Thursday, October 29, 2015

A Little Conversation

Straight talk from a small child.

This world is going its own way. It started a long time ago. How long ago, I don’t know. Before Eve plucked the forbidden fruit, the self-propelling state of mind was already present. Lurking. Suggesting. The serpent went his own way long before the first garden dwellers. How long before? I don’t know. Time is just a sheet in the layers of our universe. To be certain, the call to go our own way sounded long, long ago. And it never ended.
Another call came, and I know when. At least, approximately. Two thousand years after it sounded, I answered it. The call didn’t suggest I go my own way. It commanded I go another way. To the cross. To Christ. To life.

But the call began even before the cross. As a whisper. Not two thousand years ago, but in timelessness. Before the foundations of the earth. Before the snake. Before the inevitable choice of mankind.

And it will not end until all who are called by God arrive home safely.
Too flowery? Philosophical? Other-worldly? For some, definitely. For others, the pretty words offer a feel-good moment, but not deliverance. They need some straight-talk from the mouth of an uneducated, doctrinally inept earth dweller with zero experience interpreting Scripture. Well, here’s what my four-year-old grandson asked me a few days ago:
“Mimi, do some people just not care what God thinks?”
Perhaps without giving it enough thought, I told him most people don’t care what God thinks. (But, isn’t that the truth?)

He responded, “So they just go their own way?”
“Yes,” I told him. And then I took the opportunity to explain why God sent Jesus to die for us. I shared a grace-filled conversation with this astute, amazing, brilliant child.

Okay, I’m his grandmother and I thought I saw a theological genius emerging. But the conversation quickly turned to why Spiderman can climb walls. The light of God’s calling flashed in my little man’s mind. Will it shine again? I have no doubt. Will this sweet boy go his own way? Of course, he will.
That’s why the plan came to be, somewhere in the timeless layer.

The point of all this? Creative writing is obviously very important to me. But sometimes, keeping it simple enough for a child to understand is much, much better. Take the time—for our world is not timeless—to converse with the children. We have a lot to learn from them.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Christian Speed Dating – Does It Work? And Is It Christian?

Speed dating has become a feature of the modern dating scene. Essentially it involves roughly equal numbers of men and women coming together in a large room. Usually the women sit in place at a table, and the men circulate, spending several minutes with each lady. It is a way to meet a large number of singles in an evening.

Relationship agencies in several countries offer speed dating events that are aimed specifically for Christians. In the words of a British website named Christian Speed Dating (no longer online):

We appreciate that it can be hard to met other like minded individuals, and that it is often important to Christians for a potential partner to hold similar beliefs to themselves. The Bible tells us that we should seek out a Christian partner, but when we have exhausted our own church where do you look next?

The idea of Christian speed dating is designed to help single Christians meet other single Christians in their area. The emphasis is not so much going to look for a potential marriage partner, but more get to know more Christian singles and seeing where it leads.

A New Zealand website, SpeedDate, writes:

Believe it or not, religion was actually the force behind the speed date concept! It was created by a Rabbi in the States wanting to get Jewish people to meet.

And check out this article from the Christian Today website in the UK:

The largest Christian speed dating event in Europe takes place later this month at the annual Greenbelt Festival in Cheltenham….Typically, some 250 people will line up in a marquee. Following a short prayer, a whistle will blow and 125 conversations will begin simultaneously, none lasting more than three minutes.

“The manoeuvre feels like a stratified version of the feeding of the 5,000 – without a religious miracle but with plenty of logistical ones!” explains Jackie Elton of Christian Connection, organisers of the event.

“A grand total of 1,800 conversations will take place in 90 minutes. That’s 1,800 concerted blasts of emotional energy and every ounce of social skills and charm available. Don’t let anyone tell you that going speed dating is a soft option. Some come for a bit of laugh – or so they say. Others are convinced that God will find them a partner.”

Camerin Courtney wrote amusingly (no longer online) in Christianity Today about her experience when she went speed dating (arranged by a secular company), together with a few friends:

Initially, we all agreed it was a fun way to meet new people. Once you’ve been in the same job and church for a while, meeting new singles is a challenge. One friend pointed out that speed dating can be a nice antidote to the extreme seriousness with which many Christians approach dating. That seriousness can be quite intimidating, and in many cases has led to a complete lack of dating in a lot of faith circles. Speed dating, in some ways, is a nice way to break that tension and to get singles loosened up and interacting again.

But as time went by, our positive reaction faded. It was easy to feel boosted or deflated based on the number of matches we received. That only reinforces our society’s idea that self-esteem comes from romantic love instead of from the truth that we’re valuable because we’re fearfully and wonderfully made by God. And my initial excitement at being in a room with a bunch of bachelors eventually was replaced by a reminder that it’s quality, not quantity I need. Good single men may seem scarce, but in reality, I only need one God-approved guy.

Did it work? She didn’t meet a compatible guy, and nor did her two girlfriends. However, she reported, a male friend who accompanied them was – at the time of writing – still dating one woman he had met on the night.

Britain’s Church Times was a little more positive, in an article (no longer online) on the Christian dating scene:

Christian speed dating has already proved popular….Greenbelt, Spring Harvest, and New Wine are among festivals that now offer speed-dating sessions. These have led to weddings. Coventry Cathedral played host last year to a huge speed-dating event that sold out.

