Was Jesus a Rubbish Carpenter?



Jesus Carpenter

So here’s a question that’s been floating around my head for a while, “What kind of a carpenter was Jesus? Could he have been terrible?”

I know we often think of Jesus as being excellent, and he is. He was sinless, he was a great teacher, he did awesome miracles, he died for the sins of the world, he rose to eternal life, he is God! He’s pretty amazing! But none of these things mean that he is necessarily going to be an excellent carpenter. It’s not sinful to be terrible at carpentry, at least I hope it’s not. Considering my woodwork in high school, I would have a lot of repenting to do if being able to cut wood in a straight line is a matter of morality.

It’s also not sinful to be bad at your job. It is wrong to be lazy, it’s wrong to not do your best, but what if Jesus’ best carpentry wasn’t very good? Jesus’ dad was a carpenter, so Jesus followed him into the family trade, but just because your Dad can do something well doesn’t mean you can. I’m pretty sure my Dad was a quality engineer before he retired to take up pushing grandchildren around his yard in a wheelbarrow full time. And while I fancy myself as pretty handy with a wheelbarrow containing a small child, I suspect, even with a university degree or two, I couldn’t engineer a bridge to save my life, or the lives of anyone who happened to use that bridge, for that matter.

What if Joseph taught Jesus how to do carpentry but Jesus just didn’t get it? What if all his tables were wobbly? What if God’s way of letting him know that he may infact be the messiah was partly through his total inability to put up a level shelf? I don’t know quite how you figure out it’s your job to die for the sins the world, but if Jesus was a winner carpenter he may have missed God’s call. He may have looked at his amazing outdoor furniture set that he built for the Levi the Milkman to put on his rooftop patio and think “This is my calling! The world needs my carpentry!” and then we all would have missed out on his imputed righteousness! So God gave Jesus the hammer and chisel skills of a drunk in a snowstorm (I’m guessing drunks in snowstorms are not very good with a hammer and chisel) so that Jesus might be encouraged to pursue other lines of work. Perhaps when Jesus gave Mary one more ugly piece of furniture for her birthday, like he did every year, Mary said “Have you ever thought about something other than carpentry Jesus? Maybe you might consider fulfilling a few prophecies for my birthday next year?” Perhaps when Jesus started preaching all the people in Nazareth breathed a sigh of relief that Jesus wouldn’t be the one building their constantly breaking dining sets anymore.

Now all this is obviously speculation. Jesus may have been an excellent carpenter. After all he was God, if Thor has taught us anything it’s that gods know how to use a hammer. But here’s my question, if Jesus’ divine nature was expressed in his carpentry skills, where is the stuff he built? Surely it would have been built to last. And surely when he reached fame in his early-30s some of the people who he built stuff for would have put that divinely made chest of drawers aside and said “Jesus Christ built this, it might be worth something one day.” And then it would be passed down from generation to generation and everyone would marvel that it is the best tall boy in the history of the world. But there is none of Jesus’ furniture, at least not that I know of, and I have done zero research into this, so I would know. No, what I think happened, is Jesus became a big shot travelling preacher and all his customers thought “Great, he’s found something else to do with himself, I can get all this terrible stuff replaced and Jesus won’t notice.” I suspect that’s where the well know phrase came from – “Looks like it was built by a preacher.” They all threw out their rubbish carpentry and got someone who had skills to build them new stuff, while Jesus went on to save the world. Everyone won.

Jesus may have been an excellent carpenter, or he may not have. But that isn’t the point is it? He was a tradesman, good or not, God did a trade for most of his earthly life. And then he was preacher, and then he was a saviour. And he’s an excellent saviour, the best saviour, the only true saviour, so it’s not a big deal if his woodwork fell apart. He keeps the world together.

Bible Christians and the Social Justice Jesus

Occupy Jesus

When I get asked about churches and what they’re like I sometimes describe them as being either a “Bibley church” or a “social justicey church”. I feel a little bit silly when I do so, because I know that it’s a false dichotomy. Or at least, it should be. You shouldn’t be either a Bible Christian or a Social Justice Christian. Being a Bible-believing Christian should lead to being concerned about mercy and compassion in the world, and if you are a concerned about social justice there is no better place to look than Biblical faith. Unfortunately when we create this dichotomy, sometimes intentionally, sometimes not, we lose more than we gain.

Them Bible Nuts

If I’m honest, I fit in the Bible category more than the social justice category. When you’re in the Bible category you spend a lot of your time talking about Jesus and the Gospel. Biblical orthodoxy is important, because in the end that’s what we base our faith on. If we don’t find our truth in something objective and unchanging, then everything is up for grabs. Of course we don’t choose to believe the Bible because we need an objective standard of truth, we hold to a Biblical faith because we believe that it is God’s word to us.

So here’s the issue. We love the Bible, we love Jesus, we love the Gospel but we neglect to live out the Gospel while we proclaim it, we forget to love the world that Jesus died for and we ignore the clear teaching of the Bible that commands us to care for the poor. Sometimes our commitment to the Gospel can lead to pride that we haven’t been distracted by secondary matters like social justice. We might agree that it’s good, but we don’t believe that it’s core, and so we neglect it to our shame. We claim to be Bible people, and yet we disobey the Bible.

