his good works – working hard, being honorable, employing people, giving to charity and building stuff. I don’t know about you, but that reminds me of a parable Jesus once told that seems quite appropriate. It’s found in Luke 18:9-14. Have a read and see who the Pharisee in the parable sounds like.

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable:

“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

 

WE ARE LIKE TRUMP

Now, this article may sound like I am just having fun dumping on Trump. That’s actually not my goal at all. In fact it would be hypocritical for me to quote the parable above and then just say, “God, I thank you that I am not like Donald Trump!” The fact is that although Trump needs forgiveness and needs to repent, we are no better than him. The point of the parable that Jesus told was that we should not base our understanding of our own goodness by comparing ourselves to others. We should be like the Tax Collector. The Tax Collector was actually a worse sinner than the Pharisee, but he did something that meant that he went home right with God – he acknowledged his sin and he asked for mercy. In Jesus’ words, he “humbled” himself before God. That is something we all need to do, and if you are standing next to Trump on the day of Judgment, you can’t point to him and say, “At least I was better than him.” No. We are like Trump. We all need forgiveness. We all need to repent. We all need Jesus. We are all in the same boat.

My aim in writing this article is not to get you to hate Trump. It’s not to get my American friends to not vote for him (though most of them are more anti-Trump than I am). My aim in writing this is twofold. Firstly, in order to defend the integrity of the true Christian gospel I feel it is important to say that Trump does not get it. It is important that I point to an example like Trump and say, despite the fact that he calls himself a Christian, he is not one. There is only one gospel. And as R.C. Sproul said at the Ligonier National Conference just yesterday, “Whatever else we do with the gospel, we must never, ever, ever mess with it.”

But secondly, we must make sure that we do not fall into the same trap. We must make sure that we understand the gospel clearly and that we have responded to it in the way that Jesus commands. Those that call themselves by the name “Christian” must be open to that sort of self-scrutiny and self-reflection. We can not presume that just because we call ourselves a “Christian” that we are one. And if someone questions our genuineness as a Christian, we need to not react like Trump did to the Pope. We need to give people the right to ask those questions and we need to ask those questions of ourselves. We need search our hearts and the Scripture to allow God to convict us and call us to repent and believe. We need to take Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:21-23 seriously:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

Sadly, I believe there a millions of people who, like Trump, would tick the “Christian” box on the census form and yet do not know the gospel and have never responded to it. Millions of people who expect to meet God as a friend when they die, and yet will meet him as a stranger. It is a harrowing and sobering thought.

The best we can do is make sure that we know the gospel ourselves and make it known as best we can.

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February 20

Sometimes God makes my life boring

boring

 

Last Thursday, on my way home from work, my car’s front right tire exploded while I was driving at 100km/h on the Western Ring Road Freeway.

What happened next was intense and traumatic and I’m lucky to be alive…

 


 

As you can imagine, without one of my front tires I could barely keep control of my car. I could hear the loud flap of the torn up rubber and the scrape of the metal rim as my little Mazda 2 veered violently to the right, almost going into the lane next to me. I was in the middle lane of the freeway and the traffic was very busy with lots of trucks and other commuters on every side.

As I was travelling at 100km/h I knew I had to slow down, but the car behind mustn’t have been paying attention, because as I steadily applied the break they kept zooming ahead and they knocked the back of me. It was a fairly violent nudge and it forced my car off to the right, where I scraped into the side of the van in the next lane. It all happened very fast after that.

freeway2The van veered off to try to avoid me and crashed into the short concrete wall separating the freeway, this cause a pile up of cars behind it as they all tried to screech to a holt. Meanwhile, the car behind me still hadn’t stopped and pushed my car into a spin. I was terrified and I can remember screaming and thinking that I was truly going to die and how horrible that would be. Several other cars then plowed into mine as I spun, pushing me further across the freeway and into the lane of an oncoming truck. The last thing I heard was the deafening hiss of the truck’s airbreaks as the driver desperately tried to avoid me.

Unfortunately, it was going too fast. The truck rammed into the nose of my small hatchback causing me to flip several times. My airbags went off and the the next few moments were a chaotic mess of broken glass and crunching metal and being tossed around like a rag doll, all the while knowing for sure that at the unjust age of 38, the great fearful blackness of death was about to swallow me at any second.