At the end of the day, speed dating is just another means of meeting people, and surely there can be little that is un-Christian about that. Nevertheless, as Camerin Courtney wrote, “I learned that while you can speed up dating, you can’t hurry love.”

Tuesday, October 27, 2015


 “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid” 
Where are you is a very simple question; even a child can respond to it. This question implies that someone is looking for you. Little children often find it necessary to pose this question when they don’t readily see you.  Usually, the response is, “Over here” or “downstairs in the kitchen.” So where are you?

God asked that same question of Adam after he and his wife had eaten the forbidden fruit. The first couple-Adam and his wife, Eve- had disobeyed God, and out of shame and fear had gone into hiding. Before the Fall, I believe there was excitement when God visited with them, but after they sinned, they hid. The very thing that brought them joy now brought fear and shame.

God knew exactly where they were, but He called out to the man anyway, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9 NIV) Adam responded, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid” (Genesis 3:10 NIV). Obviously, God posed the question not because He didn’t know where they were or what had happened, but was giving them the opportunity to come clean. As we see, God did get an answer to His question. So the question – where are you -- more often than not gets the desired response: an individual’s location is revealed.

Although God knew what had happened, He didn’t ask Adam, “What have you done? “Instead, He asked, “Where are you?” The consequences of their sin was more far-reaching than they had thought or imagined. They had believed the devil’s lies only to discover they’d lost fellowship with God, and not gotten what the devil promised them. Unfortunately, it was too late; they’d already disobeyed.

Sin has a way of bringing separation between us and God, and if we refuse to repent, we go into hiding, and continue down the wrong path we have chosen. Consequently, non-penitent Christians drop out of fellowship with God and other believers; they’d rather enjoy their sinful pleasures. They make all kinds of excuses for their sinful lifestyle, and accuse the church of being too critical and judgmental. What they really want is for other Christians to condone their evil lifestyle.
If you are a child of God, and you’ve been out of fellowship with God your Father, remember that He still loves you and wants you to come back home. For the record, He has started the dialogue; He is asking you, “Where are you?” Where are you in your Christian walk?

Are you intentionally living in sin? Are you now unable to hear the Holy Spirit’s voice? I encourage you to respond and come clean like Adam did; in other words, tell God what He already knows about your situation, and seek forgiveness. No matter how far away you’ve roamed, He will forgive and restore you to sweet fellowship; He’ll forgive the past and give you a fresh start. Although the Israelites sinned against God repeatedly, He promised forgiveness and restoration if they’d repent. God has not changed; He is still making all things new! See Isaiah 43:25-44:1-5)

The Psalmist knows this truth from experience. He said in Psalm 130, “With you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared” (Psalm 130:4 NIV). He encouraged Israel based on this truth. He said in that same chapter, “O Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins” (Psalm 130:7-8 NIV).
Are you ready to come home? The door is opened wide, and the Father is waiting to hear your expression of repentance. However, if you continue to live in sin, you are declaring you’ve never been born again. “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him….No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning because he has been born of God” (1 John 3:6, 9 NIV). If you don’t think you’ve been born again (it’s not unusual to have doubts), here is your chance; you can have this experience this very minute. Confess your sins to God and ask for forgiveness through his Son, Jesus Christ, and He will forgive you. “Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:45).

Do you know where you are? Are you hiding from God and other believers? Come home to a Father and family who love you, and be restored to a loving fellowship!       

Monday, October 26, 2015

Roots of Worry and Stress

Odds are, you and I have very similar stories. Worry and stress have been annoying companions for most of our life. Decision-making can be a nightmare. All the “what if’” worries chase us around like howling wolves. Stress can feel like a vise squeezing us from all sides. Fear of being wrong. Worry we’ve hurt someone we love. Pounding heart, racing thoughts, shortness of breath, inability to sleep, overwhelming anxiety. How do we make it stop?
I’ve spent more than 16 years personally wrestling with this question. There’s no simple answer. You can’t “just put it out of your mind” or “think about something else.” It’s unnerving to be a confident, mature adult one moment, and feel utterly helpless and terrified the next. Bible verses tell us to cast all our cares on God, all things are possible with God and how he doesn’t give us more than we can bear. You and I know all these things, tried to push worry aside, and developed coping mechanisms for the stress. But it’s still there, lurking underneath the mask we’ve learned to create.
My journey to freedom began many years ago on the client side of the counseling couch. I poured out all the ways I’d tried to deal with stress, worry, and fear—sharing my disappointment at my failure to control those qualities. Learning to look through God’s eyes at me and my life has significantly changed my approach to stress. Utilizing a healthy strategy to process that stress determines the quality of our life experiences.
Looking back at my life, I see my worry, anxiety, and fear came from three sources: Biological/Physiological, External, and Internal.
My family tree contains anxiety and depression symptoms, so I received those genes honestly. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) estimates 1 in 4 adults (approximately 61.5 million) Americans experience mental illness every year. Approximately 14.8 million people live with depression and 18.1% (42 million) live with anxiety disorders. Understanding there’s a chemical component to our symptoms helps to correctly identify it as a medical/psychological issue. Just like dealing with heart disease or diabetes, some folks need medication for a period of time to adjust or regulate the chemicals that affect mood. I found medication to be helpful. It allowed me to do the work in counseling to move toward hurt, pain, and fear.
External sources include all the voices that speak into our life. Parents, teachers, preachers, etc. Their life beliefs and theology are often given to us by way of rules and expectations which we can experience as constraining and guilt-producing. Looking at those voices and critiquing the beliefs we’ve internalize is an important part of understanding why we feel anxious and how do we move towards freedom.
Internal anxiety is tied to the emotional reactions we experience toward people and events. God creates us with core longings and legitimate emotional needs. We come into this world expecting to be loved perfectly, because that’s how our heavenly father loves us. But no parent is perfect and when those needs are dismissed or not met to the degree we need, we feel sad, disappointed, unsafe, unprotected, devalued, etc. Feeling such deep feelings towards those we love and legitimately expect to love us can bring confusion, hurt, and pain. Feeling guilty for bouncing between anger and sadness leads to anxiety.
What I learned in 16 years of digging into my heart, mind, and soul revolutionized my healing journey. I absolutely believe our bodies are impacted by genetics and physiological chemical issues that result in anxiety and depression. That’s why God gave us the ability to find homeopathic and chemical resources for both medical and psychological conditions. But there’s also an emotional component which is very real and often debilitating.1 John 4:18 tells us, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.” Think of all your worries and fears. Aren’t they primarily rooted in not feeling loved or afraid you won’t love others well? My lightbulb moment came when I realized moving from fear to freedom happens in the context of relationship

