The Secret to Knowing God’s Will

19 October 2019 Chatswood

The freedom to choose is an amazing gift. Science can’t explain it. God has given us this gift: freedom of choice.

How do we know what the right decision is?

  • Who to marry
  • Where to live
  • What to do for work
  • Where to send my kids to school

Today we’re going to find out some amazing things about God’s character, his love. In the area of how to know God’s will. How to make decisions.

I work at in the water industry. We have a structured way of making decisions. Look at the options, drivers for change, stakeholders, risks. Analyse the costs and benefits. Write it all up, then take it to a committee for approval.

In our personal lives though, how do we make decisions? As Christians, how do we make our decisions?

Can we know God’s will? I believe we can, but maybe not in the way you may think. As we learn the secret to knowing God’s will for our decisions today, I think we’re going to appreciate God’s love for us more.

This is a sermon of two halves: what doesn’t work, then what does work.

Here’s a Bible verse that sounds like the answer for good decision-making. Is 30:21.

Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying,
“This is the way, walk in it,”
Whenever you turn to the right hand
Or whenever you turn to the left.

This idea of the still small voice, that tells you which option to take at every turn. For every decision you make God tells you which option is best.

Should I wear this shirt or that shirt? Ok, this one.

Is that the way it works?

We’ll come back to this verse a little later – it’s important. But I’m going to suggest though that some Christians may misunderstand and misapply this verse. It’s easy to get confused on this.

First we need to have another look at God’s character of love and freedom. Then this verse will make a whole lot of sense.

God’s character is beautiful, and a daily relationship with Him is amazing. Sometimes we have misplaced expectations, though.

Have you ever felt that you just don’t pick up the right signs when it comes to a plan for your life?  Have you ever felt that God’s “impressions” led you into a brick wall?

A lot of people would like to believe that God would speak to us whenever we make a decision. Guide us away from disasters. Guide us to the good life.  But many of us have been frustrated in our attempts to get any clear sense of God’s will.  The signs seem to point in different directions.

Maybe you’ve been in a situation where you were faced with a tough decision. You wanted to know whether to take a new job, to move to a new town, or continue a relationship.  Maybe you went to bed wishing you could wake up and find a big fat “yes” or “no” painted in the sky when you woke up.

And then you feel even worse when someone tells you that God gave them clear direction. But you’re still waiting for Him to give you clear guidance. Does it make you feel just a bit jealous?  Why doesn’t God direct my decisions?

I’ve seen some interesting approaches to decision making, among my Christian friends.

One person used to open the Bible randomly, blindly point to a verse, then interpret it as either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ about buying a particular investment.

Another friend used to flip a coin for his decisions, and pray that God would direct through that.

I know a girl who was extra keen to make her decisions based on signs that God was leading. She said to her boyfriend that she’d prayed to God that she would marry the man who said a particular phrase to her. She didn’t say what that phrase was. She did say that he’d almost said it though.

They broke up a few months later. He must not have said the right phrase.

Another young couple met at church and started a relationship. He believed God spoke to him and said to him that she was the woman for him, so he asked her to marry him. She said yes, and it was happily ever after. Well, not quite. They divorced and both remarried. They both started to question if God even exists. Partly because they thought God was leading them and now they feel betrayed.

I could share plenty more examples. People being impressed to read certain Bible verses that seem to point to a particular decision. But that too can lead you astray. The devil tried that trick with Jesus. He quoted the Bible to try to tempt Jesus to do the wrong thing. You can read about it in Matthew 4.

Experiencing God’s direct intervention in our lives can be addictive. Or at least thinking we are being directed by God.

We can easily get trapped into thinking that “God’s will for me is one path and one path only. The exact career path, home locations, “the one” life partner. Any deviation from that one thread of decision-making is living out of His will.

And if I’m not seeing clear signs, then I must be off that one path for my life.” At least that’s how many Christians think.

I’ve thought that there’s only one path and it’s my job to find it and stay on it as close as I can. It’s addictive, and it’s also deceptive.

In contrast, I believe God gives us freedom to choose our path within a broad range of options that are all within His will. His Word gives broad principles of how we should live our lives.

That principle is evident right from the beginning. Did God tell Adam and Eve which food to eat?

No, he let them choose from a very wide variety, but just said there was one tree not to eat from. In Gen 2 God said:

“Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat.”

This is a key principle for Christian decision making. There’s often many choices that God can bless. God gives clear boundaries for what is good and bad, but there’s often a broad range of options that are acceptable and good. We often waste a lot of time and energy trying to be sure that we make the best choice when our lives could be much more effective if we just made a good decision and moved on.

The devil has twisted this to make it look like God is restrictive on our choices. In Gen 3 he said to Eve that God told them they couldn’t eat from every tree.

There’s actually a Bible verse that says we should make good decisions and move on, not agonise over the best choice: Eccl 11:4,6: The whole chapter is great.

Whoever watches the wind will not plant;
    whoever looks at the clouds will not reap….

Sow your seed in the morning,
    and at evening let your hands not be idle,
for you do not know which will succeed,
    whether this or that,
    or whether both will do equally well.

In other words, make good decisions and move on without worrying over whether it was the best decision.

Only rarely does God specifically tell us who to marry. Hosea and Gomer spring to mind as an example.

Or where to live. Abraham.

Or what career to pursue: think of Jonah, Moses and Saul who became Paul.

I believe these are special cases. Exceptions, not the rule.

In none of these cases do we find the human praying to God that He would reveal His choice in these specific matters. God simply came and unambiguously gave an unexpected life-changing plan.

But many Christians today tend to seek God’s will in their decision-making much like fortune-telling.

We want to avoid the hard work, risk and responsibility involved in constantly prioritising among good options for major life decisions. We want God to do more than simply tell us broadly what is good and bad. We want Him to tell us which specific option is best. Wouldn’t that make life much easier? I say this looking in the mirror.

Who likes making decisions?

Decision-making is hard! Not many people enjoy the responsibility of making decisions. Who’s been in a group that goes out to eat or do something and you all look for someone else to decide where to go? No one wants to make the decision in case it’s not the best thing.

But God created us with this funny thing called free choice.

God created us to be free persons, with the ability to creatively express ourselves. To be independent. To love. Love is only possible for one who has freedom to choose. Otherwise we are merely robots.

God is a good God! Way better than a fortune teller. Let’s not sell ourselves short on just how good God is! He didn’t give us the gift of free choice, only to turn around and want to take it back from us.

In a good marriage, both partners try to please each other. But imagine if a wife tried to please her husband by asking him which job he wanted her to take, which clothes he wanted her to wear, and made every decision according to his desires. One of them would soon become unhappy. The wife would tire of the husband’s overbearing control. Or the husband would tire of his wife’s inability to figure things out for herself. Probably both of them would end up frustrated.

Yet sometimes we treat our relationship with God like that. Why do we want Him to make all our major decisions? Are we really looking for a mutually satisfying loving relationship based on freedom?

I don’t know about you, but my motivations have been selfish and lazy, when I’ve fallen into that trap, of treating God like a fortune teller.

The marriage relationship is happiest when there is freedom of choice – freedom of creative expression. All within rather broad boundaries of what’s acceptable and what isn’t. I think that’s how it is with God, too.

God didn’t give us the gift of free choice only to want to take it back from us.

We’re also God’s children. If the parent makes every decision for the child, the relationship will soon become dysfunctional and the child will not learn or grow.

In reality, God gives us broad principles of right and wrong and gives us freedom to exercise our creativity and choice.

Isn’t that what we’d prefer for our kids?

Can you imagine wanting your kids to just ask you to direct all their career and life choices? Yet that’s effectively what we expect God to do for us sometimes.

