Hey Christians, Watch Out for the Plebiscite


So the plebiscite is coming. It’s not the one we were told we’d be having (then told we were not having) but it is still a chance for us to make our opinion on whether same-sex marriage should be legalised known. Now that it has been decided that it’s happening, lobby groups and people with opinions all over the country are gearing up for a fight. For those of us who are Christians, how we engage with this is important; we can either help the cause of Jesus or hinder it. So here are four ideas for Christians about how we can do this plebiscite well.

Don’t say horrible things about other humans

No matter where you stand, there’s a very good chance that all of us are going to be tempted to say mean things about other people – whether they identify as LGBTQI, as a conservative Christian, a progressive Christian, a politician, a combination of these, or something else entirely. Facebook is already full of people debating the value, or lack thereof, of this plebiscite. All the people you interact with, and speak about, whether in broad generalisations or in very specific terms, are made in the image of God, they are loved by him, and Jesus died for them. Treat them for who they are. They are God’s and he will take your treatment of them personally.

Particularly watch how you speak about people from the LGBTQI community, especially if, like me, you’re a Christian who is not from this community yourself and therefore may not know what you’re talking about and probably cannot speak on their behalf. You may say something deeply hurtful out of ignorance more than malice, but whatever your motives or intentions, you are still responsible for your words. Be careful. How should you be careful? I’ll show you a most excellent way…

Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry

In case you’re wondering, that’s a quote from James 1:19. What if our first response to someone who disagrees with us either online or IRL was “Tell me more”, “I don’t know enough about this, help me understand”, or “Thank you, I hadn’t thought of things that way.” Chances are whatever you want to say has already been said, so you probably don’t need to say it again, they’ve heard it before. But what if you were known as someone who listened, someone who was thoughtful, and someone who was not easily baited. That’s probably better than being known as someone who thinks they’re right, and tells everyone else why they’re right, and how everyone can be right like them.

If you’re going to vote, don’t be proud of how you are going to vote

You may be tempted to be proud of how progressive and accepting you are because you are choosing to vote for same-sex marriage. You may be tempted to be pleased with yourself for standing firm in the face of negative public opinion because you will choose to vote against same-sex marriage. But there is no place for pride in the life of a Christian. Your value is not found in your moral values or your political or social opinion. You are no better or worse a person in the eyes of God because you vote “Yes” or “No”. Boast only in Christ, approach everything else with the humility of someone who knows your righteousness is not found in your actions but in his.

If it won’t help the Gospel, stop

My biggest concern with any discussion about this plebiscite is that we get distracted by things that are less important than the gospel. Sure there are important things at stake, but if the things we yell about stop people from hearing of the love of Christ, we’ve lost the most important battle.

For some of you, this may be the most controversial thing I say all post, but unless something crazy happens, soon same-sex marriage is going to be legalised. The question is, how do you want followers of Jesus remembered when all is said and done? Do you want us to be remembered as the ones who tried to deny the legal right of marriage to a group of people who we claim to love, many of whom do not claim to be Christians and adhere to Christian beliefs and values? Do you want us to be remembered as the people who hurled abuse at each other online and said horrible things about minorities? Do you want us to be remembered as the people who fought a losing battle and in the process further eroded our reputation as people of love? Or do you want us to be remembered as the people who spoke with love, who acted with love, who listened with love, and who won and lost with love?

Same-sex marriage does not threaten the Lordship of Jesus, but how you act as a follower will reflect his Lordship to the world. We are Christ’s ambassadors, so if our words and actions could stop people from hearing the good news of what Jesus has done for them at the cross, it’s time to stop, there are more important things at stake than the legal definition of marriage.

New Site New Blog

I finally got around to making my own website. Guess what the address is…

That’s right: tomfrench.com.au

I’ve moved my blog over there. Hopefully, this will be my last blog move ever. I’m going to aim to be blogging more regularly. If you want to follow the new blog the address is blog.tomfrench.com.au. At the new site you can also find my preaching, subscribe to my podcast and book me to preach. You’ll be so excited!

