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.

Drunk on the Wine of Influence: Guilty

I like to think that I am making a worthwhile contribution to the world. I spend a fair bit of my thought time dreaming about ways that I can make the world a better place – how I can influence people for good.

I like to think my life is an influence for good… Source: www.starmark.com

I like to think my life is an influence for good… Source: www.starmark.com

Now you may be surprised that I have that desire. In fact, based on the degree of success I’ve had in influencing others for good, you may well be justified for thinking: “It doesn’t look like he’s trying to do any such thing.”

But let me unpack my thinking a little bit. You may even be able to relate to me.

I feel a sense of satisfaction when something I say influences a strategic outcome or solves a problem. The higher the level of decision-making or the wider the reach, the greater the satisfaction I feel. Or when an idea that I come up with ends up being chosen and implemented. Or when I am chosen to be part of, or better still, to lead a team or a project. Or when I am able to impart words of wisdom to someone in need of answers. Or when I get to spend some time with a key leader of a good cause, or better still that person needs me in some way.

I’m married to an amazing woman who is not like me. She does not get “high” on influence in the same way I do. She happily says no to leadership – to opportunities to mix and mingle with people of influence.

I’m glad she isn’t motivated by influence like me. For both her own sake, and also for mine.

If it wasn’t for observing my wife, I would not recognise so clearly my intoxication. What I thought was a noble desire to make something worthwhile of my life – to make a difference for good in the world – is often really just me feeding my pride (Luke 11:43).

For me it feels great to be interlinked and networked with people who are recognised as making a difference in the world. I tell myself that my life is worthwhile! That I must be growing closer to the life that God has called me to live.

But, really, what should tell me that my life is worthwhile? Only this: that Jesus, my Creator, would die for me! (See Eph 2:4-9.) That’s it! Nothing I do will ever make my life any more meaningful or worthwhile. Every other human relationship or achievement pales into nothingness (or even a negative!) in comparison (Phil 3:8, Is 64:6).

Come to think of it, why should I feel any better because it was my idea that solved a problem, or that started a great new initiative, than if it was someone else’s idea? If I really cared about the kingdom of God, would I really prefer that I was the source of the great ideas? Shouldn’t it really only matter to me that great ideas are gaining influence – from anywhere or anyone? (Matt 23:6)

And if I thought my worth was demonstrated by the ideas and influence that I contribute, or the networks I am part of (Luke 18:11), what does that say about Jesus’ ultimate statement of my worth on Calvary? (Rom 2:4)

I’m even slightly drunk on influence in my motivation for writing this piece. There’s a part of me that wants you to read this and think “Wow! That Daniel guy… Ahem, that Dr Livingston rather… He’s really onto something there – I like what he wrote.” Guilty. (Luke 20:46.) I want as many “Likes” and comments as possible. I admit I’m totally intoxicated on influence!

But even though my motives are still tainted with pride and selfishness, I’m sharing this anyway. Perhaps it may help someone else realise that pursuing satisfaction by “getting high on influence” is shallow, fleeting and superficial.

What if someone else gets appointed to that desired leadership position, or to that Board or committee. Or someone else has better success in turning people’s lives around for good (Luke 14:8, Mark 9:38-41, 1 Cor 1:10-19). How can we find satisfaction independent of the success or failure of our ideas, leadership, influence and networking?

I’m happy to report that I’ve found ultimate satisfaction in Jesus. My satisfaction and worth are entirely in Him (1 Cor 1:30-31, Col 2:10). He saw our worth even when we were rebels. He died for us anyway. For you. For me (Rom 5:8). And already calls us His children (1 Jn 3:1).

41miCto6IOL._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_Now that I know this, should I not bother to use my influence for good, because I might get my kicks out of my influence instead of my identity in Christ? No. Jesus still encourages us to be the “salt of the earth” and to “let your light shine.” But the reason we should be an influence for good is so that others will “glorify your father in heaven”, not to increase our own personal satisfaction or sense of worth (Matt: 5:13-16).

Brother Yun of the book The Heavenly Man experienced numerous amazing miracles of God’s leading, enabling him to be a massive positive influence in China. But he had to learn this lesson too. His words are golden:

“We are absolutely nothing. We have nothing to be proud about. We have no abilities and nothing to offer God. The fact that he chooses to use us is only due to his grace. It has nothing to do with us. If God should choose to raise up others for his purpose and never use us again we would have nothing to complain about” (p 345).

Needle in a Haystack: True Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[*] Not his real name

Atheism solves superficial problems but introduces fundamental problems

In today’s modern Western world atheism is popular. On the surface, it solves several problems:

  • Scientific understanding of reality
    • Age of the earth and the geologic record
    • Natural selection and evolution
  • Social and moral ‘problems’
    • Religious wars
    • Antiquated views on gender roles, marriage, etc
    • The problem of evil (“good God, bad world”)
  • And many more

But taking on an atheistic worldview introduces a plethora of new, more fundamental problems:

  • Accounting for free will
  • Accounting for information, logic, the presence of matter and uniform physical laws and a finely tuned universe
  • Abiogenesis – accounting for life. “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” is a useful maxim here. The Miller-Urey experiment (or any other materialist explanations for abiogenesis) don’t come anywhere near the “extraordinary” criterion in my estimation.
  • Consciousness – accounting for the mind and personality
  • Morality – accounting for human consciousness of good and evil
  • Providing any insight into meaning, purpose and destiny.

The present popularity of atheism reflects our current obsession with advances in the physical sciences, technology, wealth accumulation, and freedom to do as I please.

Once these obsessions wear off, and I don’t think it will take many more decades, I predict a fundamental shift away from atheism.

Free will cannot exist in a material world

As far as I understand it (and I admit my understanding has limits), an atheistic worldview is an entirely physical/material worldview. In this worldview, everything behaves in a deterministic way. Every effect has a cause. Even chaos theory recognises determinism, just that due to the limits of human observation the approximate present does not determine the approximate future.

Let’s just imagine, for a minute, that the human powers of measurement and observation approached perfection. Or if not human, then something somewhere had that ability. And all physical mechanisms were perfectly understood. Then the future state of everything could be perfectly predicted, including your and my choices, assuming that consciousness was a part of the material universe and conformed to physical laws.

Therefore in a materialist (atheist) worldview, everything is 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.

Atheist William Provine understood that human free will cannot exist as one of five fundamental consequences of naturalistic evolution.

Yet we experience what we believe is freedom of choice, free will. As I have written previously, that freedom is awesome! Atheism cannot adequately account for it. Perhaps we need to reconsider theism, even though, I agree, accounting for a future-knowing God and free will also presents challenges to our human powers of reason.

Perhaps the new atheists of our day do not yet understand the problems created by choosing not to believe in God.

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

The Christian world has condemned the deadly Brussels attack by ISIS

The Christian world has condemned the deadly Brussels attack by ISIS

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

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

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

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

Or at least the Romans.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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