Faith and relevance in the 21st century

Category: Jesus (Page 1 of 12)

Why seeking justice is central to the gospel

“Seeking justice has been of central importance to millions of Christians throughout history. One of them was Charles Finney, inventor of the altar call.

What many people don’t realise is that when Finney called people up the front to give their lives to Christ, he also made it compulsory for them to commit themselves to the anti-slavery cause. For Finney, being Christian and seeking justice were inseparable.”

The above is taken from my latest article. For many of you, the article will be biblical justice 101, but we all still need reminding at times…

Why seeking justice is central to the Gospel

Back in the 1970s, the founder of the Sojourners community in the US, Jim Wallis, and a friend, decided to conduct an experiment. They wanted to find out what the Bible said about poverty and injustice. So they took a Bible, and a pair of scissors, and proceeded to literally cut out all the verses …

Love – no fear

“There is absolutely nothing about shame and honor and fear in the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

“The god that most people fear, the god who can’t wait to punish and torture you in an eternal hell is not the God of the Bible.”

I need to have this drummed into me over and over again. And I suspect many of you do too. This article will hopefully help.

Love – No Fear · Christianity Without the Religion/Plain Truth Ministries

1 Corinthians 13 is a chapter many have come to know as the “love chapter” of the Bible. 1 Corinthians 13 is arranged in three separate sections, two of which we will briefly examine: The first section, in verses 1-3, is about love as being indispensable.

The Jesus who confuses me

Jesus really confuses me at times.

When I look at his life, I see that he got pretty frustrated a lot of the time. He would say things like, “how long do I have to put up with you?!”, he called a Gentile woman a dog, and he seemed to always get angry pretty quickly at the Pharisees.

When you disagree with someone, the worst thing you can do is attack them. They’re just going to become more defensive and hardened in their position. Surely Jesus would have realised this. He seemed to have wisdom beyond his years, and he never lost debates. So what was his purpose in calling his enemies snakes and hypocrites? Surely he realised it wasn’t going to go down well with them.

Most of us realise that it’s best to reason with someone when you disagree with them. You try to find points of commonality where you agree, and go from there. You don’t attack them personally. You tell them that you see where they might be coming from even though you disagree, but you’re open to being shown to be wrong. Even if you have a strong conviction about what you’re saying, you attack the argument, not the person.

So, why would Jesus just provoke more animosity and inflame already tense situations? It doesn’t sound very mature. It just sounds hot-headed and reactionary. As someone who has decided to follow Jesus, this sort of reaction is not something I think is a wise idea to emulate.

One reason I have been told as to why Jesus responded like this was that he was basically wrong. The idea is that what we are seeing when he does this is his full humanity, where he, like any of us would, gets frustrated at times, loses his cool and doesn’t respond like he would want to. We all do that. This is not saying he wasn’t divine, but it is saying that he was subjected to the same human frailties we are.

Part of me is attracted to this type of Jesus; I can relate to him. But another part of me is disillusioned by him, and confused. Jesus is someone we are supposed to follow; being Christlike is what I have dedicated my life to. So, if I find that Jesus made mistakes along the way, which parts of him should I follow and which parts should I not? And, if he made mistakes, does that mean he wasn’t perfect? Does it mean that he sinned?

We all have our own images in our heads of what the people we want to emulate are like. I remember being terribly shocked once in my teens when, as a conservative young Christian, I saw a photo of my hero, Martin Luther King, smoking a cigarette. When I saw that photo, the first thought that ran through my head was, “maybe he wasn’t a Christian after all?” In my circles at the time, Christians didn’t smoke. If you did, you weren’t really fully surrendered to God.

I’m still not really sure why Jesus responded in certain ways to people. I struggle to see how him being fully human still means that he did things wrong. Is my idea of perfection all wrong? Did he really need to be sinless to be the Son of God and die for our sins? If he is not the perfect example to follow, I just feel more lost.

A book I’m reading at the moment attempts to provide some answers to my conundrum. It’s called ‘Jesus Behaving Badly’, by Mark Strauss. The book looks at Jesus’ apparent anger issues, his apparent sexism, racism, disdain for the environment (cursing the fig tree), and other areas of his life in which he behaved ‘badly’. It’s helpful but it still leaves me with questions.

In the end, I still believe Jesus was sinless. I have to admit though, that I need him to be sinless so that I can have something to anchor my life on, that I can follow him in trust. That doesn’t mean that I have to respond in exactly the same way he would; Jesus after all had his own personality and was a product of his environment. If he was here in person today, he might respond differently in what is a completely different culture to the one in which he lived 2,000 years ago.

The bottom line I know is that I too, just like Jesus, am trying to grow into maturity. I can hang onto the ultimate command to love, knowing that I am loved unconditionally, despite the huge sins I have committed in my life. And I know that the Spirit of God within me guides me to be more loving, and gives me the power to live as I ought and as I really want.

When I am surrendered to God’s Spirit, more of my true self is released, the self who has the courage to love, whether or not I am loved in return, to live with courage and not self-protection.