I will never love God, myself, or others perfectly – but I don’t think God expects that of me this side of heaven. 1 John 4:18 tells me is there’s a connection between not feeling loved as the person God created me to be and my worry, anxiety, and fear. Being able to receive love, mercy, and grace significantly affects our ability to decrease fear-based symptoms. Fear breeds secrecy and shame. Opening ourselves up to receive love from God and safe people allows us to see what is true and hold onto hope.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Getting God Out of Your Head

Can science use magnets to disconnect a true believer?

I’m busy writing book three of my transhuman trilogy, and a few weeks ago I took my protagonist to the world’s premier cyber lab and stuck some magnets to his head. He needed it, and his brain function improved. But it did nothing to wipe out his belief in God or alter his opinion of immigration. Never occurred to me that it might. But a few days ago, scientists reported they could make Christians stop believing in God, and instill positive attitudes about immigrants.
Here’s an excerpt from the article:
Using a technique called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), researchers safely shut down certain groups of neurones (British spelling) in the brains of volunteers. 

TMS, which is used to treat depression, involves placing a large electromagnetic coil against the scalp which creates electric currents that stimulate nerve cells in the region of the brain involved in mood control.

Researchers found the technique radically altered religious perceptions and prejudice. 

Belief in God was reduced almost by a third, while participants became 28.5 per cent less bothered by immigration numbers.1

The article explained something of the nature of the study—targeting the frontal cortex where the brain detects and responds to problems—and states:

The research suggests our brains use the same basic mental pathways to solve practical problems such as following directions or ideological issues such as immigration and religion.1

My first thought: Why would people who just got God yanked out of their heads by magnets soften their hearts to the needs of others? My second thought: Why pick God and immigration as test topics at all? Why not hook a magnet to the head of a pedophile instead?

The experiments were conducted in the UK, where belief in God is at an all-time low. And immigration is a subject of contention among the British. How would the study differ in a country where religious conviction has not yet dropped to this critical level of decline? Where immigration is a battle among politicians, but not one polarizing the general public? How would the mind-altering magnet therapy affect Americans?

And exactly what was the reason behind the research? I moved on to another article when I finished the first one. It offered the study’s conclusion, which was not mentioned or even eluded to in the first article:
History teaches that investment in cherished group and religious values can bring forth acts of both heroic valor and horrific injustice. Understanding the psychological and biological determinants of increases in ideological commitment may ultimately help us to identify the situational triggers of, and individuals most susceptible to, this phenomenon, and thereby gain some leverage over the zealous acts that follow. …The results provide evidence that relatively abstract personal and social attitudes are susceptible to targeted neuromodulation, opening the way for researchers to not only describe the biological mechanisms undergirding high-level attitudes and beliefs, but also to establish causality via experimental intervention.2
I admit I’m a pop science junkie, especially when the experiments of theory-builders attempt to explain (or explain away) God. But I had to read this wordy wrap-up a couple of times. In the article’s final paragraph, writer William Briggs shares his take on the matter with abundant clarity. He writes:
Did you catch that? These scientists hope that in the future belief in God, or in some other politically incorrect question that might — only might — lead to “zealous acts,” can be treated, maybe even cured, by magnet zappings. And there you have the real danger that follows from believing you can quantify the unquantifiable.2
I studied the reality of transhumanism before I fictionalized it. Now that I’m almost done with my lovable transhuman who follows God’s call to serve the Underground Church, I’ll soon take up with some other figment of my imagination. Maybe I’ll try some magnet therapy him. Could this be the New World way of finding out if God is in a person’s head, or if He resides somewhere deeper? Beyond the magnet zone?
As for me, I’m not concerned about getting God yanked out of my head by a magnet. It’d be an epic fail on the experiment scale. Sometimes science is good. Sometimes it’s just good for a laugh.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, (nor magnets) will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39
1 Selina Sykes, Oct. 15, 2015, Scientists claim they can change your belief on immigrants and God – with MAGNETS, Sunday Express retrieved from
2 William M. Briggs, Oct. 15,  2015, Scientists Claim Zapping Brains with Magnets Can Treat Belief in God,  The Stream,  retrieved from





Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Korea’s Dynamic Christianity – Reflections on an Explosive Revival

Some years ago a Korean friend told me how she had been getting up at 5:30 every morning to drive to her church – one of several Korean churches here in Melbourne – for the 6:00am prayer meeting. They were looking for a new pastor, so for one month the congregation were meeting daily to pray, for one hour, for God’s guidance and provision. About 30 to 40 attended each morning, many driving 30 minutes or more to be there.