Wouldn’t you prefer your growing children to express their own unique identity and make decisions for themselves? We still like our kids to talk to us about their decisions – just like God likes us to bring every part of our lives to Him in prayer. Prayer is asking God for wisdom, for His character.

You might be thinking: “but asking God to make all our decisions has the added benefit of Him knowing the future. So he can tell us what’s going to work out best.” (Like a fortune-teller.)

The problem with the fortune-teller approach is that God’s Word doesn’t work like that. It gives us principles on which to grow in making our own sound decisions. It’s not meant to be a recipe for discerning God’s choices as if we were reading tarot cards or astrology.

God’s character is much more beautiful than that of a fortune teller! He created us to be much more than robots.

There are also many practical problems with the belief that God led you to a particular past decision that you made, or direction that you chose.

Let’s say you pray something like “God, if I get the job I’ve applied for in Melbourne, then I’ll take it as Your leading that You want me to move my family there.”

At first everything seems to confirm that “God” wants you in Melbourne. You get the job; your wife also gets a transfer there. The kids find an excellent school. Everything is going really well.

Then the business that employed you winds up. Your wife falls pregnant again so soon neither of you will be working.

The kids’ school ends up becoming a negative influence on the kids due to bullying and other problems.

What do you do? “God” led you to Melbourne, right?

If God really did enter into all our bargaining and direct our lives like that, would He put an expiry date on His leading in a particular decision? Would He say, for example, “OK, move to Melbourne and stay there no matter what happens for the rest of your lives.” Or maybe, “until things go bad and you feel like going somewhere else.”

To take this approach consistently, you would really have to stay following a particular direction until you received a new or different direction.

If you felt that God chose a particular school for your children, would you be free to move them if they were bullied or abused at that school? Would you interpret any adversity as a new “direction” from God? Or maybe God is testing your faith? How do you know?

There are always going to be exceptional circumstances or events that the original decision doesn’t cover. Unless we literally do have God constantly directing every decision, every moment of our lives. Right down to shoe laces and lane changes.

But is that really what that verse in Isaiah 30:21 meant?

We’re going to resolve this tension soon. We’re going to see what this verse actually means, and how God’s character truly is love. He’s a God of love and freedom, not fortune-telling or control. He didn’t give us the gift of free choice only to take it back from us.

Things become even more complicated when other people are involved.

My mum met someone who had a very clear idea of God’s will for his life. He said he had a direct connection to God’s will. Impressive, eh? Only problem: this guy said to my Mum: God told me to marry you.

Oops! What would you do? Fortunately mum was able to think quickly so she said: Well, God hasn’t told me that.

The guy was a bit of a fruitloop so my mum got away as quick as she could.

Think twice before praying: “God, I’ll marry the first person who speaks to me.” Such a prayer is foolish. It doesn’t make what happens next “God’s will” just because you put your fortune-telling “God” in a corner.

Jephthah made a stupid deal with God that the next thing that came through the door he would offer as a sacrifice to God. And alas in came his daughter. The tragic story is in Judges 11. The lesson is that we shouldn’t pick random signs like that to make our decisions. God doesn’t intervene just because we made some deal on our terms.

This story may not make much sense at first, but God actually loves us too much to intervene when we make stupid deals.

The fact that God didn’t intervene with Jephthah’s daughter is actually a demonstration of His character of love and freedom. The story is there for our benefit, even though at first it seems terrible. The mistake was by Jephthah, and it’s recorded for us so that we don’t treat God like a fortune teller in our own lives.

Now we’re moving into the second half. We’ve looked at things that don’t work now we’re looking at things that do work.

Does God ever direct particular choices for an individual’s specific life decisions? Very occasionally, yes.

For example Saul on the Damascus road. If He does, it’s, usually unexpected and unambiguous.

God is leading through the circumstances of our lives constantly. We call it Providence. But we usually don’t have specific insight into how God is working in our lives.

If God does give you a specific instruction, then you should definitely follow God’s direction with all your heart and soul.

Or if you have a passion or a burden on your heart to do something in harmony with God’s word, do it with everything you’ve got. Like Ezra and Nehemiah who we’ve been studying about in this quarter’s Sabbath school lesson.

If you don’t have specific instruction from God on your particular life choices, it is not because you are any less spiritual. You can still live your life knowing you are within His will. Look at this verse in Galatians 1:4:

who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,

If we’re letting God deliver us from this present evil age, then we know we’re in God’s will! It almost sounds too simple, doesn’t it?

So then should we depend more on ourselves for making decisions and spend less energy seeking to know God’s will? Absolutely not. Seeking knowledge of God’s will is more about understanding His character and growing in wisdom, faith and love than about getting arbitrary signs that point to option A or B.

And yes, we should still give God the glory for His leading in our lives. For giving us wisdom, and growing our characters. But hesitate before you claim that God directed you to a particular choice as though He were a fortune-teller that could be commanded to give you an answer through a job interview or a flip of a coin. That could backfire on you; and bring God’s name into disrepute.

I’ve made this mistake, of treating God like a fortune teller. I prayed that if I got accepted to do a PhD, I would take it as God’s will. When I got accepted, I told people that God led me to do the PhD. In hindsight, I don’t actually have any evidence that doing the PhD really was God’s specific calling for my life at that stage. The mistake was not so much doing the PhD, but claiming that that was God’s will for me.

What if I prayed “God, if I get accepted to be a drug mule I’ll take that as Your will that I should go to Indonesia.” I would most likely get the gig. But does that make it God’s will because I prayed that prayer?

What if Steve Smith prays, “God, I’ll take it as Your will that I should play Test cricket for the summer if I get selected”.

Of course he’ll get selected for the next test match. Whether playing cricket would be God’s specific choice for him or not is an entirely different question.

Test matches usually go over Sabbath. The first test in Brisbane next month goes over Sabbath. So on that basis his choice should be automatic. He doesn’t need a sign. God has already told him not to work or do his own pleasure on the Sabbath.

Now don’t get me wrong, I like Steve Smith. I’m happy for his story of redemption after being banned for a year. It’s a great story. But wouldn’t it be even better if he found Jesus and gave up cricket because he found something that truly satisfies! Why chase fame and glory through sport when you have everything in Jesus?

If Steve Smith chose to obey God, he would have to give up Test cricket. Following God is much more rewarding than being regarded as the best batsman in the world. What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world but lose his own soul?

Often doors will open or close suggesting an answer to your prayers. But there’s always the problem of not knowing whether an obstacle is God allowing your faith to be tested or God closing a door. Or whether an opportunity is God allowing you to be tempted or God opening a door.

Often God simply doesn’t intervene at all, beyond natural cause and effect. He allows us to mature and grow in our decision-making. Slowly we begin to realise the confusion created by treating God like a fortune-teller. As though we could command him to give us answers whenever we’re in a pickle.

We treat God like Google sometimes – we go to Him only when we want answers. And sometimes God works with that! He reaches us where we’re at – thankfully!

God is our loving Father. He’s more than happy to give us wisdom and freedom to creatively express ourselves. He loves to see our loving response to His goodness as we learn and grow. This does not lead to decision-making independent from God. It leads us to closer intimacy with our Heavenly Father. Over time we appreciate more and more the amazing gift of freedom of choice. That is love, and God is love.

God has given us freedom to choose, to express ourselves, to be our own unique person. In short: to love, not to be robots. So to be anxious for the right answer for every decision is missing the point. God didn’t give us free choice only to want to take it back again.

I want to leave you with three things that do work for knowing God’s will.

The first principle for the secret of knowing God’s will for your life is this — become familiar with God’s voice. How?  Not primarily by listening to voices inside us, but by listening to the Bible, the Word, that God Himself has spoken.

