What not to do when you travel to another country

10435070_10152346014383143_5684411763653682514_nA couple of weeks ago I was in Mataranka, a tiny town south of Darwin famous for its hot springs. Tourist spots like this draw people from all around the world and it’s not wonder with the clear, warm water and natural foliage draped overhead.

As we swam, I overheard a Swiss couple, probably in their mid sixties, speaking in German. Knowing that one of the greatest things about travelling is the opportunity to speak to people from all around the world, I struck up a conversation with them in German. My Aussie/German friend Nelly soon joined in, and we heard all about their trip around Australia.

Perhaps they felt comfortable with us, speaking their own language, but it wasn’t long before they were expressing some strong opinions about what they’d seen. Our country quickly came under attack as they expressed their disgust at the living conditions, treatment and segregation of our Indigenous people. They capped it off with a stinging assessment: They’d travelled all over the world, and never seen anything as bad as what they’d seen here.

Having just driven across the country feeling these same concerns myself, I felt chastised and ashamed but also annoyed at their condescension.

Despite all they may have seen, they had not walked a mile in our shoes. I was challenged to recognise the privilege it is to be welcomed in to a country that is not my own, and to accept what it offers, without handing out my judgements and criticisms.

Wondering if I really know my country at all.

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I’ve just returned from a road trip with three girlfriends. We drove all the way across Australia, from one coast to the other, south to north.

On our first day of driving, as we left our city and drove through the countryside, I felt an almost umbilical connection to this land. My love for my country and my sense of pride in it runs deep. It’s what I know, it’s my home, and it’s been good to me.

By the end of my trip, however, I began to wonder how much I know my country at all.

The face of Australia is so multi-faceted, that I began to realize how vastly different my experience of ‘home’ is to other people’s. Outside the cities we drove through rural farmland; country towns that have a lifestyle and culture of their own.

Beyond that, things change even more. Decades of bush lifestyle have been carved out in remote regions, where a run down roadhouse is the central social hub and isolation is a way of life.

Further on we came to Aboriginal lands; where children roam the dusty streets with vicious looking dogs in the middle of the day.

And I wondered about school.

And I realized how much I don’t understand.

And we discussed and debated what should be done, and realized that we don’t have the answers.

And we wondered if anyone does.

And I thought of the bright lights of Sydney…

…and it felt like another world.

Rubbish Christians Post on Facebook

UntitledI came across this the other day. I honestly can’t remember who posted it, (if it was you, I’m sorry) and I have no doubt the person meant well, but I really believe this stuff has got to stop.

It seems that Christians get far too caught up in liking and re-posting things that sound good, with little thought to whether or not they are true. Under the illusion that we are making a stand for what we believe in, we find ourselves merely propagating the idea that our faith is a house of straw that will be blown down with the first winds of reason.

As Christians, we are in possession of the greatest, deepest and purest redemptive truth the world has ever seen, and yet somehow we manage to reduce it to this sickening fluff.

How is it that the epic triumph of Jesus over evil can become glorified chain mail with a caricature devil and a spiritualised guilt trip?

Before you let yourself be guilted into ‘passing it on,’ ask yourself this: Does it do our saviour justice, and is it scriptural truth?

Because I can guarantee you this, the true army of God has the Word of God as its sword, and not some feel-good anecdote.

Who makes you tremble?

awe_babyI’m a bit of a fan of Master Chef. It inspires me to cook, and we all need a bit of that in our lives!

Last week, one of the most renowned and intimidating chefs in the world entered the kitchen: Marco Pierre White.

To say that the contestants were in awe was an understatement. Some fell to pieces, others were lost for words, and all wanted to cook the best they’d ever cooked.

I’m sure Marco deserves their accolades, but he doesn’t deserve their worship, and as I watched them, I wondered if any of them had ever given even half that awe filled response to their creator.

And then I wondered about myself; I who actually believe in God. Are there people on earth who make me tremble with more awe than He does?

Anything that becomes exalted to the level of God in our lives must be cut down. But even more than that, God must be lifted higher.

There was a Christian song I used to listen to as a teenager that had a line that said ‘Let me not forget to tremble.’ It was a great reminder to live in awe of a God whom we so quickly push into the shadows behind our worldly idols.

There are great and accomplished men and women in this world, but they must never hold a candle to our God.

When the ocean tosses you around like a rag doll

Water_size480I went surfing on the weekend. I am by no means a surfer, but I thought it would be fun to learn.