By contrast, my own church was at the same time looking for a new pastor. Most of our members live no more than a five-minute drive away, yet we were lucky to get half-a-dozen to a morning prayer meeting once a week.

Is it any wonder that one of the phenomena of twentieth-century religion was the explosive growth in Korea of Christianity, at the same time as it was stagnating in the West?

I have a Korean wife, and have many experiences of the dynamic nature of Korean Christianity. I remember once when we were staying with her parents, at their tiny apartment, in the Seoul suburb of Banpo, south of the Han River. Their home was part of a giant apartment complex, housing thousands. While I was there I was probably the only Westerner.

One day I stepped outside with my wife to walk to the shops, when two ladies stepped forward. “Please,” said one, pushing a pamphlet into my hands, then they walked away. It was a Christian evangelism tract, in English. Almost certainly those women had heard that a Westerner was staying in one of the apartments and had been waiting outside our building – perhaps for a couple of hours – just to hand me that leaflet.

In Seoul I attended services of the Yoido Full Gospel Church, around the corner from the country’s parliament. This church, established by the dynamic David Yonggi Cho in 1958, is now the largest in the world, with, incredibly, more than 800,000 members.

The church building itself holds 25,000 people in the main auditorium, with a further 15,000 watching on giant closed-circuit television screens in overflow chapels (“overflow” being the operative word; each of these chapels was jammed when I was there).

The church organized seven fervent, packed services each Sunday, two on Saturdays and several more during the week, as well as all-night prayer meetings every Friday. Members are also placed in small cell groups, which meet weekly for prayer and Bible study, with each member of a group asked to pray daily for each other group member.

The church has become something of a tourist attraction for visiting Christians. A special section of seating offers headphones with simultaneous translation of the service. On one of my visits the pastor began praying in tongues. The interpreter got carried away. She started speaking in tongues too.

The Koreans are deeply spiritual. When discussing religion there are none of the frustrations you face when debating matters of faith with cynical, post-Christian Westerners. Rather, you are back in first-century Athens with Paul, arguing the merits of the gods.

My wife’s brother-in-law is a graduate of one of Seoul’s top universities. He speaks excellent English. Some years ago his son – my nephew – was punched to the ground in an argument with a soldier, and spent several weeks in a coma, before making a slow and only partial recovery.

Christian groups sometimes visited my wife’s brother-in-law in hospital and offered to pray for the family. He told me he tried prayer himself. “But I didn’t once have any feeling of God being there.” He complained that some of the prayer groups seemed just to want money.

He and his wife went several times to church, but he complained that as soon as they stopped attending the pastor and elders would be on the phone pestering them to return, offering to send a bus round each Sunday to pick them up. I suggested he try the Yoido Full Gospel Church. “They’re all fanatics,” he said.

He found great consolation through weekly visits to an elderly Buddhist priest, who taught him some simple prayers and passed on traditional Buddhist wisdom for dealing with the pain he suffers over his son’s condition. “Why is your god better than mine?” he once asked me. “Why is your heaven better than mine?” (How would you answer?)

The Yoido Full Gospel Church runs a retreat, known as Prayer Mountain, near the North Korean border, and I spent a night there. Here is how I earlier wrote about the experience:

At any time, thousands of people are gathered for community prayer and worship that lasts for days, or even weeks. Many are fasting. At night, most sleep – if they are not in prayer – on mats spread out on the floor of the large central worship sanctuary.

Hundreds of tiny grottoes have been dug into the mountain, and individuals occupy these, praying for hours at a time, sitting or kneeling on the hard floor, a flickering candle the only illumination after dark. I walked around the compound late at night. It was snowing and bitterly cold, but many people were in the grottoes, crying out or singing, in piercing voices, in prayer and worship.

Some even forsook the relative comfort of the spartan grottoes and knelt outside, among trees and bushes on the mountain. When I walked around once more, early the next morning, many of the same worshippers were still at prayer.

During the twentieth century Christianity in Korea went from virtually zero to about a third of the population. We now see Korean-style revival occurring in China. What can we expect if during the twenty-first century a third of all Chinese turn to Jesus? Is the world ready?

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Problem with Shelly

How much grace is just enough?

Shelly met a woman on the bus, and though their differences were obvious they spent a few minutes in conversation. Pat wore dark slacks and a white button-up shirt. And a tie. Her closely cropped brown hair and lack of jewelry and make-up said something about the kind of person she was. But Shelly prided herself on being open-minded. After all, if Jesus talked to sinners, shouldn’t Christians do the same?