In almost every part of the Bible we are commanded to care for those who have less. From the Pentateuch (Deuteronomy 15:7-11), the Wisdom books (Psalm 82:2-4, Proverbs 14:31), the Prophets (Amos 5:21-24, Micah 6:8, Isaiah 58:6-12), to the Epistles in the New Testament (2 Corinthians 8:9, James 1:27) and especially Jesus (Matthew 25:31-46, Luke 4:16-21, Luke 10:30-37, Luke 12:33). There are a whole lot more verses on justice than on many of the other hot topics that we get distracted by so we have no excuse not to be ordering our lives in such a way as to give material aid to those in need, advocating for those who cannot speak for themselves, and teaching others to do the same. It may not be as vital eternally as bringing people to faith in Jesus, but it’s not an either/or situation. Our words of Christ’s love for the world will carry weight when they see his people loving the world. Even if our only motivation is to see people saved (which is shouldn’t be) then obeying these biblical commands is prudent.

Some people use the argument that when the New Testament talks of caring for those who have less it is talking about helping disadvantaged Christians. From my reading of the New Testament, this argument has merit, but it is not the whole story. There are plenty of times when the Bible commands that we love our brothers and sisters in Christ who have less than us, and we make this a priority. But this is not the only way we engage with issues of justice for the marginalised in the world. The New Testament never calls on Christians to exclusively care for Christians. We are called to care for our family (Christians) and our neighbours (everyone else).

My feeling about social justice and the “Bible Christian” is that our neglect of issues of justice stems at best from neglect in preference for the “more pressing matters” of evangelism, and at worst from disobedience and an unwillingness to have our lives made uncomfortable by our engagement with caring for the poor. I suspect that for me, the issue is both, and many of the reasons that fall in between. That’s not an excuse. I believe the Bible, I love Jesus, I must choose to live responsibly and respond to the needs of those who have less than me.

Those Social Justice Crazies

The Social Justice crew… well there are a lot of them. Some of them are Christians, some of them aren’t*. For the Christians, what worries me is that while I see many “Biblely Christians” ignoring to some degree the Bible’s commands to care for those with less, I see many “Social Justicey Christians” minimising the role of the Bible, and Jesus, to merely being a support for the argument for engaging with issues of social justice.

For instance this Easter on Facebook, within the many posts from the bible types talking about Jesus’ death and resurrection and the new life on offer as a result, and many posts from other people talking about long weekends and chocolate, there were a few from those with a more justice bent to their faith talking about Jesus’ death and resurrection as an imperative for acting with justice. There were quotes about the how the cross commends the power of non-violence to change the world, there were posts identifying Jesus’ unjust suffering with Australia’s unjust treatment asylum seekers and posts about Easter being a time to honour Jesus’ death by eating fair trade chocolate. Now this is not necessarily wrong, in fact, I think Jesus is an excellent example of change achieved through non-violence, I think Jesus is deeply saddened by the Australian government’s treatment of refugees and I think if at any time we should be striving to be ethical in our consumption it is in the celebration of our God’s most significant act of salvation. However I think the danger of using Jesus death and resurrection as only a springboard for discussion of these issues is that it may seem to reduce Jesus’ work at the cross to the only being about issues of justice. Jesus’ death and resurrection achieved more than just the forgiveness of sins and the resurrection to new life for those who trust in him, but it never achieves less than that. When discussion of Jesus always (or usually) ends up in how his life, death and resurrection influences our response to issues of justice, Jesus has been turned into a servant of social justice, a trump card in the argument for action on behalf of the marginalised.

The motivation for this is obviously good. As I said before, the Bible is clear in its commands that we respond with love to all people, especially those who are poor or oppressed. However when the Bible, and particularly Jesus, are reduced to being a reason for social justice, then social justice has supplanted Jesus as god.

One article I found called the traditional teaching about Easter “nonsense about dying for sins, and three days later, like a Jack-in-the-box, the Easter-Bunny Jesus springs back to life” and said that the true reason Jesus died was because “He dared to stand up with an unbent back” to the evil Roman Empire. The implication was that Easter demands that Christians “be Jesus” and take a courageous stand against the violence of today’s corrupt and violent governments (source). This is obviously an extreme example, but it shows when can happen when Jesus is used as merely as an impetus of social and societal change.

The folly of this that if you truly do believe in Jesus, as God and Saviour, then he is not only the best reason for caring for the marginalised today, he is the way that this world is transformed and he is the best hope for those who are poor. The gospel teaches that the root cause of injustice is human sin. It is choosing to put our needs before those of others, it is choosing to love ourselves before we love God and love others. The solution to sin is not an external set of rules, it is not merely a reallocation of finances, it is not a change in foreign policy (though these can all be good) but the solution is found in the work of Jesus. Trusting in Jesus as God and saviour is the only long-term viable solution to our sin. His work at the cross wins us all, rich and poor, forgiveness for our selfish, sinful actions, his Holy Spirit gives us the power we need to have hearts changed to love. When Jesus comes back he will make all creation new, to a perfect, just, loving society under his benevolent rule, for all who trust in him. This is the solution to heart change now, and a new world order in the future. It is only Jesus, as God, who can truly transform this world the way that we long for.

And so, using Jesus merely as a rallying point for the cause of social justice, dishonours Jesus and short-changes the movement for justice in the world. More than needing our voice, our money, or our time, the marginalised of this world need Jesus. They need Jesus because only he can save them their own sin and selfishness, only he can offer them true justice for the injustice that has been committed against them, only he can change the hearts of those who have oppressed them, only he can welcome them into the new creation where the last are first, the poor are rich, the oppressed set free, the blind can see, and the persecuted have inherited the kingdom of heaven.

I know I’ve painted both groups at their worst, it’s silly to think that people will fit clearly into one or the other camp. If only we did fit clearly into one camp or the other, our disobedience and idolatry would be so much easier to address. Instead all of us who hold to the Christian faith have a much more complex relationship with the Bible, with Jesus, with faithfulness. But while categorising people is complex, the answer is not. The solution for all us Jesus people – Bibley, social justicey, Holy Spirity, any type of Christian, whatever your mix – is to allow Jesus to take his place as God in our lives. Only in him as risen Lord and Saviour do we receive the mercy we need for our own acts of injustice, the grace we need to have our hearts set free from sin, the power we need to start living out his kingdom now. It’s Jesus we all need. Come, Lord Jesus.