This is so basic. If you want to know when God is speaking, you need to be familiar with His voice. What does He sound like? What kind of things does He say? What does He tend to emphasize?  You find all that recorded in the Bible.

That’s where you KNOW that you’re listening to God’s voice – learning the secret of His will.

Jesus Himself gives us a wonderful promise about His words:

Matthew 7:24:

“Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock:”

Jesus contrasts this with the one who ignores His words.  That’s like building your house on shifting sand.

The Word is a good foundation.  It’s where we build from.

There’s a lot more things the Bible says that we know are God’s will. Here’s some examples.

  • For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.       1 Tim 2:3,4
  • In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thes 5:18
  • For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.   1 Pet 2:15

The next principle is look for signs that make sense.

Be careful when you ask for a sign. I’m not saying don’t do it. But think about what you’re doing. The Bible gives some interesting examples.

Gideon requested a sign with the fleece after God already told him that he would defeat Midian. God might answer your prayers for a sign, but think about it: was Gideon’s request out of faith or doubt? Did God already tell Him enough to act before the sign?

The Pharisees asked Jesus for a sign, and listen to the response of Jesus in Matthew 16:4:

A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and no sign shall be given to it…

So if you want to look for signs, pray for signs that make sense. And not just to you, but to those looking on – even those who don’t believe in God.

If you’re deciding on a life partner, ask for insight into the person’s character, not for that special person to send you a text message in the next 30 minutes.

Too often people ask God to speak to them through signs that are completely arbitrary.  They want a yes or a no. 

And they give God instructions on how to send the message.  “If you want me to attend that church, then have the pastor call me tomorrow.”

In other words, people just pick something out of the blue and ask God to turn that it into a sign.

There’s better ways of discovering God’s will than that.  God can give you signs that make sense, signs that are information. If you’re evaluating churches, ask God to show you information about those churches, good or bad.

If you need to decide on a life partner, a new job, or moving to a new place, ask God to show you information about your options – the good things and the bad things. These are signs that make sense.

The Bible says God wants to give us wisdom. That doesn’t mean all the answers, it means the understanding and skills we need to come to the answers ourselves.

Let’s look at James 1:5

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.

God wants us to GROW in wisdom and knowledge.  Just picking signs out of the blue, doesn’t help us do that. God wants to make us wiser, not luckier.  So we need to be more careful in looking for signs.  Is this a healthy relationship, or an unhealthy relationship?  Is this choice going to hurt the people I love, or help them?  Is this new job going to expand my abilities, or shrink them?  Ask the right questions.

Ask God to give you meaningful answers, to show you evidence one way or the other.  These are the signs that make sense.

Just asking for God to answer our questions with a yes or no through some random sign will not help us grow in wisdom.

We need to pray for wisdom, not just answers.

That’s why Jesus said: (Matthew 16:4)

A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and no sign shall be given to it…

Men, have you ever wondered why women sometimes don’t tell us exactly what they want? If we want to choose a gift for them, or take them on a romantic date, they sometimes only give us vague answers as to what they want. Do you know the reason for this? Neither do I really. But I’ve been told that it’s because the women in our lives want to know that we love them, and that we know how to express that for ourselves without being told exactly what to do. They don’t want to spoonfeed us!

Sometimes I think it’s the same with God. He doesn’t want to spoonfeed us, to tell us exactly what we should do in certain situations. He’s given us the principles in His word. Now He just wants us to use the love, wisdom and creativity that He’s given us. To live out our lives in a way that demonstrates we choose to love Him. Not as robots that just follow detailed instructions. God doesn’t promise to make us robots, He promises to give us wisdom to discern His voice.

Am I saying that therefore we should totally abandon the idea of Is 30:21 – the text about a voice in our ear guiding us to the left or right? Not at all, the verse is there for a reason. To find out why it’s there, let’s read the very next verse, verse 22.

You will also defile the covering of your images of silver, and the ornament of your molded images of gold;
You will throw them away as an unclean thing;
You will say to them “Get away!”

The verse doesn’t say that God will make every decision for us. It means He will guide us away from evil and toward good. We will know the difference between right & wrong. He speaks to us through our conscience to tell us what is right and wrong.

It’s clear from the context and the rest of the Bible that signs for every decision is not what the verse is telling us. The Bible does not promote fortune telling! But it does give enough guidance to help us know & choose right over sin – every time.

I think God allows us to not have immediate clarity on all our decisions between good alternatives for good reason. I think it’s dangerous for us as humans to have inside knowledge as to God’s will ahead of time. It’s might be OK looking back, but when we’re looking forward, there are several risks:

  • We’ll take things for granted. We’d take people for granted. Instead of choosing to love our spouse, we’d stay with them because God told us to.
  • We’ll become arrogant and difficult to work with. It’s hard to argue with someone who claims to have God’s will on their side.
  • If we really did know where God was leading us, we might freak out because sometimes He leads us places that we’ll only ever understand looking back, not looking forward.

Now, let’s look at our third and final principle which will help us find the secret of knowing God’s will in our lives. It’s this: listen to those who listen.

When we have to make an important decision, it always helps to get feedback from other people.  We don’t want to restrict ourselves solely to a voice inside our own heads.  Other voices are important. The most useful voices are people who listen, people who have themselves listened to the voice of God.

Godly counsellors are a big help.  Men and women who have experience in listening to God speak through His Word. People who are happily following God’s will for their own lives.

Here’s another good piece of advice in Proverbs 11:14:

Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety.

Where do we find safety?  In the multitude of counsellors.  Listen to those who listen. Here’s why that’s important.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but in the Bible there are many examples of God speaking to us through other people, but only a few where He directly spoke to a human.

God sent messengers and prophets to warn Israel, Jonah to warn Ninevah, and even another prophet to warn His own servant David. God could speak in our ear directly, but sometimes he uses other people.

There’s an interesting example – and that is Saul who became Paul. God did actually speak to Saul directly, but only very briefly. What did God tell Saul to do? He could have laid out the whole plan then and there, while he was lying on the ground blind. But he told him to go find Ananias, and that Ananias would tell him what to do. You can read all about it in Acts 9.

Conclusion

So what have we learned today?

First, God’s will is not simply one path for your life. God has created you with freedom and love. You have creative choice. There are many options for your life that are within God’s will for you. God didn’t give us the gift of free choice only to take it back again.

Second, we learned how to make good decisions that are within God’s will. How do you choose the green paths and not the red paths?

  • Become familiar with God’s voice – in the Bible
  • Look for signs that make sense (ask for wisdom! – not answers)
  • And listen to those who listen

Do you want your decision-making to be more in harmony with God’s will? Do you want to know God’s will for your life? Then ask for wisdom more often than you ask for signs. The bible says we should ask for wisdom, but Jesus says wicked people ask for signs. Ask for God’s character before you ask for the answers that you want.

More often than not, God will answer in ways you don’t expect, because we have a lot of growing to do to understand God’s will and character. I know I have a lot of growing to do!

The answer to knowing God’s will for your life is becoming thoroughly intimate with God’s word. Praying every day that God transforms your character into harmony with the principles of the Bible. Praying for God’s character of love. That’s the important part of being in God’s will. Then you’ll be able to make the little and big decisions in your life more and more in harmony with His will. But it takes time. A lifetime of growth, with plenty of learning from mistakes along the way.

I’m sorry if you were hoping for a silver bullet formula for knowing God’s exact recipe for all your decisions. Like a fortune teller. I simply don’t believe that’s consistent with God’s character of love and freedom.

The reality of God is much better than that! God gave us freedom to choose, to grow. He doesn’t then turn around and ask us to give up that freedom.

The best choice we can make is in Josh 24:15. Choose ye this day whom you will serve. Choose today to serve God. If we do that for all our decision-making, that will get us a long way.