       Pat had a job interview downtown. “Do I look all right?” she asked. “I heard there’s no discrimination with this company, but maybe I should’ve worn something a little less…me.”
       “Oh, you look fine, I’m sure.” Just yesterday Shelly had straightened her husband’s tie, and here this woman was wearing one exactly like it. But to each his…um…her own. “Besides, if you’re qualified for the job, I guess it shouldn’t matter.”
       “That’s what I’m hoping. So, what do you do?”
       “Me? I’m a mom. A wife. And I stay busy with church activities. I’m on my way to my prayer group right now.” Shelly eyed the woman for a reaction.
       "I used to go to church.”
       Shelly tilted her head. “Aww. They weren’t too friendly?”
       Pat shrugged. “Maybe I was the one who wasn’t too friendly. I don’t know.”
       “Well, God loves you.” Shelly grinned as the bus slowed. “This is my stop. Good luck with the job. I’ll say a prayer for you.”
       “Uh, okay. Thanks.”
Pat shifted her eyes to the window, and Shelly hurried for the exit. The ladies in her prayer group would be impressed. She’d stepped out of her comfort zone and reached out to the lost. Now she had something to share besides the cookies she’d squeezed into her satchel.
She prepared every word for her report about the bus ride with… What was her name? But right away, even before prayer time started, another lady stole the group’s attention. Lisa’s husband was leaving her. She wasn’t forthcoming about the reasons, but claimed her husband was sorry for…whatever it was he’d done. He wasn’t coming back to church, but he wanted Lisa and the kids to keep going.

Shelly wasn’t surprised. She’d heard stories about Lisa’s husband. Good riddance. In fact, Lisa ought to move on too and find another church. A lonely broken-hearted woman could cause more trouble than she was worth.

What a letdown. Shelly didn’t even bother telling the group about her new friend who might come to church on Sunday. She’d probably repent, thanks to Shelly. Not that anybody cared. The group’s leader began the prayer time—which was all about Lisa— asking God for comfort. For forgiveness. For reconciliation. But Shelly didn’t pray. It’d be a waste of time.

This little story is only fiction, though I’ve witnessed the horrible reality of Christian marriages falling apart. Nothing is sadder. But it’s not about that. And it’s not about believers offering kind and scripture-led friendship to those living an alternative lifestyle. Dealing with either of these sensitive topics would take more space than I’ve got here.
This story is about Shelly. How does she see herself? As representative of grace? If so, is it easier for her to show grace to a stranger than to a fellow believer? Is she prideful? Self-centered? Does she suffer from delusions of grandeur? Is she for real?

Do I know her?

Being that I travel in Christian circles, I admit I don’t know too many gay people. But I don’t find conversation with gays any more difficult than I do with the rest of the human race. (Yes, I’d rather write than talk.) As I indicated, I do know a few divorced Christians. (Well, more than a few.) In either of these situations, I only want to show grace. To offer grace. Sometimes it isn’t easy. But as God gives me grace, I pass it on.

Then someone like Shelly crosses my path and I want to…I fix her.

But I’ve got my own hang-ups. My own prideful moments in the Christian Hall of Fame. My own hidden secrets in the Sinners Hall of Shame. Who am I to come down on Shelly? She just doesn’t get it. And maybe I just need to be a friend. Have a conversation with her. Say a prayer with her. I might teach her a thing or two.

Could it be God has something to teach me through Shelly? Am I willing to accept it? It won’t be easy. But as God gives me grace…


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Half-Price Beer

It was one of those wonderful discoveries you dream of but never expect – half-price beer. And not just any beer, but premium, top-quality stuff, a while ago at my local supermarket.

“We’re discontinuing these lines,” said the shop assistant. “They’re almost all gone, so we’ve knocked down to half-price what’s left, to get rid of them today.”

There were only about six boxes left, and I bought virtually the whole lot. As I left, I asked the guy why they were discontinuing the sale of such good beers.

“We want to make space for more mixed cocktail drinks,” he said. “That’s where we make our biggest profits.”

I thought of this a week later when I attended a talk on teenagers and parties, given at my sons’ high school. The presenter was a local policewoman, Susan, an attractive blonde woman with the build of an East German swimmer, who told us she was previously in undercover.

What she said was blunt:

* Teenagers nowadays want alcohol at their parties, and they’ll bring it in, no matter how strict your supervision. They’ll hide it in trees, in your neighbor’s property or wherever, to retrieve once the party starts. The latest trick is to gift wrap it and pretend it’s a present.

* Kids know they can’t take home their alcohol, because they’ll get into trouble, so they finish everything they bring. And because they know they’ll get into trouble if they arrive home drunk, they drink all their liquor in the initial 30 to 45 minutes of the party. They go from sober to screaming drunk in a flash, then spend the party getting sober again.

* Some parents [I think she might have been looking at me when she said this] allow their teenagers a little alcohol at home, and are happy when they find the kids actually don’t like it. But that’s because they’re serving them expensive wine, when what the kids want are [the above-mentioned] cordial-like mixed cocktails.

* She said she tries all the new cocktail drinks as they hit the market. The latest milk-based drinks have no alcohol taste at all. They’re like liquid Mars Bars. And as most of these drinks are vodka-based they don’t leave an incriminating alcohol smell on the breath.

I went out and bought four of these drinks and later at home I tried them. Mudshake and Cowboy are milk-based cocktails tasting, respectively, of caramel, and butterscotch and cream. Vodka Cruiser is like a fizzy, passionfruit-flavored soft drink. Flirtini is a raspberry-flavored vodka cocktail, and the only one of the four that makes you feel like you’re drinking alcohol.