In case you are feeling like you should be doing more, just to get started, here are three Christian aid organisations that you can support. They love Jesus and they love his world. It’s not the whole solution, but it’s a good start.


*For those who aren’t Christians: as far as I know there is no better justification for caring for the world than that God created the world, he created humanity in his image, he loved everyone in his Son, and he commands us to do the same. If the Bible is true, then it gives us an objective reason to engage with issues of social justice. Any godless philosophy of social justice which finds its imperatives for action in the value of humanity and the authority of human ideology will be hamstrung by relativism. Who is to say that humans are valuable? Who is to say that we need to care for all people? One person may say so, but others may say not. Why is one idea more right than the other? Because it feels right? Pragmatism? In the Christian faith we have a much better reason. Our motivation and imperative for love comes from outside ourselves, it is not subject to relativism, because if true, all truth finds its source in God, all goodness begins in him. Needing a good argument for social justice is not a reason to believe in God, but when the merely human-based logic for right and wrong falls down, but your heart keeps pulling you towards justice, maybe the answer is bigger than you imagined.

Photo by Duncan C

How to Break a Church Plant



Gotham First Sunday

The first Sunday we met as a church planting core team.

It’s been over nine months since we pulled the plug on Recom. Since then, everything has changed. If I was a woman, I could have had a baby in this time. I’m not and I didn’t, so that didn’t change, but everything else has, and a lot of that change is because of the end of Recom.

One thing that we (Scotty – co-pastor and I) did after we ended the church planting adventure was to sit down and debrief what actually happened, and what we felt went wrong. Of course in any pursuit as spiritualised as church planting it’s hard to think in terms of things going wrong if you’re trusting that God is in charge. So we tried to view things from the purely human perspective. Where did we go wrong? If we were going to do it all again, what would we do to make sure we succeeded where we failed.

The answer we came up with is perhaps quite unique to our situation. But there might be some lessons that are useful for other ministry endeavors.

As many of you would know our plan for the church plant was to have a church with three pastors, each with equal authority and differing responsibilities. The idea was to value the biblical principle of plurality of leadership as well as maintaining a cohesive vision. We felt that having three pastors would allow us to have a more well rounded leadership team, a church that wasn’t reliant on any one person but without many of the burdens of an entirely congregationally led church.

The Tripastorate (as we came to call it) was central to our church structure so it was my plan to get the three pastors in place before we proceeded with planting the church. In the early days I approached a bunch of people who I thought would make good pastors, they were all interested and polite but they all turned me down.

Eventually though I found Scotty who believed in the vision and, along with his family, was willing to commit to the ride. Along the way a few couples/families had jumped on board to be part of the core team of planting the church. We found ourselves a location and we picked up our third pastor, Kaye. She came on board for a three month trial period. Things were super exciting, and we were ready to go. (You can read my blog post from that time here)

Then a few months after Kaye joined us, she left us. She found that our structure wasn’t going to work for her, so she moved on. She made the right decision, and she made it at the right time. For us though it was a bit of a blow. It was at this point that, in retrospect, we made our biggest mistake.

Having our three pastors, our location and the makings of a core team, we had been really keen to get moving. When Kaye left, we became worried that the momentum that we’d gained in finding the people to join us would be lost if we put all our plans on hold while we looked for our third pastor. Instead we chose to slow everything down. We would slowly work towards moving to the area, meeting on Sundays, growing our core team, so that when we found our third pastor we’d be ready to just go for it. Everything would be in place, we’d just have to hit the launch button.

However this isn’t how it worked. For over two years after Kaye left, Scotty and I kept trying to take little steps forward waiting for that third pastor to come. We advertised, met with people, prayed, and invited people to join us, but nothing worked. We never found that third pastor.

At the same time we moved to the area, started meeting weekly on Sundays, did church together for about a year, named the church, got our web and social media going, moved our meetings to mid week, and did anything we could not to lose momentum.

A lot of our motivation for this was that we didn’t want to lose the people who had joined us. We loved our small team, they were faithful, kind, committed, and whole-hearted followers of Jesus. We enjoyed doing life together. We were afraid of losing these excellent people so we kept moving forward.

And that was the problem, we were too afraid of losing momentum and losing people that we gave our church plant a limited life span. Instead of trying to continue as we had planned, and find our third pastor at the same time, we should have put everything on hold, been willing to lose what momentum we’d gained, so that we could live out this core vision for what we thought the church should be. We knew the third pastor was vital to what we wanted to do, and we knew our team and momentum was valuable. We tried to hold on to both but we couldn’t. We chose what was valuable over what was vital, and in the end, this cost us the plant.

The last time we met as a core team.

The last time we met as a core team.

We didn’t know any of this at the time. At the time we thought we were making the right decisions. We were praying, seeking counsel, trying to be wise, but in a purely results oriented economy, we made the wrong decision. We couldn’t have known that the path we put ourselves on years before the end would take us where it would, but it did, and so we must learn.

If I was to learn any lessons about how not to break a church plant, it’d be these:

1. Don’t be afraid to lose momentum.
2. Backwards steps in the present can prevent failure in the future.
3. Choose what’s vital over what is merely valuable.