This, for the time being at least, helps me deal with some of my confusion.

The hardest thing in the world

I reckon humility is the hardest thing in the world.

From the moment we are born, we crave attention; we are desperate to be heard. It’s a normal human need. But even those who were brought up with the most loving and attentive parents have still had to deal with a deficit of attention. And so we spend our lives trying to get ourselves heard, our insides sometimes screaming for someone to just listen to us. We exalt ourselves, desperate to let people know how great we are. But humility teaches us the opposite; it teaches us that the ego has to die if we are to live.

When I am around people who have stuffed their lives up but are now recovering, I find their humility awe-inspiring and challenging. These people teach me what humility really is and in the process they show me how judgmental, arrogant and ‘superior’ I often am.

When you’re around truly humble people, those who know their own brokenness because it’s so obvious that there is just no hiding it, you see how far short you fall. But at the same time you don’t feel shamed by them. Humility has no interest in shaming anyone. It quietly, just through its actions, shows you a better way. That was the amazing balance of Jesus’ life. He loved people in their brokenness, and just by that, showed people how far short they fell. But he never shamed them. The only people he warned that they were in real trouble were the ones who were convinced they weren’t.

When I realise how far I fall short of the mark of humility, I actually can’t imagine myself ever being truly humble. My only hope is to ask God to do it for me.

I’ve made some huge mistakes in my life, with massive consequences. And yet I still find myself feeling judgmental and superior a lot of the time. That says much more about me than it does about those people.

To find out a bit more about what it might look like to actually be humble, I recently went back to a Christian classic from two decades ago, Philip Yancey’s What’s So Amazing About Grace?. Towards the end of the book, Yancey recalls Jesus’ meeting with the woman at the well in John 4. Instead of being moralistic and telling the woman how immoral she was by living with a man who was not her husband in that culture, he said, in effect, ‘I sense you are very thirsty,’ and proceeded to show her that the water she was drinking would never satisfy her, and then offered her something that would, forever.

Yancey then explains, “When I am tempted to recoil in horror from sinners, from “different” people, I remember what it must have been like for Jesus to live on earth. Perfect, sinless, Jesus had every right to be repulsed by the behaviour of those around him. Yet he treated notorious sinners with mercy and not judgment.” And yet I, who have caused so much havoc in my life, still have the gall to think I am better than others.

All this makes me want to sit at the feet of Jesus more. It was the rotten ones, the thieves, prostitutes and liars who flocked to Jesus because he accepted them for who they were. The Pharisees were shockingly offended when Jesus had the nerve to tell a story of how a tax collector, and not a ‘righteous’ religious person like a Pharisee, was actually more pleasing in God’s sight because the tax collector was humble and cried out to God for mercy.

It’s the notorious sinners who I want to be around, because I am one of them. I feel more comfortable with them than I do with the pious, self-righteous and judgmental ones; the latter remind me too much of myself.

Book review – Drop The Stones


Sometimes you read a book and you get a sense that you want to be the sort of person the author is writing about. Drop The Stones is just such a book.

The author, Carlos Rodriguez, is a pastor, teacher and blogger who loves to write about his love of Jesus and of the grace he brings to broken people. This, his second book, is about the grace and forgiveness we see Jesus display in the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8:2-11. Interestingly, this is a story that almost didn’t make it into the gospel narratives, and some think it may have been added later. Whether it actually happened or not, it is entirely reflective of the love and grace of Jesus and gives us a wonderful look at just who Jesus is. And it is this that Rodriguez wants his readers to discover.

The book is divided into three sections. It looks at the story through the lens of the woman caught in adultery, the Pharisees who wanted her stoned, and Jesus who refused to condemn her. The emphasis of the book is on the fact that each of us can see ourselves in all three characters at different times in our lives. I know I certainly can and have, and the author is the same. That is actually one of the attractions of this book; Rodriguez is disarmingly honest and humble about his own weaknesses and where he has failed to be Christlike in his attitudes and actions at various times in his life. At the same time, he is glowing about others, especially his wife and others in his church community.

The other attraction of this book is that each chapter is only a few pages long and is generally told as a story of someone who has shown the love that Jesus showed to the woman. The shortness of the chapters makes the book easy to read and get into.

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What the Manus Island refugees have taught me about following Jesus

The human tragedy that is the situation on Manus Island has horrified thousands of Australians. Personally, I have never felt so angry and disbelieving that our Government could be so cruel and unjust. What the ongoing tragedy has also confirmed to me though is that the life of following Jesus, the life we experience in following Jesus, is gained by going out of our comfort zones. Let me explain.

Last week I called the offices of some MPs about the abandoned men on Manus. I don’t like making phone calls like that. I get nervous about how I’m going to come across, and I procrastinate. After the first call, I was surprised at how uncomfortable I felt doing this. I feel much more comfortable behind my keyboard on my laptop writing to an MP rather than calling their office to express my disgust. It’s part of my dislike of conflict. So, when I decided to call, I just wanted to get it over with.

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