My Modern 95 Theses

500 years ago Martin Luther kick-started the Protestant Reformation with his own 95 theses posted in Wittenberg on 31 October 1517. Much has changed in our world since then, and Martin Luther’s protest was a significant moment in improving many things.

But there’s still a lot left to protest about. I’ve chosen my own 95 points of protests about various social, environmental and religious issues relevant to our world today.

Second coming & prophecy

  1. The same revolutionary Jesus Christ who literally restarted how we count history 2017 years ago promised He would come back to earth and restart history again.
  2. The Bible prophecies of Daniel 2 and Daniel 9 give astoundingly accurate predictions of future events, culminating in Jesus first and second comings. Dead sea scrolls demonstrate authenticity. Jesus’ first coming was exactly as predicted, as were major world events through to now. One event still outstanding: Jesus’ second coming.
  3. I have told you these things before they happen so that when they do happen, you will believe. John 14:29 – Jesus
  4. And you will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately. Matthew 24:6 – Jesus
  5. I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. John 14:3 – Jesus

(Ir)relevance of the church

  1. Protestant = one protesting against misrepresentations of God and the Bible. 500 years after Luther posted his 95 theses, such protest is very much still relevant. But Christians fighting amongst themselves to be “right” is rather missing the point.
  2. I protest the child sex crimes of the church!
  3. When church is done right, it’s one of the very best things on earth. When church is done wrong, it’s antichrist. – David Asscherick
  4. The aim of most religion is to work to improve one’s standing. Sadly, that’s why religion is losing its relevance – there are far more effective self-help programs out there. Religion IS relevant if it helps us rest in God’s goodness, not pursue our own. He took our bad and gave us His good.
  5. Church done well is a hospital for the sin-sick, not a museum for saints.
  6. Biblically, the church’s role is proclamational not salvational. We have something to SAY but we are powerless to SAVE. Jesus alone saves. – David Asscherick

Separation of church & state

  1. Religious freedom and separation of church and state: one of the best things to come out of the Reformation. Surprisingly, Luther himself didn’t embrace this principle. It’s being obscured again today.
  2. The conservative right wants to impose religious values on society. The liberal left correctly separates church and state. However, the left imposes secularism and makes it difficult to uphold one’s own religious values without being treated – even punished – as a bigot.
  3. When you vote, ask not “Who will legislate my religious values?” but rather “Who will allow freedom of religious values and beliefs, even those opposed to my own, and freedom to express and share religious beliefs and values with others?”

Government & economy

  1. Polarised partisan politics combined with the shallow social media analysis are unravelling Western liberal democracy.
  2. On evidence to date it seems the best of bad options for political systems is liberal democracy. But the jury is out again now thanks to 24/7 (fake?) news cycle, ‘scrutiny’ of social media and plethora of self-serving leaders.
  3. Capitalism: a logical extension of the Reformation and Protestant work ethic. Great source of individual freedom and opportunity, but also basis for huge inequality, populist uprising and global conflict. “Income from labor is about as unequally distributed as has ever been observed anywhere. “ – Thomas Piketty
  4. Given the fundamental selfishness of human nature, it makes sense to legislate on the assumption of homo economicuseven though this presents a less-than-ideal foundation.
  5. I still believe that free market capitalism, with regulatory intervention to protect externalities, is the best of bad options in current circumstances. Only the permanent and complete removal of selfishness and greed will present a better system, but we have to wait for God’s final perfect solution for that.
  6. American exceptionalism only gets off the ground as an idea if the role of government is celebrated (as opposed to minimised) or if the foundational ideology is racist. Otherwise America is just like any other nation, but with a unique set of chance characteristics that happen to put it in a position of global dominance for a limited time.

Salvation & sacrificial atonement

  1. Jesus took the guilt, shame and death that we each deserve so that we could have the abundant life that only He deserves. Amazing!
  2. Jesus on the Cross: the unique story where the hero voluntarily dies for the villain. The best news ever!