It’s probably not the best time to start. Australia is being plunged into winter and the winds that blow in off Antarctica make for a cold and rough swell, but a couple of friends and I braved the chill in our wetsuits and had a good day.

One thing that’s struck me about being an amateur surfer is how much you have to fight the ocean. Sure it’s fun when you catch a wave, but the rest of the time is spent paddling out, or, in my case, being tossed around and rolled under the water like a rag doll.

That’s a bit how life can feel sometimes; being tossed like a rag doll in the ocean; battered by the waves. No sooner have I gasped a breath of air, than I am down, under the water again. Why? For what purpose?

I asked God about it, and he reminded me of this: That I cannot see myself, but He can. And He knows that finally, when I have been removed from the water, I will have been refined into a pearl far more brilliant than anything that could have been attained on the shore.

And therein lies the peace: it is worth it, and suddenly the waves hold less fury, because at the end of the day, they’re working for me.

I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead

sleep_2480539When I first got sick, I received a lot of really unhelpful advice. One thing that I heard a couple of times, when I was leaving a function early to go home and go to bed, was that I should ‘toughen up, ‘cos I could sleep when I’m dead.’
(Surely the insensitivity of this is obvious since I actually felt like I was dying and was trying hard to avoid it??)

 Anyway, much as Bon Jovi’s song is very poor advice to give to a sick person, and much as we totally have a responsibility to take care of our bodies, I’m actually starting to think that maybe he’s got a point.

 Last night one of our pastors spoke on Hebrews 4. He began by acknowledging that this life is tough. So many of us are tired, so much of the time, and life can get overwhelming. Monday mornings seem to come around so much quicker than Friday afternoons, and so often our weakness and humanity overshadows the greatness of our calling. But therein lies the point. We have an amazing calling on earth, and an even more amazing future awaiting us in heaven.

This life is tough, but there remains for us a Sabbath rest.

I’m going to spend my eternity resting and rejoicing in the presence of Jesus, but while I’m here, there’s work to do.

 We may be exhausted, but God provides the strength for us to do His will and the promise that we can rest in Him.

Why I don’t think people returned from Heaven.

My last blog post (When Heaven is for Real becomes a movie- and it’s my final straw) raised some questions that I think it would be remiss of me not to address.

While I am committed to keeping my posts short, and am not afraid of raising questions, there is always the risk that with such a concise amount of words I will be either misinterpreted or unclear in my meaning or the thinking behind my posts.

I think it is dangerous to criticize the experiences and motives of fellow Christians, but I also believe there are times when it is equally dangerous not to.

I am no great Bible scholar, in fact I’m a novice, and I may stand to be corrected, but I would like to take this opportunity to convey the basis for my conclusions.

First, I’d like to address the comment that I’ve received that if these stories cause people to think about Heaven, then they’re beneficial. I don’t agree with that reasoning. There is no doubt in my mind that God can use them for good. In fact, we live in a world in which God is daily using all manner of things for good and for his purposes (Rom 8:28). That doesn’t mean they’re right (God’s use of Solomon as a great King and part of the lineage of Christ does not justify David and Bathsheba’s sin).

Yes, these books may give some people hope, and cause others to re-consider the reality of heaven. But that does not by definition mean that the experiences conveyed are scriptural or accurate. God may use them for good, but it doesn’t alter the accountability of the ‘preacher.’

Second I’d like to address my specific gripe with the book that I began reading, “Heaven is so Real” by Choo Thomas. (Different from that which is being relased as a movie, which is “Heaven is for Real” by Todd Burpo)
I’ll admit straight up, that it has been a long time since I read the book, and while I do recall the description of heaven being different to that described in Scripture, I don’t have specific memories of it. There are a few things, however, that I distinctly remember. First, the relationship between the author and Jesus was not one consistent with John’s visit to heaven in the Bible (more on that later) and was very human focused. The author was frequently referred to as Jesus’ ‘special daughter,’ which after a few visits began to have quite worldly and humanistic applications including promises of earthly prosperity, which culminated in the promise of an elite red sports car (soon after this I stopped reading).

I will mention as an aside that the feeling of oppression and (dare I say) demonic presence that I felt as I was reading this book was unparalleled to almost any other book I’ve read. I say that as an aside though. I believe it is important that my argument be based primarily on Scripture rather than personal experience or feelings.

Finally I’d like to address my Biblical reasoning for being sceptical of these ‘heavenly visit’ stories.