All four were extremely sweet and syrupy, and each left a bitter, metallic, chemical after-taste. Each had an alcohol content of around five per cent, and cost from A$3.30 to A$4.00 for a small bottle. This is more than double the price of a larger can of beer, with similar alcohol content. No wonder the supermarkets want to make more space.

I am still not sure where to direct my anger.

It’s clear that our kids are being royally ripped off, but it seems nowadays that if they’re not buying over-priced alcohol then they’re spending their money on new ringtones for their mobile phones, or on $100 designer sunglasses or wallets or whatever.

It’s disgusting that liquor companies are making alcoholic drinks that taste like chocolate milk shakes and are clearly aimed at the young. But if you have a liquor industry you can’t really expect them to make only drinks that people don’t like.

It’s dreadful that it is, apparently, not overly difficult for young people to obtain alcohol, though I don’t think that’s new, and, anyway, it’s probably pretty inevitable in a free society.

I think to me the outrage is that we have given our kids so little to believe in, that, when they get to a party, about all they want to do is get blind drunk as fast they can.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015


 It is human nature to want to belong somewhere

It is human nature to want to belong somewhere. Belonging to a group can be by choice or entitlement. For example, we have nothing to do with which gender, ethnic groups and families we’re born into; but we get to decide who we want for friends, what professions we pursue, which associations we join, and which other groups appeal to us. Other times, we belong to a group based on our beliefs, likes, and dislikes.

For instance, when it comes to the issue of spirituality, each individual fits into one of four groups. People in group one think they are good enough the way they are, and will go to heaven. In other words, they think they qualify to go to heaven because they do enough good and are morally good people. People in group two think they are so sinful that God would want nothing to do with them; they live under self-condemnation and hopelessness. Group three believe they are sinners, but not beyond redemption. They understand from the Bible that Jesus died to pay for their sins. They have gratefully trusted Jesus with their sins, and look forward to going to be with Him in heaven when they die. In other words, they are heaven-bound, but based only on God’s grace and faith through Jesus, and not on anything they have done. People in the last group believe there is no God; they are called atheists.[1]   

The Bible makes it clear that no one can get saved by obeying the law or being good. The apostle Paul explains it this way, “Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness” (Romans 4:4-5 NIV). Nobody is good 100% of the time, and those who try to keep the law are unable to keep it 100% of the time. In addition, if salvation became available to us based on how good we were, it could be easy for us to boast about getting into heaven on our own merit. Salvation, according to the Bible, is only by grace through faith.

For those who think there is no hope for them, I have excellent news! God loves you so much He’s already made plans for you to be forgiven and restored to live a productive life, and for your name to be written in the book of life. He is willing and able to forgive your past, no matter how horrible. Consider the day Jesus was crucified; two thieves were crucified as well, one on each side of Him. One thief asked for forgiveness; he petitioned Jesus to remember him when He got into His kingdom. Jesus forgave him and promised the thief that they’d be together in paradise (see Luke 23:43). Similarly, there is hope for you; God is able to, and will  forgive you if you repent!

The Israelites were in-and-out of favor with God so much because of their frequent unfaithfulness. To them, He promised, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be like wool” (Isaiah 1:18 NIV). Your responsibility is to admit to God that indeed you are a sinner, ask for forgiveness, and accept His forgiveness.  He will forgive and indwell you through His Spirit. You will then become a new creature, because the Bible says, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV) 

The people in group three are the people whose names are written in the book of life, because they have placed their faith in Jesus. They understand that they cannot keep the law perfectly, and there is nothing they can do on their own to gain God’s favor (see Isaiah 64:6). The grace of God has set them free from sin and hell, and like the thief on the cross, they will be in heaven with Jesus someday.

Although atheists believe there is no God; that belief will not change the fact that God does exist. It will also not excuse them from punishment for rejecting God. Contrary to the atheists’ belief, the Bible says they do know God exists, because “The requirements of the Law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness” (Romans 2:15 NIV).

So which of these four groups can you honestly identify with? Have you trusted Jesus for salvation? If not, why not; what’s holding you back? You might be a good person, but God is not looking for good people; He is looking for perfect people like Himself (see Matthew 5:48). You cannot be perfect until Jesus’ righteousness is credited to you, and that comes only after you’ve placed your faith in Him. You cannot get into heaven on your own merits!

 If you are thinking you are hopelessly sinful, I invite you to try praying to God in Jesus’ name. Ask Him to forgive you and make you His child, and He’ll do that! You’ll be amazed at the result. You’ll never know until you take this step. You’ll prove 2 Corinthians 5:17 to yourself and people who know you.

Free will is a gift from God, but our choices have consequences. Each person is free to choose what they want to believe, whether they have facts to support it or not. Similarly, God has the right and the responsibility to honor His Word! Jesus once announced to a crowd, “Unless you repent, you too will all perish” (Luke 13:3). Do you claim to be an atheist? Please understand that your belief will not excuse you from God’s wrath and judgment. You need to rethink your position and put your faith in Jesus before it is too late.

God is in the business of renewing, remaking, and restoring. Until you place your faith in Him, you are spiritually dead. Only He gives new life; avail yourself of that today!  