Bible

  1. The Bible is full of profound and timeless wisdom. Such gems as “do to others what you would like them to do to you.” It’s worth regular reading.
  2. “A simple layman armed with Scripture is to be believed above a pope or a council without it.” Martin Luther

Hell & death

  1. Eternal torment in hell: if true, then God is not love but a tyrant. Thankfully, not true. Imported into early Christianity from Greek philosophy.
  2. Ghosts, witches, séances, apparitions, Wicca, etc – all propped up by two wrongs: the myth that the soul cannot die and the real but passing presence of evil supernatural beings.

Health & health care

  1. A vegetarian diet was largely scoffed at just a few years ago. Now it is the rage. 150 years ago Ellen White received prescient health insights and set up a whole demographic for longer healthier living. #AdventistHealthStudy
  2. Affordable universal healthcare saved my life. Thanks Australia!

Abortion

  1. How can a mother’s rights over her womb trump her unborn baby’s rights to life while after birth, a baby’s rights to life trump a mother’s rights to her breasts and uninterrupted sleep? I’m all for consistency: let’s also prioritise the rights of the unborn child.

Judgmental intolerant society

  1. The moral relativism, ‘tolerance’ and non-judgmentalism of the left unfortunately tends to lead to absolute intolerance and judgmentalism of anything deemed not to fit the new ethic.

Sabbath

  1. Marriage and the Sabbath. Two institutions given by God right at the beginning in a perfect world. Both under extreme attack.
  2. The Sabbath is the most misunderstood gift to humanity. It is an institution of rest. The exclusion of work. Yet for many it is confused as a works-based approach to God. How can: (no work + rest) = work?

Marriage

  1. “Professing to be wise, they became fools” (Rom 1:22). The prevailing wisdom of the age on sexuality, gender and reproduction is foolishness. – David Asscherick
  2. Arguing for ‘marriage equality’ from an ‘evolutionary origins of species’ point of view has no principled basis for restricting ‘equality’ to two consenting non-related adult humans. From a genetic perspective, ‘marriage equality’ arguments should either let any combination of any number of organisms marry or restrict it to identical twins. Something between those extremes is ‘optimisation’ which negates the whole argument for ‘equality’. I’m all for optimisation. Enough genetic difference (e.g., X & Y chromosomes) yet similarity (e.g., homo sapiens) to optimise life for succeeding generations.
  3. The truest thing about each human’s identity has little to do with their sexual identification or sexual preference. It is that each of us is created in God’s image, and is loved by the Creator of the universe, enough for Him to die for us!
  4. Marriage provides an amazing foundation for a resilient family unit, the building block of a successful society. It is more about fierce uncompromising commitment than about feelings of romance or sexual attraction. Let’s move the conversation to setting the bar high for healthy resilient marriages rather than merely defining legally what marriage is and isn’t.

Gun control

  1. Thanks John Howard for Australia’s gun control. Americans seem to have a hard time figuring out why controlling access civilians’ to personal nukes would be a bad idea.
  2. If you’re going to argue that gun rights are sacred, please articulate a principle that logically differentiates a civilian’s right to bear guns from their right to bear nukes.
  3. The NRA and its ties to conservative politics in the US (actually, both sides for that matter) has totally warped American perspectives on gun violence. One American’s personal stance on never touching a gun speaks volumes: the story of Desmond Doss. #HacksawRidge

Conspiracy theories & polarised discourse

  1. Conspiracy theories are much easier to concoct than accurate explanations of complex realities. Some ‘alternative facts’ may end up proving correct; but there is very little value in peddling conspiracy theories.
  2. Any debate these days tends toward extreme polarised points of view. Truth usually comes with at least two associated error traps often at opposite ends of a spectrum. Slogans and strawmen arguments abound, but wisdom and understanding requires committed engagement.