All that said, I don’t believe church planting operates in a merely results based economy. I know God was interested in our faithfulness, and I think we achieved that. We were working hard to make decisions which would grow his kingdom, help people meet Jesus and love the people we had with us, these are good things. I know that, while the church plant didn’t end how we wanted it to, God’s goodness overrides everything. For all of us who were involved he used, is using, and will continue to use, what we did, and the experiences we had, to grow us and grow his kingdom. God has used, and is using, the church plant to get us right where he wants us. He is neither thwarted nor perplexed by our failures. So while I have learnt valuable lessons about leadership, momentum and decision making, the best thing to see was that while I might be able to break a church plant, I can’t break God’s plans or his goodness. It’ll all be good in the end.

If you want to hear a bit more on thoughts like these, I preached a bit about the church plant in my recent sermon on success idolatry. You can listen to it here.

Junk Love


Junk Mail Only

When we arrived at our new apartment in January we were very excited. A home for our new, very small family. We had our own lounge room, kitchen, bedroom, balcony, and mailbox. When we opened our mailbox for the first time it was full of advertisements from local businesses. The apartment block we’re renting in is newly built, we were the first tenants, so the mail we had was all about welcoming us to the neighbourhood. It was very kind of them, but I tend to hate junk mail. I hate it because I don’t like people wasting paper trying to sell me things I don’t want. I have always wanted to get a “No Junk Mail” sign because I know I’m just going to recycle it, so why not save us both time and them the money, and the junk mail can move on to greener pastures.

So, in our Newly-wedded bliss, Em and I headed off to the newsagent to buy a sign for our mailbox. It was very exciting. Our first mailbox sign. We were truly married now. In the newsagent, we picked the sign that best suited the French-family style guide for mailboxes, and took it to the counter. The friendly lady at the newsagent wished us all the best in our new life, free from unsolicited printed advertising material.

We stuck the sign on our mailbox, and thought everything was over. Little did we know our adventure with junk mail had only just began.

At first we weren’t getting any junk mail. Then one or two pieces. Then a few more pieces, multiple times. To begin with I was a bit angry. I thought “Can’t that person read?” I thought about delivering the catalogues back to the businesses. Or complaining to Australia Post. But I’m lazy so I just got a bit angry. Not very angry, but angry enough that I sometimes contemplated how to deal out junk mail justice not only within 5 minutes of checking the mail but at other times throughout my daily routine too.

But then in this last week it became clear to us that the junk mail we’re getting is no accident. People are deliberately putting their junk mail in our letter box. We are the only people in the apartment block with a sign so our mailbox is the place where a significant minority of residents have decided to post their unwanted mail. We know this because there is no other reason why we would receive the Domino’s vouchers (which we actually like) four times, or the unaddressed letter from our local member seven times over the space of a week. But what confirmed it was the MX magazine which is handed out at train stations that had been on the floor of our mail room for a few days which was delivered to our mailbox this past Sunday!

Now that I realise what’s going on, it’s kinda funny. Somehow a group of residents has decided that the people who need junk mail most are the people who have the No Junk Mail sign. It’s like deliberately walking on grass which has a “Do not walk on the grass” sign. Those signs seem kind of petty, so why not point out the pettiness and walk on the grass. I get it. We probably do seem a little petty being the only ones snobbish enough to refuse the free literature of the masses. Perhaps we do deserve everyone’s unwanted advertisements for local plumbers and real estate agents. But what is amazing is that this isn’t just one person, this is a group of people who live in different apartments. How did they organise this? Was there a secret meeting where they decided to troll the couple in 303 for daring to refuse junk mail? Did one person get the idea and then pass it on to whoever they see in the lift? Was there a directive from Strata that we should receive everyone’s junk mail? Is it just a collective uprising, no leader, no plan, just an obvious response to an obvious problem? I have no idea, but it’s a tiny bit fascinating.

The other thing I’m thinking about is how to respond. It feels like extremely low-level persecution, but it’s not for our faith, so I don’t think we can claim any blessedness for it. I am wondering what the Christ-like response is. I suspect turning the other cheek is an appropriate verse to apply here, or going the extra mile. But how do we do that? I thought perhaps we could change our sign to “Please Give Us Your Junk Mail”, but that might seem snarky. Perhaps we could write a letter to everyone and ask them all to give us their mail, but that too might just seem passive aggressive. All I have concluded is that I need to gladly receive my neighbours’ junk mail, and joyfully recycle it. The community have decided to saddle us with their real world spam, we have the unique opportunity to carry their burdens all the way to the recycling room 5-meters away. It’s probably not the grandest embodiment of Christ’s sacrificial love, but it’s all we’ve got to work with right now, so I guess we’ll give it a shot.

Photo by Michael Coghlan

Give Your Best



Gingerbread House

So I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the church. Funny that. Now that I’m working for a church again, I’m thinking about how we do church well.

Most churches that I’ve been involved with want to help people know Jesus. They want people to know how good Jesus is, what he’s done for them, and the hope he provides for them. They want this because they love Jesus, they love their friends and family, they love their community, and they don’t want to see anyone they love miss out on Jesus. Which, I think, is excellent.

What seems to happen though is that helping people meet Jesus becomes an extremely convoluted process because Christians are so sure that their friends and family are not interested in Jesus. So the process tends to go like this:

Step One:

Invite person to some kind of social event either church run or informal. The church run events are often things like trivia nights, band nights, gingerbread house making, steak cooking classes, etc. Usually at some point there is a (hopefully) non-threatening talk about Jesus. The idea is we give them something they want (an enjoyable evening) and they give us something we want (10 minutes of their time to hear about Jesus).

The informal events are a bunch of Christians hanging out, with a few non-Christians thrown into the mix. At these event there is generally no discussion of Jesus at all. But everyone is hoping that the non-Christians are enjoying being friends with the Christians so they might be intrigued and want to have more involvement with these Christians.