Monday, October 12, 2015

God's Voice in the Midst of Pain

“Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pain.” 
C.S. Lewis

It all started with lower molar #18. I thought the root canal 1-1/2 years ago took care of my intermittent tooth pain. But the throbbing pulse came back every few months. Reluctant to spend more money and time on the issue, I popped an Ibuprofen/Tylenol cocktail for a few days and the pain went away. That is until last week when the pain refused to abate. Nervously, I scheduled an extraction appointment with a periodontist. Normally I have a high tolerance for pain. Born with scoliosis, I’ve had some level of back/hip/IT band pain my entire life. But going to the dentist always freaks me out.

Driving to the appointment, I prayed for courage, strength, and painkillers! A good friend came to lend their support and the dentist said everything went really well. He said I should feel substantially better by the next day. Stabbing pain woke me up several times during the night sending me running for the prescribed painkiller. Early afternoon Dr. Moore called and when I described increased pain and swelling, he told me to come in immediately. My stress level skyrocketed.

The first staff person asked me about my pain level, saying I probably had an infection or abscess and they might have to send me to the hospital! Dr. Moore looked at the extraction site and said everything looked good to him, no problems. His positive words feel on deaf ears. Between the unremitting throbbing pain, lack of sleep and food because I could barely open my mouth to eat, painkillers, and anxiety-provoking people, my body had hit its tolerance limit. My heart began beating like crazy, chills rippled down my body, I felt nauseous and lightheaded. Dr. Moore saw the panic set in and quickly raised the chair so my feet were higher than my head, calling for a nasal oxygen drip. It took almost two hours before I could safely stand up without my BP going crazy.

As a friend drove me home, I didn’t have any more info about my pain than I did that morning. The dentist didn’t see any cause for my level of pain, giving me no idea how long the pain would continue. At that point I desperately needed to hear God’s loving voice over the pain and panic.

Cognitively, we can acknowledge the Bible says God is always with us, that he loves us, and he is able to make everything work for good in our life. Experientially, it's extremely difficult to grasp when pain, anxiety, suffering, fear, grief, etc. are deafening. That’s when the Holy Spirit speaks in a way which amplifies God’s voice if we use our hearts instead of our minds to listen. Practice listening for God’s voice in times of joy and areas of conviction so you know how to tune into its frequency in times of pain and sorrow.

P.S. Returning to see the dentist tomorrow. The swelling’s starting to go down and pain still demands my attention every 5-6 hours, but I am on the mend. My experience was apparently not the norm, but I’m committed to learning from God how to work with my unique body instead of anxiously fighting against it.

Photo used by permission through Creative Commons at

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Truth About Joy

Five things I've learned.

Though you have not seen Him, you love Him. Though you do not now see Him,
you rejoice with joy inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome
of your faith, the salvation of your souls. I Peter1:8-9
We who walk the Christian tightrope (or narrow road if you prefer) have heard it before. Happiness is one thing; joy is something else. How do you explain that statement to the unredeemed? I’m not sure you can. But I’ve learned the difference.
Happiness wraps itself around the moment. It’s exhilarating. You think you can’t live without it. And then it flies away. But joy is deeper. It ignores the passing thrill and latches on somewhere between realizing you have everything you need, and being thankful for everything you have. Of course, Christ is all you need, and you’ve got Him.

But how can that be? What if I’m not so grateful for something I’ve got? What if there’s something missing that would add tremendously to my happiness?
Those legitimate questions rise out of confusion. Sure, I can clap along and raise the roof if I’m feeling it. But happiness is too soon replaced by anger, frustration, envy, fear, depression, or the worst replacement of all, I think, just plain old apathy. I don’t care anymore. And that makes me unhappy.

There’s a cure for what settles in your gut when happiness flits away into the clouds. It’s not for everybody. Most people don’t get it. Why? Because it can’t be gotten. Joy has to be given.

I really wanted to be published. And I got there and it made me happy. But it opened up a whole new world of want. I want to write more, publish more, and sell more books. Human nature? Yes. And reaching for happiness is not a bad thing. Will I ever get there? Achieve to the point of eternal happiness? I kind of hope I don’t. I want to grow as a Christian, to evolve as a writer. I want to become the person I’m supposed to be. And I’m pretty sure I’m not going to make it—not in this lifetime.
But joy is something else—far beyond the grasp of the seeker of all things happy. It’s oddly not based on what I achieve. Or obtain. Or feel. Joy just is. Here are five things I’ve learned:

1)      Jesus inspires joy, instills joy, and completes joy.

These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. John 15:11

2)      Joy is all about redemption.

Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Luke 15:10

3)      Joy might not take you down the road to happiness, but it’s worth the trip.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4

4)      Joy belongs to God, and it covers His people.

Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10

      5)      Joy is most definitely not based on circumstance.

You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound. Psalm 4:7

Joy comes from and returns to the Creator. Even the earth is filled with joy. (Isaiah 55:12, Psalm 100:1.) Joy is because He is. Joy is mine because I’m His. I learned something else about joy: I might proclaim joy with my lips, but there’s more to it than that. So…
      6)      Joy has an “also” that happiness can never know.

My lips will shout for joy, when I sing praises to you; my soul also, which you have redeemed. Ps 71:23 

Many other verses expound on the depth and truth of joy. What’s your favorite?


Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Our Culture's Biblical Illiteracy - "An Illness Which May Be Terminal"

More than two decades ago, at the age of forty-four, I became a Christian. In an effort to “catch up” with others in my church, I enrolled at the Bible College of Victoria, a well-regarded evangelical institution here in Melbourne. Eventually I completed a Graduate Diploma in Christian Studies.