Inequality & social justice

  1. Thank you Jesus for positively discriminating to assist the downtrodden and disadvantaged.
  2. Act your wage: “People buy things they don’t need, with money they don’t have, to impress people they don’t like.” – Clive Hamilton, Growth Fetish
  3. “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” – Jesus, Luke 12:15
  4. But if someone who is supposed to be a Christian has money enough to live well, and sees a brother in need, and won’t help him—how can God’s love be within him? Little children, let us stop just sayingwe love people; let us really love them, and show it by our  1 John 3:16,17

Gender & sexism

  1. The biblical view that I hold is that both genders are of equal value but are created to be different and complementary both ontologically and functionally.
  2. While I don’t believe women should be actively prevented from doing things that men traditionally do, nor valued or remunerated less, I question whether an objective of 50-50 splits or equivalent sameness in all functions and roles is helpful. Men will never be able to perform the incredible functions of women in bringing children into the world.

Climate change & environmentalism

  1. There is overwhelming evidence that anthropogenic global warming is a major global issue. The conservative right, with its ties to the energy and resources industries, has manufactured unreasonable doubt, successfully obfuscating the evidence.
  2. With strong links between evangelicals and right-wing politics, Christians have fallen for twisted logic to believe that humans could not possibly alter earth’s climate.
  3. I’m no leftie, but the left is far more realistic than the right on the diagnosis of climate change, even if not all their proposed remedies are ideal.
  4. Christians take note: caring for the natural environment and animal welfare are very much biblical principles and responsibilities of all humankind.

Foreign policy, immigration & armed conflict

  1. A softer stance on foreign policy happens to be in harmony with biblical principles of “turn the other cheek”, “love your enemies”, and so on. I’m not saying there is never a place for the use of armed forces, but I resonate with stories such as that of Desmond Doss. Far too much is spent on military. #HacksawRidge
  2. Jesus told the story of the good Samaritan as an example of showing open friendship and love to foreigners, who Jesus preferred to call neighbours.
  3. For people who claim to be children of God, having open borders and sharing our wealth and resources makes a good deal of moral sense.
  4. The example of modern Germany, being prepared to take in Syrian refugees, is much more similar to the principles of Jesus than aggressive border protection policies of other Western countries.

Globalisation vs nationalism

  1. Nationalism – putting self first – is against Jesus’ principles of open friendship and sharing. But globalisation can easily entail attempts at coercive central government control.
  2. Globalisation is inherently socially disconnected and isolating. To the extent we embrace global connectedness, we lose local connectedness. We simply do not have the capacity to maintain loving close relationships with that many people.
  3. Christians take note: neither extreme of globalisation nor nationalism is in harmony with biblical counsel and the wisdom of Jesus. How about open, sharing local communities whose open borders are more for the purposes of giving than accumulating and protecting?

Islam

  1. The left sees nothing wrong with Islam; while the right sees many things wrong. Yet the right is unable to see own faults. Christians take note: Jesus called out the faults of those who claimed to be God’s followers far more vehemently than He called out the faults of the ‘heathen’ religions outside of Israel.
  2. Jesus continually said good things about Samaritans. He was a friend of the Samaritan; and is a friend of the Muslim today.
  3. The Samaritans were the equivalent of modern day Muslims. Yet somehow Jesus seemed to ignore the hostility of a few of them and focus on the hypocrisy of His own chosen people.
  4. I open my heart, wallet and the place I call home to refugees of all faiths. I’m all for shielding and protecting Muslims, even if not the religion of Islam, or any religion, for that matter.

Morality & law

  1. Finding a basis for moral laws is a philosophically fraught area. It is difficult to argue for any version of foundational morality without appealing to religion (e.g. the Judeo Christian moral law). There does not appear to be any better alternative.
  2. Abandoning the foundation of Judeo Christian law usually diminishes law and order. However, I would only make a pragmatic appeal to a solid foundation of morality rather than attempt to impose religion.
  3. If morality was solely defined by consensus or utilitarian ethics, it seems doubtful that there would always be protection for the basic human rights of minorities or the voiceless – e.g., the unborn.
  4. While I do think that the last 6 of the 10 commandments are the best basis for upholding morals in society, the challenge is finding an appropriate extent to legislate these. For example, it makes sense to outlaw rape, in harmony with the seventh commandment (against adultery), but probably not to outlaw consensual adultery. Similarly, it makes sense to outlaw perjury, but probably not lying about the size of the fish you caught. I can’t think of any reasonable legal application of the commandment against coveting.
  5. To me it seems hypocritical to fight against same sex marriage while not fighting, to the same extent, against the legal provisions for ‘no fault’ divorce. But equally it is hypocritical to claim that opposition to same sex marriage must necessarily be imposition of one’s religion on non-believers.