Step Two:

Once the person has been shown that Christians aren’t all bad and are able to have a good time, you can then invite them to church. This is a big step because church is freaking weird. If you haven’t been brought up in Christian culture then all the singing, Christian lingo, clean jokes and straight living can seem odd. So you need the people you invite to be immersed enough in Christianland that they won’t freak out.

Hopefully, they don’t mind church and are happy to keep coming back when they keep getting invited.

Step Three:

At some point the person will be so involved in coming to church, hanging around with Christians and doing Christian things that they’ll be totally comfortable with the idea of Jesus. Somewhere along the line they will express a desire to become a Christian, this may be because they are given a direct opportunity in church after a gospel message, or because they have just “got it” and so they ask someone how to become a Christian. Alternatively they just pick it all up by osmosis and just start identifying as Christian and living as a Christian.

Tadah. It’s as simple as that.

Yet it’s not that simple. Mainly because we try and get people through the door with one thing (friendship, gingerbread houses, steak cooking) and try get them to stay for another reason (Jesus). I see two problems with this. First, Jesus is our best asset. He is the best and only reason that the church should exist. The other issue is that we aren’t the best at pretty much anything else we do. We aren’t the best at tea parties, or child care, or good clean fun, or anything much really. We aren’t the best live music venue, even on a Sunday. It seems silly that we don’t put our best asset first.

We have this assumption that what we really want people to accept – Jesus – is not what people want, so we have to give them something else while we convince them that Jesus is worth checking out. But this assumes that most people are not spiritual, most people are not looking for what Jesus provides and most people are not interested in Jesus.

If we believe the gospel, that God created us to be in relationship with him and that the only way to relationship is through the saving work of Jesus, then people are going to feel a need for relationship with God even if the feeling is vague and distorted, and Jesus can meet this universal need. If that is true then Jesus is the best thing we’ve got to offer.

When people are looking for spiritual answers, the church has to show itself as a place worth going. Jesus has to be easily accessible, not hidden behind layers of events and jargon. If my car needs fixing, I go to a mechanic, if I need to get fit, I go to the gym, if I need spiritual guidance, where do I go?

I remember a time when I was working as a youth pastor in a previous church and there was a boy killed in a traffic accident in the suburb our church was in. The Sunday after that happened, friends and family of the boy flocked to our church. Word had got around that the church was the place where there would be in impromptu memorial for the boy, the church was a place to start working through the grief. It’s no accident that the church was where everyone ended up. It was just filling its role in the community.

So here’s what I’m saying. The church should do what it’s good at. That is presenting the hope given to us in Jesus. The church needs to make itself known as a place of deep, spiritual answers, where real people are finding real hope, so that when people are looking for these things, the church is the obvious answer.

The church should get good at making their services easy to navigate for those who have never been, and should make the process of meeting and understanding Jesus transparent and readily available. We can still sing, and preach, and pray, and eat food together, and make daggy jokes, but we should do it in a way that is accessible and relevant, not like a club for insiders.

When people want their friends to meet Jesus, they need to be able to say “Hey, listen, you should come to church with me. Following Jesus is the best thing that has ever happened to me. Maybe it could be the best thing that happens to you.” Or something like that which doesn’t make you sound insane. Of course this is about 1000 times more scary that inviting someone to a trivia night, but if you want people to meet Jesus, why are you inviting them to a trivia night?

Jesus never invited people to trivia nights, he never pulled the crafternoon bait-and-switch. In fact when Jesus healed people, he tended to try and keep it a secret because he didn’t want people following him for the healings, but for who he was and what he’d come to do. And when people wanted to make him King because of the free bread and fish, he deliberately spoke in ways to turn them away, because they were following him for the wrong reasons. We should probably take after Jesus and present people with Jesus and nothing less.

All that said I’ve got no problem with the church meeting needs in the community by providing mothers’ groups, counselling, financial assistance, marriage courses, community events, free coffees, car washes, trivia nights, or steak cooking classes if that’s what people want. In fact I think it’s great! But I think we need to provide these things not as an excuse to get people to give Jesus a bit of their time, but because we have been moved by the love of Jesus to give people a bit of our time.

Jesus offers forgiveness of sins, Jesus offers a new and unbroken body after our current one gives out, Jesus offers a way of life that is more meaningful and fulfilling than any other way of living. Jesus is the best we have to offer, why entice people with anything less?

Photo by Stephen Depolo

Bad News Room



I did the worst thing I’ve ever done as a husband the other day.

Em has been watching The Newsroom recently and got to the end of Season 1 last week. I had bought Season 2 on Quickflix a few years ago and was excited to show it to her. I got it up on my computer, hooked it in with the TV and pressed play.

The episode began and I started thinking back to all the storylines that happens throughout the season. As I watched the episode with Em I was remembering the unconventional way the season is written with a lot of flashbacks and slow-dripped reveals. Quite often a character or incident would be mentioned in the episode and Em would say, “Am I supposed to know what that is?” And I would say “No. It’ll get explained, it’s just setting up the rest of the season.”

This went on throughout the whole episode. As the episode started nearing the end, all these loose ends started getting tied up. I was thinking “This is so odd, we haven’t had one flashback, we’ve had all these unexplained references, and now everything is getting tied up.” Characters were declaring their love for each other, solving problems, and healing differences. I was thinking “If they keep going like this they’re not going to have anything left to show in the rest of the season.” Then about 2 minutes from the end of the episode, as everything is getting wrapped up and the biggest of all the storylines in the show drawing to a close I realised “I haven’t shown her the first episode in the series, I’ve shown the last!”

When I pressed play on the season, it played the last watched episode, not the first in the season. I was so used the the unconventional way that season 2 is structured, and had obviously forgotten many of the episodes, I hadn’t noticed we were in the season finale till the very end! I spoiled the whole season in one go!