A relationship with God gives us more freedom, not less. Not freedom to be selfish and do whatever we want to do, but freedom from sin. Freedom to love, and to be creative in our expression of that love.

Will you commit to taking time every day to learn more about God’s character of love and freedom, and letting that rub off on you and your decision-making? Will you commit to choosing today to serve God, and to personal growth with God every day of your life?

I believe, for all of us, our decision-making in 10 years time will be way more in harmony with God’s will – his character of love and freedom – than it is today. There’s no simple recipe for instantly moving all your decision-making into exact harmony with God’s master plan for your life. God is not a fortune teller!

God loves us enough to give us freedom.

Following God’s will involves continual learning and growth. Choosing what’s good, true and loving over what’s selfish. It’s the challenge of Christian growth. It takes time, patience, growing trust, and all based on love and freedom.

Why I Climbed Uluru Yesterday

My Attempt at Resolving Mismatched Narratives

Key points

  • Respecting the sacredness of Uluru to the Anangu people is the main publicised reason for advocating against climbing.
  • The principle of protecting religious freedoms, on the other hand, should not require that we all treat everyone else’s sacred items as sacred to ourselves. We don’t all hold each other’s beliefs simultaneously. Rather, each should be free to worship what we each regard as sacred as we each choose individually, without infringing on anyone else’s rights while so doing.
  • There is an underlying issue of land rights and ownership, for which there are no simple answers. To boil it down to a simple question of whether tourists should be allowed to climb Uluru risks reducing a complex issue down to symbolic tokenism without actually meaningfully contributing to reconciliation for our first nations people.
  • There are real human safety risks that do actually mean that the climb as it is being conducted now is not ideally suited for the present or future. This is at the forefront of the justification for closing the climb according to the Park Rangers with whom I spoke.
Hundreds of tourists climbing Uluru

After three days staying at Yulara and exploring lots of enthralling walking tracks and activities in and around the Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park, the weather cleared and the climb opened. My wife and I took turns climbing Uluru while the other one looked after our young children. It almost didn’t work out for us to be able to do it, but just hours before our departing flight and a month before the scheduled permanent closure of the climb, we scratched this controversial item off our bucket lists.

Now, lots of my friends will think that climbing Uluru is the wrong thing to do. I hear you: I too can see plenty of good reasons to close the climb. Here I outline why I chose to climb it. Not so much to justify my decision – many would say that nothing could justify it – but to highlight and challenge some complex and conflicting narratives.

First, let’s examine the stated reason for the requests not to climb prominently displayed on signs around the site:

‘Our traditional law teaches us the proper way to behave. We ask you to respect our law by not climbing Uluru. What visitors call the climb is the traditional route taken by our traditional Mala men on their arrival at Uluru in the creation time. It has great spiritual significance.’

I get that. I too am a spiritual person and regard many things in life as sacred.

If one of the Anangu people was personally offended because they knew that I personally climbed Uluru, I would think harder about my decision to climb the rock, especially if I had an existing relationship with them, or may do so in the future. When I climbed, however, I saw no Anangu people in the area. Just car- and bus-loads of tourists. It is much more likely that my choice to climb will offend (those unfairly characterised as) urban elites than anyone else.

A couple of days before I climbed, an Anangu girl was selling her artwork in the carpark where we were watching sunset. I asked her if she minded people climbing Uluru and she said she didn’t mind with a casual shrug.

Now that I’m posting this blog, there’s a risk, of course, that I may be offending local cultural and spiritual values for any Anangu who happen to read this. If you are offended, my sincere apologies, but please keep reading!

Being a spiritual person, I value my freedom to worship as I choose. I strongly affirm the right of the Anangu people to treat Uluru as sacred. Similarly I would like everyone to respect my right to keep my Saturday Sabbath as a day of rest and worship. This means I refrain from working or engaging in any form of trade or business. But for me to require that everyone honour my Sabbath and refrain from working would be an overstep. I would be moving from protecting my freedom of worship to forcing others to treat something that is sacred to me (i.e., a portion of time) as sacred to themselves too.

Incidentally, I am expecting my rights of freedom to worship to be restricted in the future in a global push for Sunday sacredness, which I would reject.

A relevant analogy here is the way that Hindus treat cows as sacred. Even Gandhi himself did not want to restrict his entire nation from killing or eating cows as he recognised that not everyone views cows as sacred. (No issue for me – I’m happily vegetarian.)

I see the sacredness of Uluru to the Anangu people as similar to sacred cows and Sabbath / Sunday sacredness. If someone gets upset because I didn’t treat the Uluru climb as sacred in the way that the Anangu do, then they should be equally upset because most of the world eats beef, and because everyone dishonours a portion of time that is sacred to a significant number of the world’s population. Muslims regard Friday as holy; Jews and Sabbath-keeping Christians such as myself regard Saturday as holy; and much of Christianity regards Sunday as holy.

To treat the sacred customs and laws of the Anangu as normative for everyone may end up being condescending tokenism. It is as though repentant colonialists are now saying ‘we regret obliterating your culture, customs and laws, and now we will force us all to abide by it (though in an area where the impact on our daily lives will be minimal yet we can engage in virtue signalling to condemn others who disagree)’.

Uluru at sunset. Uluru is sacred to the local Anangu people.

Meanwhile protection for the rights of Christians to maintain their values within their own institutions in such areas as education around origins and sexuality is being progressively weakened. I’m not advocating for Christians to impose their values on others, just to be able to maintain their own values within their own lives and organisations.

There definitely is a clash of values between everyday Australian culture and the culture of the Anangu. I resonate with some of the values expressed by the chair of the Board of Management for the Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park, which made the decision to close the Uluru climb:

Whitefellas see the land in economic terms where Anangu see it as Tjukurpa. If the Tjukurpa is gone so is everything. We want to hold on to our culture. If we don’t it could disappear completely in another 50 or 100 years. We have to be strong to avoid this. The government needs to respect what we are saying about our culture in the same way it expects us to abide by its laws. It doesn’t work with money. Money is transient, it comes and goes like the wind. In Anangu culture Tjukurpa is ever lasting.

However, my own values come from different sacred writings: the Bible. I don’t expect the Board chair to honour all the laws in the Bible that are important to me. For true equality and reconciliation we should all be given freedom to choose which sacred laws to follow.

I’m a big fan of reconciliation. For me the most complete and sustainable form of reconciliation starts with each of us being reconciled to our Creator. Then we will naturally be reconciled with each other.

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Cor 5:18-21

This reconciliation is all voluntary, based on love and freedom rather than imposition of sacred rules. There remains total freedom to reject the offer of reconciliation and choose selfishness instead. But that’s another topic.

Back to the climb, respect and reconciliation for the Anangu.

You wouldn’t climb a church, would you? This is the exact same, as Uluru is a sacred site for the Traditional owners of the land, the Anangu People.

https://ulurutoursaustralia.com.au/blog/why-you-shouldnt-climb-uluru/

OK, but this is their land, you may be thinking. Or, at least, Uluru is their land. Well, this is a complicated matter. Anyone who’s enjoyed the Australian classic The Castle probably has a good idea that native title versus terra nullius in Australia has a tortured and twisted history. I’m not a lawyer, so I’ll leave that matter to legal experts. However, right now (until 26 October 2019) the public has the legal right to climb Uluru.

I don’t condone the past forceful colonial dispossession of Aboriginals from their land. I’m not certain on the best solution for the future, but I’m guessing it probably doesn’t include handing back ownership of all Australian land to our first nations people. I honestly don’t know how much land or which land should be handed back. I do know that yesterday I simply exercised my right to be in that part of Australia, including to climb Uluru.