Personal revival of spirituality

  1. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. John 17:3
  2. God can be more than ‘proved’ – He can be known and experienced – David Asscherick. See Psalm 34:8
  3. Faith rests on evidence and reason, but God offers more (not less) than this: firsthand experience and personal relationship (Heb 11:1). – David Asscherick
  4. Letting go of self and pride, admitting you were wrong, and continually learning. This is the most liberating way to live, and enables us to grow spiritually.

Suicide, mental health, screen time

  1. There is a direct correlation between the amount of screen time and the decline in mental health of our current generation. – Numerous scientific studies.
  2. Enjoy the outdoors with family and friends but without technology!

Is God real? Creation vs evolution

  1. “In the beginning God.” – the Dawkins delusion, by God (apologies to Alister McGrath)
  2. I’m against pseudo-science. But atheists who are respected scientifically get away with speculative and unprovable ideas such as SETI and the multiverse. So it seems reasonable to let Christians get away with the idea of “God” being the answer to SETI or the multiverse. Atheism 0 Theism 0
  3. The common picture of God has been so badly distorted from reality so as to make atheism attractive in comparison. Like the erroneous doctrine of eternal hellfire. That one piece of distortion makes the atrocities of Hitler and Stalin look like child’s play. And God an absolute tyrant. Own-goal by theists.
  4. Theism wins easily, in terms of utility, risk management & opportunity maximization, and philosophical/logical coherence. And, according to John Lennox, empirically, to boot. #PascalsWager Theism 1 Atheism 0.
  5. Accounting for free will. in a materialist (atheist) worldview, everythingis known or determined (even if humans do not yet have insight into the future). There is no freedom. No choice. Just the illusion of it. It is in this (atheist) worldview that I have to conclude that my choices are pointless, that there is no free will, and that everything that was going to happen is already determined. The script is already written. Theism 1 Atheism 0.
  6. The fact that freedom exists is what the new atheist unwittingly tries to take advantage of when he or she tries to persuade others to choose to abandon belief in God. But freedom of choice does not exist in a purely material universe.
  7. The fact that true freedom exists powerfully argues that a powerful intelligence (God) designed it that way. That God loves you enough to give you the choice of whether to believe His claims or not. To serve Him or not. And to love Him back or not.
  8. Abiogenesis: a major stumbling block to an evolutionary explanation for the origin (not just diversity) of species. Theism 1 Atheism 0.
  9. Consciousness: another major hurdle for material explanations of the universe. Theism 1 Atheism 0.
  10. Morality: either it has a transcendent and absolute quality, allowing (say) paedophilia to be vile under any circumstances, or it’s entirely a relative social construct which may change across time and place. Theism 1 Atheism 0.
  11. Meaning, purpose, destiny: without these, life is axiomatically meaningless, directionless, and pointless. Theism 1 Atheism 0.
  12. Material explanations for the universe are struggling to come up with any sort of compelling explanation for the presence of information (e.g., genetic code), logic, and finely tuned physical laws. All from nothing!? Theism 1 Atheism 0.
  13. In the years ahead there will be two massive pendulum swings away from atheism. One will be true (Rev 14:6-12), the other will be false (Matt 24:24-25). The false correction will swing from atheism to experience-based spiritual phenomena (2 Cor 11:14-15). The true correction will swing from selfishness to self-sacrificing love (Jn 13:35).

The great controversy between good & evil

  1. Evil may look like it has a strong foothold, even the upper hand. But love has already won the war. Evil and death have been forever defeated at the cross!
  2. I’m keen for the world as we know it to come to an end, but not because I want conflict and destruction. Instead, I am looking forward to God restoring our lives and planet to the perfect eternal love and happiness He intended.
  3. Christians please note: the Bible teaching regarding the ‘investigative judgment’ as a mechanism for transparently dealing with evil totally makes sense and comes naturally if you believe in ‘soul sleep’ and Arminianism (i.e., personal freedom of choice). It’s a natural fit into the narrative that “God is love”.
  4. God is love! Love requires freedom. Freedom entails risk.