Some time later I was chatting with one of the college lecturers, and he remarked: “If you wanted to catch up with the people in your church you didn’t need to do a diploma. I could have taught you in an afternoon what they know.”

He was being cynical, but truth lay in his words. The decline in biblical literacy in our culture has been startling.

Here is what theologian Professor George Lindbeck has written:

The decline of biblical literacy has been abrupt and pervasive. Language, culture and imagination have also been debiblicized at a remarkable rate.

The decline affects intellectuals and non-intellectuals, the religious and the non-religious, those inside the churches and those outside, clergy and laity and…Bible-loving conservatives as well as purportedly less biblical liberals. ….

When I first arrived at Yale, even those who came from non-religious backgrounds knew the Bible better than most of those now who come from churchgoing families.

Though I came from a non-Christian family, I found I knew lots about the Bible when – twenty-two years ago – I first set foot inside my local Baptist church.

I knew, for example, that there were an Old and a New Testament and ten commandments. I knew the names of the four gospels as well as plenty about the life of Jesus. I could recite the Lord’s Prayer. And I had a strong knowledge concerning many of the characters, stories, literary expressions and proverbs of the Bible.

I guess this was partly because I had traveled a lot – not least including six months in Israel, exploring my Jewish roots – and had accumulated many life experiences, such as, for some years, a deep involvement in Zen Buddhism.

Also, I had always been a bookish, studious person. When I was at elementary school in New Zealand, in the 1950s, we had thirty minutes of (non-compulsory) religious education each week. One day the Congregational minister who taught us announced a contest, to see who could most accurately write down the Lord’s Prayer.

The winner? – Me, one of the few kids in the class back then who never went to Sunday School.

In any case, I find that some other non-Christian people my age also know a lot about the Bible. And younger people too often know little. I think it’s a disaster.

To quote George Lindbeck again:

Every major literate cultural tradition up until now has had a central corpus of canonical texts.…Without a shared imaginative and conceptual vocabulary and syntax, societies cannot be held together by communication, but only by brute force (which is always inefficient, and likely to be a harbinger of anarchy). 

But if this is so, then the biblical cultural contribution, which is at the heart of the canonical heritage of Western countries, is indispensable to their welfare, and its evisceration bespeaks an illness which may be terminal.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015


Jesus Paid It All

With the current financial system, the average person, even if they don’t use credit cards, has recurring bills. These can be mortgages, rents, utility bills, and the like, which unless under alternate agreements with the creditor, come due every month. Bill payment is therefore a way of life in society.

Here is a dilemma to ponder. A well-wisher anonymously paid off a consumer’s debt; the bill now shows a zero balance. What should the consumer do? Should he or she pay this bill again, even after discovering that a well-wisher had indeed paid it in full? I am one of those who will answer, “Absolutely not.” I’ll say it’s time to be thankful and go on with life. If the consumer insists on paying that debt, after discovering that it has been paid already, a good number of people would wonder if this person were out of his or her mind. Some might even go on to say he or she is a fool.

As ridiculous as this scenario sounds, many people are doing that right now! They insist on paying for their sins, although there is no need.  They’d rather go to hell than place their faith in Jesus. An atheist on television trying to raise support to keep Church and State separate concluded his ad with, “I’m not afraid of burning in hell.” Does he know what that means? Why would anybody look forward to going to hell when his sins have already been paid for? This is heart wrenching, and shows defiance and disdain for God. How sad! But just as a person could be considered a fool for wanting to pay a bill that’s been already paid in full, anybody who rejects God’s provision for the forgiveness of sin is also a fool. The Bible says, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1 NIV). To these people, God will say, “Have it your way” and reluctantly send them to hell (see 2 Peter 3:9).

We owe God a debt we cannot pay. He’ll forgive that debt, but on one condition—admission of guilt and faith in Jesus. He says the wages of sin is death-the death of a sinless person. No human qualifies as that person, so out of love, He sent His Son Jesus as our substitute – the only one without sin. The Bible expresses it this way, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John3:16 NIV). 

Although Jesus died to pay for our sins, it’s sad but certain that some people will still be held accountable for their sins. They’ll go to hell because they refuse to believe in Jesus. But why do they refuse?

Since Jesus has already satisfied God’s required payment for sin, it makes absolutely no sense for anyone to go to hell. If scientists ever discover a cure for cancer, I am sure  all cancer patients would line up to be treated; not even one would choose to suffer and die when treatment is available. Pain and suffering in this life will end at death, but pain and suffering in the life to come is without end.  We are very limited in our understanding of eternity, which may be why some individuals accept hell so readily, and even joke about it. Hell, however, is not a joking matter. Unfortunately, by the time they understand, it’ll be too late to choose the alternative—life in Jesus!

God will not take His pronouncement back; He will judge sin, because He knows that man knows the truth about Him. Man has chosen to disregard the truth, although deep down, he knows God exists, and that he is accountable to Him. The apostle Paul reminds us, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the ungodliness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness. Since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them” (Romans 1: 18-19).

If you are reading this and have not yet submitted to the lordship of Jesus, please do not take it lightly; hell is for real, and once you arrive there, you cannot turn around. That will be where you will spend eternity. Act quickly!