Back to my own spiritual values. Actually, I worship the God who created our earth. (That’s the reason I keep the seventh-day Sabbath holy, by the way; the Sabbath is a memorial of Creation.) To worship God is one of the reasons I climbed Uluru yesterday. For me, visiting and climbing Uluru was an intensely spiritual experience. I’m astounded by the beauty of God’s Creation. Uluru also happens to be a testament to the veracity of the biblical Genesis account of origins. The juxtaposed consistency of the upturned sedimentary strata that make up Uluru (and Kata Tjuta) does not match an evolutionary account of the rock’s geological origins nearly so well as the biblical flood narrative.

Me at the summit of Uluru, with Kata Tjuta in the background. I asked a stranger to take the photo then found out he knew my wife! Small world.

You may think that flood story is all a bit of far-fetched mythology; but here’s something to ponder. Local Aboriginal tribes also have a mythological Creation account for Uluru that includes a flood story with the specific detail of 40 days of rain that matches the biblical narrative. (This is only one of many similar such indigenous creation accounts around the world.)

This provides a challenge for the publicly sanctioned discourses of Aboriginal cultural sacredness and also the current scientific consensus regarding origins. Any biblical creation or flood story does not fit comfortably into socially acceptable narrative, yet provides remarkable overlaps with Aboriginal dreamtime stories and actual empirical geological evidence of the rock itself.

I do also care about our first nations people. There were many things that I saw while on holidays in the Northern Territory that warmed my heart. Aboriginal people have created sustainable tourism to grow their own economy while protecting the environment, sharing the experience and their culture with us. Anangu and other tribal leaders from Uluru to Kakadu gave us great insights into the land, plants, animals, people and culture of the regions we visited.

But there were also somewhat saddening observations. At Katherine, where my brother lives, I went into the bank where an elderly Aboriginal man was trying to withdraw money. He tried three times to provide a matching signature but each time was unable to. He was drunk. The bank teller caringly suggested that he go have some water to drink and come back after a couple of hours to try again.

At our lodge at Yulara a middle aged Aboriginal man from a neighbouring tribe (not Anangu) asked us to buy some alcohol for him. We said that we’ve never drunk alcohol in our lives and that he’d be healthier if he also didn’t drink any more. We had a friendly conversation for a few minutes but he was obviously disappointed that we didn’t support his desire for more alcohol. We were also sad for his plight brought on by the imposition of Western cultural excesses on a people ill equipped to handle such vices.

OK, so back to my climb. Yes, it was a once-in-in-a-lifetime opportunity that was too attractive to pass up. OK, I’ll admit there’s probably a bit of selfish motivation mixed in there. But if my selfishness was all about ‘conquering’ Uluru for myself, then I would have just done it without researching and posting this. True, my attempt at navigating the conflicting narratives in this post may also be tainted by selfish desire to prove my point – or gain notoriety?

But I would like to think that I’m actually making a valid point about the various conflicting narratives in our world where modern media (particularly of the ‘social’ variety) dumb-down discourse through virtue signalling and other devices that actually tend toward polarisation and away from reconciliation. (Why else would Israel Folau be vilified and ostracised as homophobic when there is scant substantive evidence for such a conclusion?)

Moving along, I regard a couple of other values as important and relevant here: safety and the environment.The safety of climbers provides perhaps the most striking of contrasts and mismatches. For the various Park Rangers I spoke to at Uluru, the real issue behind the climb closure is safety. For their own Work Health & Safety requirements rangers wear an attached harness to climb Uluru while the public goes up with no safety guidance or requirements other than one chain that goes the length of the steep climb.

The lone chain for climbers to hang onto is an anachronism. It was an appropriate response to climbing deaths in the 1960s, but in today’s litigious, risk averse and safety conscious age, one would expect to see a gondola lift or at least a harness system a la Sydney Harbour BridgeClimb. But even that would be distinctly out of place in the rugged natural environment that is Uluru. The chain itself is regarded as a scar on the naked beauty of the rock. Not to mention the buses lined up in the carpark spewing forth hundreds of tourists at once into what is ideally experienced and enjoyed as a serene and relatively solitary environment.

Then there is the mismatch of the bravado of the unfit and overweight thinking they are able to tackle the raw wilderness adventure that is an Uluru ascent. Rangers suggested that at the least there could be mandatory health screening before admission to attempt an ascent. The majority of deaths on Uluru have been from over-exertion: heart-attack. I would also suggest that a better way to ensure safety of climbers is to have a sign-on / sign-off register, and to only allow a limited number commence each minute rather than an en masse assault like an advancing army of Alexander the Great, only much less organised and more likely to wound each other than gloriously conquer Uluru.

The strain on the natural environment is another good reason to cease the climb in its current format. We saw several personal items falling uncontrollably down the rock – water bottles, camera parts, tissues, hats – all in the space of a few minutes. For those who take the better part of the day, there are the inevitable deposits of human waste (and toilet paper) in the crevasses and water courses on the rock.

There are numerous cultural clashes too. We saw angry Chinese would-be climbers shouting at the rangers because they closed the climb for safety reasons due to high winds. The tourists’ frustration was understandable when they could see other climbers beginning their ascent, lucky to have entered the gate just before the rangers assessed the risk as too great. Surely there is a better risk management approach than to simply stop more people entering the climb while those already on the rock are free to take all day with no information service to alert them of heightened wind risk.

Contrast that with the anger of virtue signalling city dwellers shaming climbers. Meanwhile the local Anangu people did not show any anger that I saw; rather indifference or sadness at the history of exploitation of their country and culture.

In my own climb I tried to resolve as many of the mismatches as I could. I took only my phone up to grab some quick pictures and climbed up and down without ever touching the chain. This made it easy to overtake the hundreds of tourists ill-prepared for such a climb. I only spent about 45 minutes on the rock in total: 20 minutes to the summit (about 10 min to top of chain) and 25 minutes down, stopping to admire the raw natural beauty of the rock and its surrounds.

As should be obvious by now, physical fitness is another value of mine. A few days earlier I also ran around the base walk in around 52 minutes (11 km). My whole family rode bikes around it on another day, taking our time (about 2 hours for 16 km). We also went to sunrise and sunset viewing places on multiple occasions each, and did the walks at Kata Tjuta.

Watching sunset at Uluru with my family

The Uluru climb actually reminds me of climbing straight up the face of The Pyramid at Girraween. The incline, risks and level of difficulty are quite similar. I have walked up the first Pyramid countless times (and the second Pyramid once) so my one and only climb of Uluru had a sense of déjà vu for muscle memory if not for the completely different surrounding terrain and type and size of rock.

So I’m happy to have immersed myself in some of the natural, cultural and historical world of Uluru. At least, enough to have formed my own perspective on the many clashes of culture, ideology and values that it highlights. Unsurprisingly, with such conflicting values and narratives, I leave with mixed feelings about the upcoming permanent closure of the climb, and invite you to form your own views.

My wife Renee at the summit with our boy’s little teddy.

My thoughts on network marketed health products

My wife Renee and I have been approached over the years by several friends promoting at least five different multi-level marketed (MLM) health brands.

What do they think? Either we’re really unhealthy and need their cure-all, or maybe they think we’re so into health that we’ll get excited by their products.

Both would be at least partially true. We’ve both suffered our fair share of infectious diseases and chronic illness. Not enough to stop us living ‘normal’ lives (whatever that is!?). And we’re both into health and wellbeing. Renee is a naturopath. I’m into running. We’re both into good whole plant foods and lots of it!

I’m sure the MLM products are all great – most of them anyway. A quick google search reveals many positive reviews for most MLM health brands. There are also a lot of negative reviews out there too.

I’m usually a bit cautious. There are some obstacles for me to get around before getting too excited:

They typically don’t list their ingredients and quantities or concentrations. They hide behind ‘proprietary’ ingredients.