God’s presence in and direction for my life

  1. As our loving Father, God wants us to learn to make good decisions for ourselves based on the principles and values of His character of love and freedom. Not to treat Him as a Divine fortune-teller.
  2. I miss my dad, who died a year ago. He had a big positive influence in my life. He was an atheist who found God and totally changed his direction to live for God. I look forward to seeing my dad again.
  3. I love my wife, Renee, and my kids. They have taught me much about selflessness, love and God. I have found marriage to be the best way to refine one’s character, reduce selfishness, and increase happiness.
  4. I have had numerous life experiences that demonstrate to me that God is real, life has purpose and meaning, and authentic love and freedom truly exist. A ‘chance’ meeting at a train station and recovery from a freak accident are just two of many life-shaping experiences that confirm experientially the empirical and philosophical evidences that God is real and God is love.
  5. Jesus of Nazareth: my guru, friend and Saviour. God of the universe. Yours too.

Thankful for Life

Today I’m sick. It’s a common flu. Man-flu to be precise. It will be most likely gone soon, afflicting me for just a few days in total.

It’s somewhat frustrating, being sick. All the things you expect to do are no longer possible. You’re tired, in pain, and have little strength. Not to mention a bit unpresentable socially.

But it’s a great time for reflection – at least when the brain fog starts to clear.

I’ve thought back to a few other times I’ve been sick. Like the time on our honeymoon when, defying the normal incubation time, I got dengue fever within 24 hours of arriving in Asia. Renee thought I was just being a melodramatic man-flu hypochondriac until we got the pathology results. It was a sweet honeymoon, despite Renee also getting bad food poisoning on our last day in Asia.

My catalogue of infectious diseases is quite impressive – not that it’s something I’m looking to add to. I’ve had dengue twice, malaria twice, and Lyme disease once. As well as glandular fever. It all took its toll on my energy levels, particularly during a 10 year period 2001 to 2011.

Even though I was a prime candidate for chronic fatigue, I’m thankful that I only needed a couple of extended periods of downtime for recovery. One was for a few weeks, while working in Sydney, after returning from living in southeast Asia. The other was a few months, while doing my PhD and struggling with Lyme disease. I had recently returned from volunteering in Africa.

In hospital recovering from accident in 2013

On top of my catalogue of infectious diseases, I also have an equally (un)impressive list of trauma injuries, from an almost fatal accident riding my bike in 2013. A motorbike hit me, head-on. I lost my spleen, broke several bones in my torso, arms and hands, and needed emergency surgery to arrest potentially fatal internal bleeding.

As a result of that trauma, I was medically assessed to be 88% of a whole person. I’m incredibly thankful, though, despite all that I’ve suffered, to continue to experience life to the full – 100% normally. At least it’s normal to me!

What have I learnt from all the challenges to my health?

First, happiness is not dependent on health. It is a choice made in our thinking, and is not primarily a function of our physical circumstances.

Second, God is the ultimate source of life and health. A couple of times when my life has been in the balance, I believe God’s healing power pulled me through. Actually, I’m sure it’s more than just twice but I’ll recount two occasions here.

The first was when I had Lyme disease. My symptoms were progressively getting worse. I was getting high fevers despite taking antibiotics, and my energy levels were depleting fast. The doctors were not able to provide any other treatment approach. So I went looking for alternative sources of health and healing. I did two things at the same time: 15 fever baths over three weeks commencing straight after anointing with prayer. From the time of the prayer and anointing ceremony I did not experience any recurrence of Lyme disease symptoms. I thank God!

The second was at the time of my bike accident. The surgeons operating on me realized that I was close to dying. One of them, a Christian, asked his church to pray that I would survive. Many of my family and friends were also praying. I survived, was able to leave hospital after staying only six nights in total, and as a bonus discovered that I’m in the minority who happens to have a viable accessory spleen. Mine is slowly growing, taking over the function of the old one.