My first point comes from the Gospel of Luke and Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazurus. (Luke 16:19-31) Jesus (through the character of Abraham) makes an interesting point at the end of the story. The rich man is begging Abraham to send Lazarus back to his family because if ‘someone goes to them from the dead they will repent.’ Abraham refuses his request saying that ‘They have Moses and the Prophets, let them hear them’ and that ‘if they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’

Jesus himself was later to die and rise again and appear to many, and yet many have still not believed. The world has Moses, and the prophets and the Son of God who returned from the grave. If people will not hear them, I cannot see, from this Scripture, that God would be sending others to them from the dead. Let them believe the testimony of Jesus.

There were several people who were raised from the dead at the time of Christ, the most prominent of whom was Lazarus (not to be confused with the Lazarus from the parable.) On none of these occasions was there any testimony of them having experienced heaven (even though Lazarus was in the grave for several days, far longer than any of the people in these books). The focus was completely on Jesus and his work. Furthermore, Jesus did say to Nicodemus in John 3:13 that ‘no one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.’

My second point comes from the testimony of John, Jesus’ disciple, who, in Revelation chapter 1, was given a vision of heaven for the purpose of scriptural revelation. While Jesus was on earth, John was his closest friend. If anyone knew Jesus it was him, and yet, when John was taken ‘in the Spirit’ (read- not dead), to Heaven, he saw Jesus as he now is, in His glorified state, and ‘fell at his feet as though dead.’ Meeting our glorified Lord in heaven is no matter of pleasant conversation, camaraderie or even comfort. It is the experience of coming face to face with the living God, who said himself to Moses that ‘man shall not see me and live.’

My third point follows from this and centres around the focus of those who supposedly went to heaven. From my quick perusal of the synopses of these books, much of the focus (and validation) of the experiences concerns meeting people in heaven who they once knew. While I have no doubt that we will be reunited with loved ones who had accepted Jesus as their saviour on earth, my problem with these recounts is twofold. First, in any biblical description of any person ascending to heaven (to my knowledge, always in the spirit or a vision, never dead, eg: John (Rev 1) and Isaiah (Isaiah 6)) the person concerned was always completely captivated by the Glory and majesty of God. There was no mention of anything secondary, and no mention of meeting loved ones. From my understanding, meeting loved ones was a primary focus in this book. (For an interesting unpacking of this, see my post entitled ‘What if you got to Heaven… and God wasn’t there’

Furthermore, there is almost no scriptural evidence that anyone can meet with people who have already died. In fact, the scriptural evidence is quite to the contrary. In Deuteronomy 18:11 it refers to communication with the dead as an abomination to God. The only accounts I can think of where anything akin to this took place in the Bible was first when King Saul used a sear to call on Samuel (things didn’t work out too well for him) and the presence of Moses and Elijah in the transfiguration (clearly a very different situation to what we see today.)

My third point concerns the human focused nature of these heaven stories. My knowledge of them is limited, but the focus does seem to be on reassurance to people of the existence of heaven and the care of God, and the promise of earthly blessings. I would argue that any ‘trip to heaven,’ (which I believe, based on the above scriptures is unlikely if not completely unscriptural in our time), should be characterized by complete awe and worship of God, together with an unrivaled mantra of ‘worthy is the Lamb that was slain,’ and ‘holy, holy, holy is the Lord.’

I’d like to finish by qualifying what I’ve said with a few short points.

I do believe in the value of personal testimony that testifies to the outworking of the promises of God, as outlined in the scriptures. I do not believe in further revelation from God, to a particular individual, that adds to the words of the Bible.

I do believe that God (in His triune form) does convict, lead, guide, impress upon, and, by his Word, individually communicate with His people. I do not believe that He takes them to Heaven and then returns them to earth, with the mandate to share their experiences.

I do believe that it is possible that God, may give a person a vision, dream, angelic visit or even near death experience for the purpose of leading them or bringing them comfort, but that any such experience will not bring them face to face with the living God, nor will it give them any message that adds to, contradicts or goes beyond the revelation of Scripture, nor is it to be used as a method of doing so.