The MLM business model is a turn-off for me. I’m not a fan of MLM for either accessing or distributing beneficial health products. It makes motivation too easy to conflict between sharing health and making money – and even then only a few actually do make money out of MLM. Unfortunately the business side of MLM sometimes ends up being a strain on friendships.

Even if only one of the MLM products was as good as the claims made for all of them, that one would naturally come out on top and everyone would be onto it – in particular a high proportion of top athletes. But it’s actually rare to find an athlete spruiking any MLM health boost, let alone finding one that naturally comes out on top.

I don’t think they’re all snake oil. I’m sure there are tons of beneficial MLM health products.

Between us Renee and I have had personal experience with a few different MLM health products: 

  1. Mannatech – I was personally helped a few years ago by this. I had friends/relatives trying really hard to convince me to buy into the business but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
  2. Isagenix – We’ve both had friends/family get into this and try to get us onto it. Some of the products are OK but no better than other stuff Renee can get as a practitioner.
  3. Young Living – Again we’ve been helped by these oils and we have friends who are right into the business side of this, and pushing it hard. Good product.
  4. And more recently we’ve had friends tell us about Zija…
  5. and PURE.

I’m open-minded about these things. Perhaps one of them really is the bees knees. Or perhaps more than one.

However, for the following reasons, I’m not about to make joining an MLM a core part of my life:

MLM blurs the lines between recommending what is best for the recipient and what is best for the salesperson. Not every health issue needs solutions from the same MLM brand. It takes a person of high integrity to be able to recommend a solution in which they have no commercial interest when their own product, from which they can make money, is not as appropriate.

Many MLMers convince themselves that their products really are the only ones that will help every health issue. For the neutral observer, there will always be suspicion no matter how much integrity and wisdom an MLMer has. There are enough blatant snake oil sales pitches from MLMers that there is a high risk that even an MLMer of integrity will be automatically tarnished with the same brush.

There is only one cure-all known to mankind for complete healing, and that is best summed up by a word that exists in Greek but doesn’t have a single English equivalent. The Greek word is the verb “sozo” and it needs two English words to translate its meaning: “to save” and “to heal”.

What’s more, “sozo” is free. There’s no real catches, just that you can’t earn it. If you try to work for it, you’ll lose your “sozo”. The efficacy of “sozo” relies on belief in unmerited favour.

But I’m getting off topic. The thing is, why should I expend my time and energy pushing some imperfect little health kick and alienate my friends because I’m perceived as always pushing my health product?

There’s something infinitely better – and free – that it is my privilege to share with anyone who wants it. Now that’s even worth taking the risk of losing friendships and reputation, because it really does work!

Free Will: Really? How? Why?

Life is all about choices… or is it? Is free will just an illusion or is there an immaterial, moral dimension to our experience, to reality? Are we really free? And if so, how should we make the most of that freedom and make the best choices? Is there a shortcut to optimising our decisions by consulting some fortune-telling God? Watch this video to find out.

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.

Being filled with God’s Spirit

Being filled with God’s Spirit is a goal for my whole life, but this year I am committing to extra prayer for being more filled with God’s Spirit.

What does that mean? And what does it NOT mean?

When on Earth, Jesus promised His Spirit so that we can experience His personal presence in our lives to the same extent as when He was on earth. This intimacy leads to fruits in the life, such as love, joy, peace, etc. And an empowered life.

I’ve already experienced a closeness with God brought about by God’s Spirit, and want more.

A few weeks ago I was talking to a good Christian friend, saying I was seeking for more of God’s Spirit. He replied: “So you’re speaking in tongues?”

I don’t have the privilege of the gift of tongues. But I don’t feel deficient because of that.

I’ve done a bit of study to see what the Bible says about speaking in tongues. I had two questions:

  1. Is speaking in tongues an essential sign of being filled with God’s Spirit?
  2. Are ‘tongues’ foreign or unintelligible languages?

This is what I found:

Doctrinal cluedo - Tongues

I believe in the gift of tongues in our day. I have a good friend, a pastor currently in Sydney, who was on a mission trip in Papua New Guinea and was given the gift of tongues to be able to communicate with the locals there, crossing the language barrier. That is, after all, the purpose of the gift of tongues, as seen in Acts 2. Ultimately, the gifts of the Spirit are for the purpose of empowering our message about God and His true character of love.

But tongues (as in, crossing the foreign language barrier) is just one relatively minor footnote in the story of God’s Spirit. God’s Spirit is about bringing truth, knowledge, power and a better life, not about bringing the confusion of unintelligible utterances (which would hardly be a convincing ‘sign for unbelievers’). Nor about quick-fix emotional highs like a drug (which perhaps could have been a ‘sign for believers’, albeit a fickle one). He brings lasting love, joy and peace that transcends circumstances.

I believe in and desire the outpouring of God’s Spirit. I’m seeking it daily.

I believe God’s Spirit is more about truth, goodness, wisdom, peace and love than about the fleeting ecstasy that many have unwittingly come to expect.

Does Right Trump Left? Navigating Polarised Public Policy

(Originally posted at RecyclingEarth.com)

Refugees, Islam, gun laws, trade, globalisation… We end up feeling so strongly about such global issues that we tend to see all other issues through the lens of one side of politics. But does that approach to public policy make sense?

For me, it doesn’t. Quite simply, I’m not sure whether I lean left or right overall. I do know that on some particular issues I lean left, while on others I lean right. But for many issues, I take a different view altogether.

My approach to public policy issues is based on my own personal values, following after the values of spiritual leaders such as Jesus.

The below table is a summary outline of my response to the issues that are dividing public opinion. I hope readers will resonate with the balanced wisdom of biblical spirituality. I’m not saying my opinions are all the final word here, or balanced or wise. I’m trying to reflect a greater wisdom that transcends partisan politics. There are many people who understand that transcendent wisdom better than me, so feedback and correction are welcome!

NB this is not an endorsement of any particular party or policy even within each of these policy areas. I’m not even focused on one country. I’m just saying in general, this is the direction that I lean to illustrate the limits of partisan ideological thinking. (The colours happen to be aligned with US politics, but opposite to those of Australian politics.)

The author’s personal policy leanings in various categories

The author’s personal policy leanings in various categories

Social Issues & Civil Rights

Abortion

I believe in the rights of unborn children just as much as the rights of children after birth. I am happy to put my vote, mouth and money into protecting the unborn. I accept that some see this differently, and I recognise there are some major issues for some expectant mothers. I don’t condemn anyone.

I don’t agree with all far-right rhetoric about this issue. I’m simply going into bat for the unborn. In general, I lean “right” on this issue.

Gay marriage

Marriage is a foundational institution for society and for raising children. I believe the ideal marriage is the life-long exclusive union of one man and one woman. However, I recognise that there are plenty of less-than-ideal situations, many of which are not the fault of those in them.

There are inconsistencies in the arguments of both the “left” and the “right”. E.g., to consistently uphold traditional marriage, the “right” should also oppose no fault divorce, and legislate against adultery. But that is an extremely impractical position to successfully legislate. There is some wisdom in the extreme libertarian view that the state simply should not get involved in the institution of marriage.

In the absence of predominant Christian values in society, it is potentially an imposition of religion to attempt to uphold only the traditional view of marriage in legislation. However, arguing for ‘marriage equality’ from an atheist point of view has no strong logical basis for restricting ‘equality’ to two consenting non-related adult humans.

Health care

The right view makes health care only affordable to the rich. While the left view, in seeking to make health care affordable to all, neglects the most economical and fair approach to health care. The best health policy is to avoid subsidising the epidemiological transition to lifestyle diseases, yet make acute healthcare accessible to all. There is a lot of government health money wasted on propping up diet and lifestyles that are inherently unhealthy and wasteful in themselves.