The third lesson, and perhaps the one I need most to be reminded of, is this: it’s important for me to depend more and more on God. This can be difficult for me to do as I get busy doing life, but forget the real source, meaning and purpose of life which is all centred in God. Being sick helps me to once again realise that I can’t ultimately depend on myself for anything.

The Livingston family, early 2017.

God’s love is 100% dependable. It doesn’t mean that we’ll never suffer, but it does mean that He is prepared to suffer with and for us. Jesus’ death on the cross for us provides for both our eternal happiness and security, as well as the freedom to choose it for ourselves, or not to choose it.

Needle in a Haystack: True Story

You’re about to read an amazing true story of an incredibly unlikely set of circumstances that saved a friend of mine from suffering, separation and loss. So unlikely that it gives me reason to believe in an unseen hand guiding the affairs of our lives. You can have confidence in the story because I was directly involved, wrote down the details shortly after it happened, and know several others who can also verify details of what happened.

Have you ever tried to find one person among millions? Source: limenika-nea.blogspot.gr

Have you ever tried to find one person among millions? Source: limenika-nea.blogspot.gr

Joe[*] was deeply distressed. He had tried his hardest to be the best Christian he knew how to be, but felt that God did not accept him.

Joe was a reclusive young fellow. He’d previously been involved in dark satanic arts and rituals. He struggled with depression and anxiety. But he was most earnest.

A few years ago, Joe reached the point of despair. The Christianity he was pursuing was not working for him. He reached a very private personal crisis that only he knew about. Feeling unable to talk to anyone, he devised a plan to bring resolution. At least he hoped it would resolve his struggles.

He would leave everything he knew and go back to work in the satanic music store in another state where he had previously worked.

He left work early that afternoon, then gathered his most important possessions. He dyed his blond hair black, shaved part of his head, and put on black clothes, sunglasses and boots. He was making a definite departure from his search for light to go back to the darkness he knew. He wanted nobody to recognise him or to intervene.

He got in his car and drove to the train station near the church he had been attending. He scribbled a note to say goodbye. He left the note on the car seat, and left a loaded gun in the car boot. He grabbed his bags and caught the train to Sydney’s Central station where he would then catch the overnight train that was due to leave at 7pm.

His family noticed that he didn’t come home at the usual time so started to make some enquiries. They realised something was not right with Joe so quickly became worried. They thought perhaps he had gone to a midweek church meeting so went looking there. They found his car and saw his note.

Their hearts started racing. What had happened to their beloved Joe? The note was brief and gave no indication of whether he was leaving or … They did not want to think.

Then they opened the boot, saw the loaded weapon, and their worst fears flooded over them.

They quickly called some of Joe’s friends to try to trace him, hoping he had not harmed himself. But nobody knew anything of Joe’s movements that afternoon.

Joe had been a member of the youth group in an active and growing church, and so he had a couple of close friends with whom he sometimes socialised. These two young men embarked on a city wide search for their friend.

But it was like finding a needle in a haystack. Finding one missing person in a city of 4 million seemed futile. Joe left no clues as to where he was going or what he intended to do.

His friends and family asked the whole church to pray for Joe, that he would be protected from harm and restored back to his family.

The message to pray for Joe reached me at the University of Technology that evening. I had an evening class and was heading home a little after 7pm. I prayed silently for Joe as I was walking back to the train station to go home.

As I was hurrying through Sydney’s Central station to catch my train, I thought I recognised a vaguely familiar figure in the corner of my eye.

Country link train on Central's Platform 1. Source: mjtravlife.blogspot.com

Country link train on Central’s Platform 1. Source: mjtravlife.blogspot.com

There was Joe, sitting on a bench on Platform 1, waiting for his interstate train.

I almost walked right past him. He was barely recognisable.

He tried to avoid my eyes. I did a double take, called his name. It was Joe alright!

He was shy, embarrassed, but most important was still alive and well! The lost needle had been found in the haystack the size of Sydney!

Joe told me of his plan to go and work at the satanic music store. I was so happy to have found him, but so sad for his desperation. I pled with him to stay with us. “We love you, Joe. God loves you.”