It is only by the grace of God’s miraculous hand that I escaped death and am hear to tell you the tale. My car was totaled, I have a few broken bones, but after a couple of nights in hospital it looks like I will pull through. I may not walk for a few months and they had to amputate my right arm, but this experience has left me more appreciative of life and more confident that God can see me through anything…

 


 

Now that would have been an exciting near-death experience story for me to be able to tell you, except for the fact that… none of that actually happened.

 

Well, the first sentence is true. My tire did explode while I was driving at 100km/h on the freeway last Thursday, but God had orchestrated things so it turned out a little differently.

 

Firstly, God ensured that when my tire blew, I was in the left most lane so it was fairly easy for me to quickly turn into the emergency lane and out of harms way. God also probably helped the car stabilize in that process as I didn’t find it too hard to control even though I was driving on the metal rim and travelling at a high speed. God made sure that there were no cars right behind me as well, so slowing down didn’t cause any problems.

After that, it was pretty boring really. I called Cat and she called her brother Phil, who’s handy with all things practical (unlike me, with my uncalloused graphic designer hands). God had made sure Phil was available and, in a longer term sense, had shaped Phil’s godly character into an “always willing to help when needed” sort of dude. Phil dropped whatever he was doing and found me on the freeway. He quickly replaced the tire with my spare, using his cool drill attachments to undo the nuts on the wheel, making me feel like I was in the company of a Formula 1 pit-crew.

After the tire was replaced, I jumped back in the car and guess what? The battery was flat! Crazy huh? We contemplated getting some roadside service, but it was going to cost us a bit so we thought we’d first try to give the car a push start to see it that could start the engine that way. By God’s kindness, it did, and both Phil & I were able to get to get on our way and attend the ministry meeting at our church that we had on that night. In about one hour exactly, I had gone from an exploding tire to on my merry way. I guess God wanted me at that meeting. Or maybe he wanted Cat there, as if I had really been in a major crash, I doubt she would have attended the meeting either.

When my tire exploded, I was naturally surprised and a little anxious as I got out of traffic, but I was never terrified like I described in my exciting made up story. I didn’t scream thinking that I was truly going to die and how horrible that would be. In fact, I am very much at peace about dying. To be honest, I look forward to the joy of seeing Christ face to face. Now, I don’t look forward to the actual process of dying and I’m sure if that horrible crash had actually happened I might have been screaming as I awaited the painful end. But I wouldn’t be thinking “that at the unjust age of 38, the great fearful blackness of death was about to swallow me at any second.” It wouldn’t be unjust for me to die at 38 or 68 or 18 or even 8 months (the age of my daughter). The bible says the God is the one who “gives everyone life and breath and everything else” (Acts 17:25). This life I live is a gift from God. I do not own it. I do not have rights over it. It is God’s and he will take it back when he pleases.

And when he does, even if I’m scared of the actual thing that will kill me – be it cancer, a heart attack or a freeway pile-up – I hope I can remember the apostle Paul’s wonderful words in Philippians 1:20-23…

“I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far.”

In fact, in that moment, just after the exploding tire as I waited for Phil to arrive, I posted on Facebook a few photos of my tire along with this status update: “One of my tires exploded while driving on the freeway. Ah, to live is Christ…”

 

God protected me last Thursday. The fact that my actual story is not as dramatic and exciting as the one I made up is actually a miracle. My boring true story is a sign of God’s kindness and sovereignty and ability to control events like tires and freeway lanes and everything else.

Now, I don’t believe in a prosperity gospel that thinks that God is only looking after me when good things happen (you can see my thoughts on God’s sovereignty in suffering here). I have had my share of pain and tragedy, and yet I can still say with confidence that God is kind and loving and in control. As the bible says, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). All things means all things. God will look after those in Christ through all things like sickness, divorce, near-death experiences and even death itself.

I don’t expect God to provide me a life of comfort, free from pain or strife. In fact, I expect drama and tragedy and suffering. Though quite often (and probably a lot more than I know), for his own mysterious purposes, even when I might like to have an exciting story to tell… sometimes God makes my life boring.

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