Minorities, blacks

I tend left here, based on biblical injunctions to care for the disadvantaged (Micah 6:8, James 1:27, etc). We are all of equal value before God. I believe in the example of Jesus to positively discriminate to help those who are historically disadvantaged. E.g., Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman (John 4) and the story of the Good Samaritan are examples of Jesus positively discriminating to assist a downtrodden race.

Welfare state

I tend right here, but not because I don’t believe in helping the disadvantaged. I think welfare is more effective and efficient when done at the grass roots by churches and community groups. This is not necessarily the thinking of free-market idealogues, so I could also easily put this one in the “neither” category – i.e., I neither lean left nor right.

Inequality

Neither left nor right have a good track record in any country for preventing inequality of wealth and power. Greed (for both wealth and power) is a fundamental flaw in human nature no matter what systems are put in place to share wealth and power.

Democracy, capitalism, communism, fascism… All have solid arguments both for and against.

The only antidote to human selfishness I see is practical Christianity. But I also believe in separation of church and state. So I cannot argue for state sanctioned Christian beliefs and values.

On evidence to date it seems the best of bad options for political systems is liberal democracy.

Gender equality

The current polarisation is between women being downtrodden (left’s portrayal of the right) and women being upheld as functionally equivalent in all respects (feminism of the left).

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.

While I don’t believe women should be actively prevented from doing things that men traditionally do, I also don’t believe that an objective of 50-50 splits 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.

Freedom of speech

Freedom of speech is a difficult one, as speech can be hateful and hurtful. But so can thoughts, facial expressions and body language. With history being full of persecution of religious minorities for speaking their beliefs, I tend to side with the libertarians.

Economic Issues

Economic libertarianism, capitalism, free trade

In today’s capitalist economy, free trade and the absence of tariffs and subsidies makes more sense if everyone is producing and consuming things that are not socially and environmentally harmful. Unfortunately subsidies and tariffs are often used to prop up harmful industry. The tragedy of the commons is often not successfully and fairly dealt with by either left or right.

It does not make practical sense to legislate against greed. However, if everyone lived according to biblical principles, people would still be hardworking (e.g., the Protestant work ethic); but there would be no greed. The foundation of free market capitalism is the maximisation of self-interest – the idea of homo economicus. This is counter-biblical. If the world followed biblical principles, we would live far more natural and simple lifestyles. This would result in less production and consumption of material things, though not in less activity or productivity.

Progressive thinkers such as Clive Hamilton and Naomi Klein have proposed alternative humanist systems (e.g., ‘eudemonism’) that sound good but don’t have any track record of success. Nevertheless some of their critique of western capitalism resonates. E.g., from Hamilton’s Growth Fetish:

“Modern consumer capitalism will flourish as long as what people desire outpaces what they have. It is thus vital to the reproduction of the system that individuals are constantly made to feel dissatisfied with what they have. The irony of this should not be missed: while economic growth is said to be the process whereby people’s wants are satisfied so that they become happier… in reality economic growth can be sustained only as long as people remain discontented.”

 

“Economic growth does not create happiness: unhappiness sustains economic growth.”

Given the fundamental selfishness of human nature, it makes sense to legislate on the assumption of homo economicus even though this presents a less-than-ideal foundation. 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.

Trade unions

While trade unions have achieved some beneficial outcomes, their modus operandi is often built on coercion and corruption. The left side of politics often has murky ties with unionism. In general, I lean right. There are other better ways of achieving improved working conditions.

Size of government (regulation / deregulation)

Some government is necessary. But government is, by nature, less efficient than private enterprise. I lean right: where possible, minimise government. But there are plenty of areas where markets fail – e.g., externalities, natural monopolies and the tragedy of the commons.

Tax cuts for wealthy

The right has often been demonstrably unfair in its tax cuts for the wealthy, but the left doesn’t have a much better record of establishing a fair tax system. Both sides give tax cuts to the entities whose political support they rely on for power.

Environment

Climate change

There is overwhelming evidence that anthropegenic global warming is a real issue. The right, with its ties to the energy and resources industries, has manufactured unreasonable doubt and successfully obfuscated the evidence.

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. Sorry to put it bluntly, but the left is far more realistic on this issue, even if not all their proposed solutions are ideal. For a balanced conservative view on climate change, check out Katherine Hayhoe.

Environmental proection, sustainability

There was a time when both sides of politics embraced environmental protection as a worthwhile value. Nixon (a Republican) started the USEPA. But the right (in many jurisdictions) has allowed business interests to cloud better judgment.

Violence & Conflict

Guns

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. Far too many homicides by firearm occur each year in the US for me to think that the American right-wing view on guns has anything to offer the rest of the world. Not that any other place has the ‘silver bullet’ answer. One American’s personal stance on never touching a gun speaks volumes: the story of Desmond Doss.

Terrorism, war, conflict, military defence

The aggressive foreign policy stance of right wing politics seems, from my perspective, to trigger far more terrorism and anti-American / anti-Western sentiment than the softer stance of the left. A softer stance happens to also be more in harmony with biblical principles of “turn the other cheek”, “love your enemies”, etc. 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.

Nationalism / Immigration

Border security, immigration, refugees

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. Given that we are all children of God, it follows that having open borders and sharing our wealth and resources makes a good deal of moral sense. 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.

Nationalism vs globalisation

I believe there are problems with both extremes. Nationalism – putting self first – is against Jesus’ principles of open friendship and sharing (as above). But globalisation can easily entail attempts at coercive central government control.

Globalisation is also 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.

Neither extreme is healthy or in harmony with biblical counsel and the wisdom of Jesus.

(This is not typically a left vs right issue, although the extreme right is prominently nationalist, which doesn’t address the human connectedness cost of globalisation in any case.)

Foreign aid

I personally prefer to give my contribution to foreign aid through NGOs. Having worked for both NGOs and government, I observe NGOs to be more efficient and effective at humanitarian interventions. There is, however, much debate as to the erstwhile effectiveness of any type of foreign aid.

In any case, I believe the total amount of foreign aid as a proportion of our government spending is pathetic. It is a far cry from the compassionate service of Jesus for humanity.

Religion

Islam

The left sees nothing wrong with Islam; while the right sees many things wrong. Yet the conservative right is unable to see own faults. 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.

Secular state, separation of church & state

The right wants to impose religious values on society. The left correctly separates church and state.

Religious freedom

However, the left imposes secularism and makes it difficult for people to uphold their religious values. For example, it is increasingly difficult to uphold traditional marriage without being treated as a bigot, even in court.

Coherent & reasonable basis for moral laws

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 seem to be any better alternative.

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.

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.

However, this is only very provisional support for the ‘right’ as they are very inconsistent in application of this foundation. E.g., they argue that marriage can only be heterosexual, but forget that according to the Bible there are various other essential criteria for a sacred marriage. These include the absence of adultery and ‘no fault’ divorce. 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.

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. And I can’t think of any reasonable legal application of the commandment against coveting.

So I’m only just leaning right on this, at a foundational level, but not necessarily at an application level.

Origins curricula

I’m against pseudo science. But atheists who are respected scientifically get away with spectulative, even unprovable, ideas such as SETI, the multiverse, etc. So it seems reasonable to let Christians get away with the idea of “God” being the answer to SETI or the multiverse.

Science has ‘caught up’ with religious writings in the area of health science. I anticipate similar in the area of origins.

Moral Integrity

Honesty & integrity

Neither side of politics has a good track record in recent years of speaking or acting with any integrity or honesty. Neither do their echo chambers in the more-polarised-than-ever media. ‘Marriage equality’ is an example of the left’s echo chamber, whereas climate change is an example of the right’s echo chamber.