Joe was a little bit cautious and reserved. I assured him that his parents were really worried for him, and truly loved him. He hesitated. I continued to plead with him.

After a couple of minutes he decided not to leave Sydney. He would come back home with me! What joy and relief!

As we were leaving Platform 1 to go buy Joe a ticket to get the train back home instead, the overnight interstate train pulled onto the platform. It was half an hour late!

I went with him all the way back to his car parked near our church. On the way he showed me what he had packed in his bags. He showed me a couple of clubs covered with spikes that he had prepared to use as weapons. I was shocked but happy to have Joe back safe and sound.

I believe in a loving God who was looking out for Joe that night.

There was a board meeting at the church that evening. They were all praying for Joe. Imagine their surprise and joy to see the direct answer to their prayers.

Joe’s parents were filled with relief to see their boy back home. The whole ordeal was over in just a few hours, without the need for any emergency services.

How much worse it could have been for Joe, his family, and his friends.

Praise God for the safe and happy ending to the day’s drama.

***

Just think about all the things that happened that evening, and ponder with me the probability that all of this just happened by random chance.

Joe had maybe about 50 people praying for him, and just a handful actively looking for him: his family and his two mates. He was one person lost in a city of 4 million, and on his way to another city.

I had prayed for him but had no idea that he would be anywhere near me on my route home from university. I was definitely not looking for him. Joe normally lived and worked about an hour from where I was studying.

Normally closed passageway to enter via Platform 1. Source: Google Streetview

Normally closed passageway to enter via Platform 1. Source: Google Streetview

I was catching a suburban train at Central. Joe was catching an interstate train. He was already on his platform waiting for his train that arrived half an hour late. Had it been on time, or just a bit less late, our paths could not have crossed.

And what was I even doing on an interstate platform? Occasionally I did enter the station that way, but I usually went the way most people do, via the Devonshire St tunnel that links Broadway directly to the suburban train platforms.

Sometimes I would take the above ground route. And rarely, I would enter an opening in the wall at Platform 1. If you go to Central you will find this opening is usually closed. Entry is not permitted. For some reason, that evening, I went via Platform 1.

My normal route to catch my train would not normally lead me to where Joe was waiting for his train. Source: Google Maps

My normal route to catch my train would not normally lead me to where Joe was waiting for his train. Source: Google Maps

Even still, Central is a very busy station and Platform 1 was crowded with people waiting to board that train. The chances of me seeing Joe that evening were vanishingly slim.

It all makes sense looking back. God was in control. These were not mere random coincidences.

We have a God who loves and cares for each of us deeply. But He doesn’t force Himself on anyone. He doesn’t even provide incontrovertible evidence that He exists, because He wants people to freely choose to love Him back. But He provides enough evidence on which to solidly base our faith. This story is one such example.

As I look back in my life the evidence of His love for me and for all of humanity is overwhelming. We have an amazing God of love and grace!

[*] Not his real name

Easter 2016: God loves the world, but not them!

The Christian world has condemned the deadly Brussels attack by ISIS

The Christian world has condemned the deadly Brussels attack by ISIS

Sydney’s Anglican Archbishop used his Easter Sunday sermon to condemn last week’s Brussels attacks. But Jesus gave His strongest rebukes to His own people.

At this time of year 2000 years ago, Jesus’ Easter messages were quite different to what we would expect. Instead of criticising Roman oppression or the annoying Samaritans, Jesus went to His own temple and drove out the religious leaders who were making money out of the temple services. Not once but twice. Both at Easter (the Jewish Passover).

The Samaritans were to Jesus what the Muslims are to Christians today. They were distant relatives, but most of the religious people hated them. Samaritans were part pagan, and part worshipers of the God of Israel. They were not unlike the extremist Islamic terrorists of today, hanging around creating a real nuisance.

Surely Jesus could have used His Easter (Passover) messages to criticise the Samaritans!

Or at least the Romans.

Yet Jesus effectively told a story of a ‘Good Muslim‘ who stopped to help a wounded Christian when other Christians wouldn’t. It was called the parable of the Good Samaritan back then. In our day it would be the Good Muslim.