Finally I’d like to finish with what may be the most controversial comment I’ve made so far: As Christians, we must be careful not to be deceived. We must not look at something that appears innocent, pleasant and harmless and assume that it is so. The Bible tells us that the devil himself masquerades as an angel of light, and that we are to be careful of wolves in sheep’s clothing. The doctrines and stories most dangerous to the church are not those that are blatantly opposed to it, but those that work their way in under the disguise of something that is good. If the experience of ANY person contradicts the teachings of scripture, we are to disown it, not tolerate it as harmless. I’d argue that the most harmful divisions in the church (including the development of cults) have been caused by those who add to the teaching of scripture with their own experiences and ‘words from the Lord’, and by those who have tolerated it.

I hope that this helps clarify some of my thoughts on this topic.

As I said, I’m no scholar, and I’m sure there is much to be said on this topic that I’ve missed. It is also not my job to judge the hearts and minds of these authors, but rather to be discerning in what we accept as from God and what we reject as not of Him.

May God be glorified always above all things, and may His word be given the place of authority that it deserves.

When ‘Heaven is for Real’ becomes a movie (and it’s my final straw.)

‘The time I went to heaven’ books have both captivated and divided audiences in recent years.

 I’ve avoided the debate, but yesterday something inside me clicked. I noticed that ‘Heaven if for Real’ is coming to cinemas. With something akin to anger, I decided ‘enough is enough’ and I wrote the title of this post.

 Then I chickened out.stairway-to-the-sky_18-6364

 But I’m back.

 Because sometimes we have to call it as we see it.

 A while back a friend loaned me the book ‘Heaven is so Real.’ I was a skeptic, but I started reading anyway. I was not prepared for what I found.

 Her stories were interesting, but they just weren’t right. Not only did they differ from the teachings of Scripture, but they became narcissistic. I felt a real sense of oppression in my spirit, and I had no doubt: This message was not from God.

 It’s the only book I’ve read on the topic, so I can’t speak for them all, but I can say this: Scripture must be our authority on Heaven and nothing else. I take offense to people returning from momentary ‘death’ and proclaiming triumphantly “Heaven actually IS real!” as though their experience gives it more credibility than the promises of Christ.

 I’m not here to judge the motives of those who wrote these books, but I would exhort those who consider reading them: On the topic of Heaven, consult the Bible and make that your authority, not a few people with some weird experiences.

My follow up Blog ‘Why I don’t believe people returned from Heaven‘ articulates my reasoning for this viewpoint in more detail.

You’re an Adult, But Your Inferiority Complex is Making You Rude

rocker-chick_21165512I was reminded today, listening to some of my students talk, about how brutal high school can be. In a country that works hard at maintaining the illusion of being a classless society, high school teaches us the exact opposite.

When you’re at school you learn pretty quickly where you sit in the hierarchy. You learn that there are certain people who you don’t approach to talk to because their status at school puts them in a category far superior to yours. You speak only if spoken to, and even though you may be nice to each other, you’ll never be friends.

We like to think that once we get into the big wide world, everything changes. Teenage popularity is no longer a symbol of success, but what bothers me is how much those growing up years can impact who we are and how we see the world.

I wouldn’t be one who’s quick to say I struggle with inferiority, but the other day I realized that more than ten years after leaving high school, there are still people who I wouldn’t approach with friendliness, because of my ingrained sense of hierarchy.

I realized that far from making me humble and unassuming, it was simply making me rude.

As adults, I think there are many of us who need to erase the pedestals, and learn that inferiority is no excuse for rudeness. If anything, it only turns us into the very people who intimidated us in the first place.

Should we teach our kids to ‘grow’ the fruits of the Spirit?

out-in-the-fall-3_21264535This is a question that I’ve given some thought to, but am yet to come up with an answer for.

As Christian parents (I’m not one, but they do say it takes a village to raise a child) it is our responsibility to raise our children with moral values and a fear of the Lord. Few would dispute that, but how far do we take it?

As a child, I learnt all about the fruits of the Spirit. There were diagrams and songs and colouring in sheets; juicy apples and pears and bananas all with a word attached: love, joy, peace…

These were all character traits that we knew we were to cultivate, but as an adult I can’t help wondering… have we missed the point?

Are fruits of the Spirit things that can be taught, or are they traits that grow in us purely as a result of the Spirit?

If we teach our children to exhibit these things, are we wisely training them in the way they should go, or are we creating little people who know how to look good on the outside, but whose hearts have not been changed?

Is it our moral responsibility to reward them for ‘Spirit filled’ behaviour and discipline them for ‘fleshly behaviour,’ or should we be focusing on teaching them the Gospel and letting the Spirit grow this fruit?

I’m really not sure. What are your thoughts?