Christians, please think twice before supporting Trump

james-dobson-2

James Dobson. Source: Speakerpedia

James Dobson and many other Christians support a vote for Trump because, they say, he upholds traditional Christian and family values better than Clinton. But coerced morality has a murky history of backfiring.

It is true that the Republicans have traditionally upheld conservative values in social policy more strongly than the Democrats. Trump has tapped into this history – e.g., with his slogan “Make America great again”. Of course, the slogan is also a catch-all reference to many other things such as turning the economy around.

I do believe that the success of modern Western civilization is built heavily on Christian principles and values, which, I agree, are currently being eroded. But I believe the successes of the West were not built on the legislation of religious values. Rather they were built on principles of religious freedom; the separation of church and state. And appropriate enforcement of law and order.

But law and order is not always the same thing as morality. There is definitely a connection, but also a lot of confusion. An obvious example of overlap is murder. Murder is both morally wrong and against law and order. But what about adultery? Is it immoral? Most would say yes. But is it, or should it be, illegal? Most would say no.

Then there’s a hotly contested grey area in between where what may be considered immoral is not necessarily considered illegal. Gay marriage and abortion would have to be placed here.

As Christian values are slowly being eroded, it is tempting for Christians to fight the changing moral landscape through legislation. But I argue that the attempted legislation of conservative morality is a sure sign of a society in decay. Look back at history. The Jews tried to codify hundreds of additional laws to ensure that their people wouldn’t suffer the natural consequences of breaking God’s moral laws. But they ended up crucifying Jesus and lost their nationhood. The Roman church of the Dark Ages tried to burn heretics to preserve their version of Christianity, but that merely spawned the Reformation and then the rise of atheism. Centuries later the Roman church’s deadly wound is only now being healed.

Western Christian leaders are now trying to legislate to marginalize Muslims, gays, immigrants, women and anyone else who poses a threat to white male beliefs, values and power. Trump has harnessed this mentality to garner electoral support. Will history look back any differently on today’s latest attempts at coerced religious morality by an unholy alliance of church and state?

coev113-campaign2016trump

Donald Trump. Source: globeandmail.com

Trump is hardly a standard for virtuous morality himself. And his constantly changing policy positions appear to be simply calculated to generate votes rather than being aligned to any moral compass. This hypocrisy has historical analogues in the corrupt Jewish leaders and the corrupt leaders of the Roman medieval church.

I understand there is widespread feeling that the American political system is broken. My appeal to my American friends is to consider whether you want to restore Christian values through legislation by a broken political system or through grass roots Christian revival unfettered by government coercion?

So when you go to 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?” State sanctioned coercion and persecution has only ever backfired, helping spread religious values opposed to the church-state union of the day. Just look at the early Christian church and then the Reformation for evidence of that in the past. And the Bible predicts another repeat in the near future.

So please take this perspective into account before promoting or voting for Trump. Note that I’m not asking my American friends to vote for a particular candidate. There are potential problems ahead if Clinton wins, too.

There is abundant evidence that Bible prophecy is compellingly accurate about our world’s past and present. Thus the predictions about the future are also compelling. Europe and America are focal points of Bible prophecy relevant to today. With the assurance of a track record of reliably fulfilled prophecy, I know the immediate future is not pretty, regardless of the outcome of this election. But God’s love and grace are enough to get us through whatever details the future holds.

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.

Tribute to Dad (Eric Livingston, 1946-2016)

My Dad was my hero as I was growing up. He had a massive influence on my life. In fact livos-barefoot-grasshe still does. I’m going to miss him a lot.

I want to highlight some of the ways my Dad’s life has impacted me. His legacy lives on.

My Dad was the most frugal yet generous person I know. He would somehow manage the family finances on very little income for long periods at a time. Yet he was hardly ever in debt. Somehow he was still able to give a lot of help to people in need. He helped me out in quite a big way when my wife and I bought our first house a few years ago. Not just financially, but also spending long hours helping with all the painting and a lot of other work on our house.

One little story demonstrates his desire not to waste anything. He was painting our house – so I guess this story demonstrates his generosity too. Dad was painting in a difficult place to get to. He had to climb onto the asbestos roof of our old carport. He had a plank down to distribute his weight more evenly as the roof was old and brittle. I was in the house and heard this crash bang outside. I ran outside fearing the worst. The old asbestos roof had given way. Dad fell about 3 or 4 metres to the ground. But when I got there Dad was on his feet scrambling to make sure he didn’t lose any paint. His paint tins fell down with him but he managed to salvage most of the paint. He didn’t feel the bruises until the next day or so. That was only about 3 years ago.

In fact my dad would probably have been able to lift more weight than me even just a year ago. Throughout my entire life dad kept on working out several times a week in his garage gym. He even tried to lift some weights this year when he was doing a bit better. In hindsight that probably wasn’t a good idea. We didn’t know at the time that the cancer had spread all up his spine, so he probably very nearly broke his back.

As a boy growing up I would often work out with my dad in the backyard gym. Dad definitely encouraged my interest in keeping fit, enjoying exercise and recreation. I never quite managed to get the physique that dad got, but thanks to my dad I’ve always put a high value on physical fitness.

I can thank my dad also for a few quirks and eccentricities.

I’m getting deaf and will need hearing aids at some point soon. But like my dad, I just wish people would stop mumbling – in fact it seems like people’s mumbling just gets worse over time. In the last few years Dad preferred communicating by email – even with family. And in the last few weeks we had to write everything on a white board because he could hardly hear even if we yelled in his ear.

I don’t know if my dad ever did any of those Myers Briggs personality tests. But if he did, he would have scored off the charts in a few different areas. I can relate to some of these. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Dad was very details oriented. In fact, a perfectionist in some areas of life, while other areas might have been neglected. He tended to have very high standards of accuracy – and achieve them often. But often at the expense of other areas of life. I can relate to that. Like Dad, I like study – reading and writing. My wife wonders why I spend so much time at the computer. I don’t have quite as many books as Dad amassed, though. His library just about fills the house – and garage! We might need some help in finding a suitable new home for a lot of them.

My dad was very task oriented. There always seemed to be things that needed to be accomplished which far outweighed the things to be enjoyed. I have that same tendency.

My dad was also quite introverted, especially toward the end of his life. His deafness probably had a bit to do with that.

And Dad would expect truth, evidence and morality to have ultimate sway for everyone and everything else. It frustrated him when injustice and falsehood weren’t immediately corrected.

That last character trait explains a lot of his big life decisions, values and priorities. It explains the years of academic research Dad put into the theology of God’s investigative judgment. I can understand why the doctrine of the Investigative Judgment resonated with my dad on multiple levels. It resonates with me too.

dad-front-of-programIn fact my dad was particularly motivated to research this truth because firstly it revealed the goodness and justice of God. And the picture of God has received a bit of unfair distortion. But also because that particular teaching itself has been distorted and maligned. My dad wanted to see it restored to its rightful state.

In fact my dad named me after the two main apocalyptic prophets who wrote the most about end time judgment – Daniel and John.

I love my dad for who he is, even with all his quirks. Because he pointed me to Jesus, the one who truly is perfect. Perfect truth and perfect love.

I’m happy that he got to see his three score and ten years. For a while there we never thought he’d make his 70th birthday in July of this year, or see the birth of Ethan which was shortly after his birthday.

I’m going to miss my dad. But I look forward to seeing him again.

Dad had two main concerns as he was dying.

The first was that someone would keep going with his research on the Investigative Judgment and vindication of God and His goodness.

The second was that we would all plan to be there at the grand reunion when death will be defeated. And we will live forever in perfect health and happiness. Dad will be young and fit again. Throughout eternity we will be with our Creator God who loves us so much.