Jesus could have gone to the Samaritan temple to tell them they were doing it wrong. But He didn’t. He went to the temple of His own people and told them they were missing the point.

So today He wouldn’t go to the mosque to sort out the Muslims. He goes to the Christian churches – the ones who claim to believe in Him – to challenge their message.

Jesus continually said good things about Samaritans. He was a friend of the Samaritan; and a friend of the Muslim today.

The Samaritans were the equivalent of modern day Muslims. Yet somehow Jesus seems to ignore the hostility of a few of them and focus on the hypocrisy of His own chosen people.

It’s noteworthy that the Bible has very little to say about religions not based on the Bible. You’d think the Bible would focus its warnings on people that don’t profess belief in it:

  • Muslims
  • Terrorists
  • Hindus
  • Chinese
  • Communists
  • Atheists

But the Bible has very little to say about any of those nations or belief systems – or lack of belief systems. Except that God loves them, too!

So for us Christians to get up on our high horse and condemn those on the other side of our fence is not consistent with the Bible’s message. The Bible’s message is that we need to understand God’s character of love and forgiveness. This starts with us – the people who claim to be Bible followers.

God wants to protect us all from our distorted picture of who God is. No matter what club we belong to. Whether we’re part of this church or that church, or atheist, or Muslim, or Hindu.

God is especially concerned about the false pictures that His own professed people paint. He’s not so concerned about correcting the teachings of ISIS, because that’s not deceptive. Most of the world naturally recoils from that. He’s not so concerned that they are preventing people from understanding His character. People are only drawn to that as a seemingly viable alternative because the so-called Christian West is so corrupt and selfish.

The people that can do the most damage to the way people picture God are His professed followers.

That’s why Jesus’ Easter message was to clean up the Jewish temple – His own people! He didn’t worry about going to the Samaritan temple at Mt Gerizim to clean it up. But He cleaned up the Jerusalem temple – twice.

For many today Easter is just a long weekend holiday. An excuse to eat lots of chocolate, as much as we can get hold of.

But it’s more than that. It’s an opportunity to understand the truth about Easter and to appreciate God’s love for not only us, but the rest of the world too.

The Story of the Good Muslim

Muslims protecting Christians as they worship in Pakistan

Muslims protecting Christians as they worship in Pakistan

 

This is a modern-day adaptation of the parable Jesus told about the Good Samaritan, recorded in Luke 10.

The Jews of Jesus’ day hated Samaritans whom they regarded as terrorists. Extremist Samaritans occasionally committed inflammatory acts of violence and vandalism.

To whom would Jesus direct His strongest criticism in today’s world? Given that He spoke kindly towards Samaritans back then, and rebuked His own Jewish leaders, I propose that He would direct His strongest criticism today toward corrupted Christianity.

Here’s what the parable of the Good Samaritan might like like if Jesus was on earth in our time:

30 Then Jesus said to a lawyer: “A certain man travelled from New York to Paris, and not knowing the area, fell among criminals, who robbed him and left him half dead.

31 Now by chance a priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.

32 Likewise a pastor, when he came to the place, came and looked at the victim, then passed by on the other side.

33 But a certain Muslim, as he was walking to the train station, came where the wounded tourist was. And when he saw him, he had compassion.

34 So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, and gave him medicine; and took him by taxi to the nearest hospital and stayed with him overnight.

35 On the next day, when he departed, he took out two hundred Euro, gave it to the nurses, and said to them, ‘Take care of this tourist; and anything more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’

36 So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?”

37 And the lawyer said, “The one who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

There have indeed been true stories just like this, where Muslims have been good Samaritans to Christians. Here are a couple of recent examples:

  • Muslims and Christians were travelling together on a bus in Kenya when held up by extremists, who intended to kill all non-Muslims. The Muslims on the bus shared their Islamic headscarves with the Christians, who wore them, saving many lives.
  • And in Pakistan, hundreds of Muslims formed a human wall of protection around Christians who gathered to worship at their church soon after a deadly attack on fellow Christian worshipers.

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