Needless to say, I felt terrible. I let down my wife, I let down my country, I let down Aaron Sorkin, I let down humanity. How I can unwittingly spoil an entire season, and not notice I’m doing it, is beyond me.

I have a apologised to my wife, and she has forgiven me because she is wonderful. But she may never allow me to operate VOD streaming services on her behalf ever again. And who could blame her. Our marriage is mostly built on streaming TV shows, I have done a terrible thing.

Trust is built slowly and lost quickly.

Things I Learnt Through Dating



I wrote a post in September called “Things I Learnt Through Singleness“. This is the next in what may be a long series. This is what I learnt while dating Em from April 2013 till we got engaged on 1st January 2014. (See if you can guess what the next post in the series will be.)

1. Kissing is fun, sex is avoidable

Before I started dating, I was a bit terrified of kissing. I hadn’t kissed anyone for about 13 years. I had no idea how one went about initiating a kiss, and I was pretty sure if I did manage to end up kissing I’d be terrible at it.

The other thing that worried me is that I would end up having sex. Being the guy who always did the sex talk, telling people the importance of saving sex till marriage, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to live up to my own ideals. Lot’s of people said avoiding sex is hard, and I knew many couples who hadn’t managed to wait till marriage. Would I be one of those people too? What if I started kissing and suddenly my hormones were off, and the next thing I knew I’d impregnated Emily? It was a worry, because I had no idea.

Once we started dating I discovered that kissing is fun and sex is avoidable. My first kiss was exactly as bad as you’d expect from a man who hasn’t kissed anyone for thirteen years. But I got better, and we had plenty of fun.

What I discovered too, which I knew intellectually, just not through experience, is that the path from kissing to sex is not automatic. We had very clear boundaries, and we had a clear strategy to get from our first steps into physical intimacy to marriage without crossing any of our boundaries and without losing the fun of the physical intimacy. We had to make a few adjustments on the way, but we got there. It wasn’t magic, it was just honest planning and assessment. How dull. It make making-out sound like a business strategy.

What really struck home for me though was that avoiding sex was less about boundaries (though we had them) and more about service. I knew that seeing as both Em and I were committed to not sleeping together till we got married, for me to cross our boundaries, and to push things further physically was not serving her. Whatever we wanted to do physically, I knew I wanted to serve her and respect her more. There was never even a question of whether we’d sleep together. Not having sex wasn’t always enjoyable, but it wasn’t difficult. Neither of us wanted to be the person who pushed the other person further than they wanted to go. So we made it through fine. We enjoyed the kissing and we looked forward obliterating our dating boundaries at the right time.

2. Dating is expensive

I probably already knew this, many people have said it before, but once I started dating I really felt it. Dating is expensive, for many reasons. Obviously there are the dates. You spend more time eating out, going to movies (well I went just as much), and doing romance things (art galleries, picnics, Maccas, etc). You do all these things, and even if you did them alone sometimes, now you’re doing it more often, in fancier ways and paying for two. That being said, Em would often pay for us too because she was loaded and not into gender roles.

However it’s not just the dates, there are the hidden costs which I never thought about, the random gifts, the more expensive birthday and Christmas presents, the things you pay for “just because”, the petrol to drive to her place and home every other day and the extra tolls while driving, because you’re too excited to see her to take the long way. It all costs money.

In my stingier moments I would sometimes get annoyed that dating is so expensive, not annoyed at Em, just that it costs so much to be in a dating relationship. But then I’d remind myself that this isn’t just fancy food and extra driving for no reason. It’s all investment for a better relationship now and a better relationship later. Also apart from the driving and the tolls, it’s generally fun. It’s worth the investment, but if you want to save money, don’t start dating someone.

3. Dating invalidates your singleness

I was “The Single Guy” for a while. I was the go-to guy when you needed a Bible talk on singleness or someone single to be on your “Sex and Dating” panel at church. And then when I started dating a few people said things like “Now how are you going to do the singleness talk?” While they were joking, it did feel a little to me like once I started dating all my experience of figuring out how to be single was invalidated. It may be that no-body actually thought that, but I remember thinking it about other people who were known for being single when they got partners. Then I became that person.

When you’re with a single people who may be struggling with their singleness, once you’re dating, your advice or support seems somehow less valuable because you’re no longer in the trenches with them and you have the very thing they generally want – a relationship. Maybe I was downplaying my own effectiveness, but somehow singleness doesn’t seem to be one of those experiences that retains currency for very long outside its effect in shaping who you have become.

That may be because there is no guarantee that singleness will end. When you talk to someone who is sick with something you had and recovered from, you can say “It gets easier, you’ll get better.” But with other things, where there is no sure outcome, like singleness, you can only really say “This may end, it may not, it ended for me, maybe it will for you.” There is little comfort in that.

All that said, I don’t see my time being single as being something I needed to be cured of, or escape from. I moved from one good state of relationship status to another, but even that isn’t what you want to hear if you hate being single.

I guess someone else can do the “Living in Singleness” talk now. I’ll do the “Married for Three-Months and Got No Idea” talk. There’s quite a market for that kind of talk I’m sure.

4. Friends are Important

When you are dating, if you like the person you’re dating, all you want to do is hang out with them. If you could spend every moment of every day with them, you would.

When I was younger I used to watch my friends start dating and I’d get sad because I’d think to myself “I guess I won’t see much of them anymore.”

When I got a bit older I decided that it was actually a good thing that they started spending a lot more time with their boyfriend or girlfriend rather than me. It’s good for people to find partners, and it’s good to prioritise them over other people in their life. If they’re heading for marriage that person will become their number one human on earth. To inappropriately use a Bible verse out of context, I thought to myself of the new partner, “they must increase, I must decrease”.

So when I started dating, I didn’t stress too much about making sure I saw all my friends the same amount as I used to. That would have been nice, but time is finite, so you have to prioritise.

But what I found was that even though you saw less of your friends, their importance didn’t decrease, but their role changed.

Friends are good while you’re dating because they’re not in-love with you. It’s important to have people around who don’t think you’re the best thing to ever happen to them. It gives you perspective.

Friends are less intense. When you’re in a relationship, everything is bigger. The good things you do are amazing, the bad things are terrible. In a friendship, the good things are good, and the bad things are bad, but no one cares too much because you’re just friends.

Friends remind you that you are more that your relationship. You are a person beyond your relationship. This is always a helpful reminder.

Most importantly, friends are friends, and it’s good to have friends, whether you’re single, dating, engaged, married, married with kids, de-facto, divorced, widowed or a polygamist. Friends are important because they’re your friends. Simple as that.

5. Jesus is enough

Just as I learnt that Jesus is enough while I was single, I got to learn it in a whole new way while dating. When you’re dating you’re tempted to define yourself by your relationship. If it’s going well, you’re going well, if it’s going badly you’re going badly. But if you can hold on to the truth that your value and strength is found in Jesus, then your dating relationship can have an appropriate space in your life.

Sometimes I would worry that I might not be able to be a very good boyfriend. I would need to remember that Jesus is enough. He shows me how to love, I had everything I needed in him to be a good boyfriend. But if I failed, and we broke up, that’s ok, Jesus is enough, I didn’t need a girlfriend to be whole, I needed Jesus. When you’re holding less tightly to your relationship you’re freer to enjoy it and work at doing it well.

Sometimes it was hard to remember that Jesus is enough when Em was a whole lot more tangible than Jesus. But then when we would strive together to honour Jesus, more than we strived to make each other happy, we found that our relationship was a whole lot more satisfying. Having a focus in your relationship other than each other turns out to be better.

Dating is excellent, but Jesus is more than enough.

Flying Home



    I finished my last day at my old job today. I’m flying home to Melbourne now after leaving for Sydney this morning at 6am. It’s been the longest work commute of my life.

    That picture above, I just took it.

    I went back for one day after five weeks of holidays. I suspect that this would be a good time for some kind of moving reflection about employment and jobs and vocation, but the flight attendant just gave me a Lindt ball. So I shall eat that instead.

    I hope they’re gluten-free, other wise I just ate some tasty, tasty bowel cancer.

    Speaking of bowel cancer, I got given a cake at work today. It was a chocolate cake covered with strawberries. My boss’ wife baked it. It looked delishious. Unfortunately my boss forgot I was a glutard, so I just ate the strawberries while everyone else ate the cake. Perhaps there’s some sort of symbolism in that.

    I spent my whole day sitting with my replacement telling him everything he needed to know to do my job. It disappointing that it only takes a day to replace me, but at least I wasn’t replaced by a computer. Although I wouldn’t mind being replaced by Siri. I suspect she’s incredibly good looking.

    We just hit turbulence. The seat belt sign went on but the no smoking sign went off. I’m lighting up.

    How do you sum up five years in a job?

    I spent five years, driving all over Sydney and beyond, doing hundreds of talks about Jesus to thousands of kids. That’s pretty super. Plus I even got to fit in a few naps in my car by the side of the road along the ways. Jesus with occasional naps. That sounds to me like the perfect job.

    So Why would I quit? Apart from that personal helicopter I get as a signing bonus from the church, I think I like doing ministry with people instead of to people. A lot of my job was standing in front of a crowd telling them things, I left because I want to spend more time beside people listening to them. My words might have more currency then.

    Certainly my time hasn’t been wasted. It’s been very fruitful but it’s time to swap a wide ministry for a deep one.

    Also I suspect I’ll be able to sleep in a bit later working for the church, it’s Jesus plus more sleep. Hard to argue with that.

    We’ve landed now.

    I’m home.



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Lease Signing

We made it to Melbourne. We came down via the Princes Highway, which was beautiful. We left last Tuesday, spent two nights in Merimbula, and then arrived in our new suburb of Mitcham on Thursday night. I’ve never moved to a new city before, so I’m not entirely sure how to do it, we seem to be succeeding so far though. I was worried we would turn up and be really lonely. Since arriving though, we’ve been having dinner with friends, lunch with cousins, and holidaying on Phillip Island with more friends. It kinda feels like we’ve swapped a life in Sydney with too many people to see and not enough time, for a life in Melbourne with just enough people to see and no pressure feeling like we’re neglecting anyone else. It’s quite nice.

On Saturday we spent most of the day at house inspections, looking for somewhere to live. The very first place we looked at was a brand new, third floor apartment right near the shops and station. We were the only ones at the inspection. The place was great. It’s had a large balcony and views of Mt Dandenong. Considering the majestic peak that Mt Dandenong is, towering over Melbourne’s eastern suburbs, I’m surprised there wasn’t a large crowd of locals just hoping to use the inspection as a chance to view the mountain from such a spectacular vantage point. We would have applied for the apartment just for the view, but happily there were lots of other things we liked about it too. On Monday we got a call from the real estate agent letting us know that we got the apartment. We signed the lease that day. This was good because we didn’t really like the other places we looked at. The only other property we applied for a was a two bedroom house which came with it’s own pet redback spider, so you can guess what the rest were like.

Seeing as, by Monday, we had achieved all that we needed to achieve before all our gear arrives from Sydney in a removals van sometime next week, we headed off to Phillip Island. It turns out Phillip Island is more than just some penguins and a race track. There are also some seals, op shops and a town called Rhyll. I’m not sure how you pronounce that, which I think might be one of the most fascinating things about the town.

We’re here on the island to spend time with our friends the Goughs. Two of our friends in this family are young children, so we spend a lot of time doing puppet shows, watching magic tricks, and wrestling. For the first time since I left work in December, I feel like I’m actually on holidays. It’s great.

Next week I start my new job. I get to start thinking about youth group, and sermon series, and whether it’s acceptable to take home leftover communion supplies for a Sunday snack, but for now, I’m just thinking about sleeping in, reading books, when I next get to eat another meal, because that’s what holidays are really about. Or should I say “That’s what holidays are Rhylly about.” See what I did there?



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Melbourne blog

I got married.

I became a coeliac.

Now I’m leaving Sydney.

In two weeks.

If you’re gonna change one thing, change everything. That’s always been my life motto (it hasn’t).

Ever since Recom folded I’ve been on the lookout for a new job. I have very much enjoyed my current job, travelling around to schools, speaking about Jesus. However what I’ve been really keen to do is to get back to church ministry. So I was looking for jobs and found one that looked perfect. A Youth and Young Adults Pastor role where I look after a youth ministry and oversee and regularly preach at an evening service. It was pretty much exactly what I wanted. I get to do youth ministry, which I love, I get to put all the thinking about church I’ve done for Recom into practice, which is great, and I get to preach regularly in a logical, long-term series structure, which I’ve been hankering for since becoming an itinerant preacher. The only downside to all this was that the job was in Melbourne – Cold, wet, hipster, AFL-loving, 900kms from the greatest city in the world – Melbourne.

Still, what can you do? Jesus travelled from heaven to earth, I can travel from Sydney to Melbourne. I chatted to Em and she thought Melbourne could be alright, so I applied for the job.

A few interviews, visits, prayers and discussions later, the church voted to call me to the role and I accepted (I got the job). This means, we’re moving to Melbourne.

To be honest it’s both exciting and terrifying at the same time. Exciting to do new things, meet new people, build a life for ourselves, do church ministry again. Terrifying because we don’t know many people in Melbourne so we have a much smaller safety net if things go terribly wrong. We might just be lonely. We’re also sad to leave Sydney. We’ll miss our friends and family. We’ll miss knowing how to get places and just generally feeling comfortable.

But all up it seems like a good challenge. It’ll grow us. And I think we’ll get good stuff done. Em’s got lots of new opportunities there to do artisting. I’ve got lots of opportunities to learn to enjoy AFL. It’s gonna be fun. Plus, it’s not like we’ll be on the other side of the world. Sydney is just up the road.

Here’s to adventure.



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The morning I headed off to get married I went to the doctor first. The weeks leading up to the wedding I had been getting regularly sick. I won’t go into detail – I’ll just say it was stomach cramps and spending quality time with the toilet. Somewhere along the way, there was suspicion that I might be coeliac. Coeliac disease, by my technical definition, means your body can’t absorb gluten (a by-product of wheat, barley, rye and many generally enjoyable foods). If you do eat gluten you can get digestive issues, weight loss, cancer, and death. So you know, it’s not great.

Anyway there had been suggestions that I might be coeliac (technically known as being glutarded) because every second person in my extended family is a glutard, even my adopted sister and some of the uncles and aunties who have married in have the disease. I had always maintained that if I was a glutard, I didn’t want to know, because well, it precludes you from eating so many tasty foods. I would have preferred go to an early grave eating a beer-battered, Krispy Kreme donut than have to spend my life eating bread that has the same consistency as the Great Wall of China.

But when it was getting close to wedding and I was getting sick once a week or more, I realised maybe I should get checked. Plus I thought leaving a widow behind because I love the taste of gluten may be a bit selfish.

So I went to the doctor that morning to find out if I was in fact a glutard. She informed me that yes, the test results were positive. I am a glutard and I’ve been one for a while.

This was difficult, just before I got married my life was thrown into chaos. No more cream-buns, ever. I’m surprised Emily even chose to marry such a diseased man.

There are so many things I can’t eat now. I didn’t have a high gluten diet before, but it turns out they sneak gluten into everything, it’s not just in bread and pasta. Potato wedges, pad see ewe, Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, everything worth eating at Maccas (if you can call anything there worth eating), beer, soy sauce and most things enjoyable to eat contain gluten.

Plus now I have to ask when I go to food establishments if they have gluten-free food and I feel like an idiot. I assume they’ll think I’ve just chosen the “gluten-intolerant” lifestyle – which apparently may not be a thing anyway – rather than that I have a genuine life threatening and sloppy-poop generating disease. As a result, I often don’t ask, I just try and figure out what is gluten-free on my own, but then Emily pipes up and asks for me because she takes my safety more seriously, so now, not only do I look like a guy riding the GF bandwagon, I look like the guy whose wife has shoved him on the GF bandwagon perhaps without his enthusiastic consent.

I’m not that guy, Emily is not that wife, I just want to live, just not always at the expense of my image. I’m very conscious of how I come across to people in the hospitality industry.

All that said, now three weeks in, my digestion has never been better, I’m putting on weight, I’m discovering new and less interesting foods to eat and I’m learning how to talk to people who work in Thai restaurants about dietary requirements. I’m growing as a person. I’m learning to own my disability. I’m hoping to get a special disabled parking permit soon.

Sometimes, I feel like I’d be happy to risk a bit of diarrhoea and cancer for some hot wedges and a cold beer. But when I do, I just remind myself that one day, I’ll become a motivational speaker and my ability to cope with my terrible illness will be an inspiration to many.

I’m not just a glutard, I’m also a hero. Let my courage inspire you.


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