If you’re an email subscriber or you follow the blog through wordpress.com, I’ll be working at moving your subscription across to the new site, but currently, WordPress isn’t playing along, so we’ll see what happens.

Thanks for all your reading over the years. I’ll see you at the new site!



I have loved following the U.S. election. It has been great entertainment. It has had a great villain (or two, if that’s how you feel), and it has be fun to watch and hold on to the sure fact that sanity will prevail. The good guys will win in the end.

Today as I watched the election results it all seemed surreal. How could this happen? Everyone said it wouldn’t. The polls, the experts, the internet, everyone was sure the racist, sexist, lying, boastful abuser wouldn’t get in. But he did.

I’ve spend most of the night trying not to focus on what has happened. And simultaneously wanting to scroll Facebook and commiserate with most of my newsfeed.

Being in Australia, I feel perplexed and bewildered. This new presidency will happen to us, and we didn’t get a say. It will happen to many countries, many worse off than ours, and they didn’t choose it. Being a white, middle-class man, it is perhaps a rare feeling of insecurity and powerlessness that I am feeling right now. I suspect many people feel this most of the time.

Perhaps this won’t be as bad as we think. Perhaps the collective depression that is being felt by all the like-minded people on my newsfeed will just turn out to be for nothing. Perhaps he’ll turn out to be as inert in office as he was explosive in campaigning. Who knows?

I said to Em tonight “I know I don’t normally go in for there being good years and bad years, but I think I can say 2016 has been an exceptionally bad year.” Not just in the world, or in politics, but in almost everything, 2016 has not been the year I would have predicted or wanted.

Whatever shining hopes there were in 2008, or 2010, or 2015, almost everything seems tarnished and dull now. I have had hope in politics, and economics, and jobs, and leadership, and general human goodness to make my world a good place, but they have all let me down. This failure reminds me what, on brighter days, I sometimes forget: that everything is broken. We’re all broken. I’m broken.

Someone posted a quote purportedly from “The Screwtape Letters” by C.S. Lewis on Facebook tonight. The quote is not actually from “The Screwtape Letters”, it’s just written to look like it is. It’s good anyway. As a senior devil writing to a junior devil, It said:

My Dear Wormwood,

Be sure that the patient remains completely fixated on politics. Arguments, political gossip, and obsessing on the faults of people they have never met serves as an excellent distraction from advancing in personal virtue, character, and the things the patient can control. Make sure to keep the patient in a constant state of angst, frustration and general disdain towards the rest of the human race in order to avoid any kind of charity or inner peace from further developing. Ensure that the patient continues to believe that the problem is “out there” in the “broken system” rather than recognizing there is a problem with himself.

Keep up the good work,

Uncle Screwtape

It reminded me how much I am distracted by what is broken in them, in that, in the world – that I forget that I am broken too. As long as I am in the world, the world will be broken. Everyone, everything, even we ourselves, will let us down, because we’re all made of the same material, crying out for something better, “subjected to frustration”, waiting with all creation to be freed from “bondage to decay and brought into… freedom and glory”.

When Adam and Eve ate the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in an attempt to make themselves like God, the rot set in. They were sent out of the Garden, never allowed to return lest they eat from the Tree of Life. Being banned from that tree was not just a punishment but also a gift. God was saving them from having to live forever in a world of interminable evil – the consequences of their treacherous audacity.

We live in a world of our own making. We will not find our Garden of Eden, we will not remake it ourselves, we cannot go back, everything is broken and we can’t fix it. This year is a great reminder that you’re broken and I’m broken, you broke it and I broke it – and none of us can fix it.

But the story is not all bad news. In fact the brokenness causes us to look for the solution. If we cannot save ourselves we must look beyond ourselves. If every system, every structure, every leader, every plan, every new leaf, every new resolution, every commitment to do better, eventually comes to naught, then we must look elsewhere. There must be hope beyond.

It turns out we see the Tree of Life again in the story of Scripture. It turns up right at the end. When all the evil of the world has been dealt with, when the Hope of the World has come again, when the old order of things has passed away and God has made all things new. The Tree isn’t in a garden anymore, but a city. It is planted by a river and its leaves are for the healing of the nations. These nations we hope in, these nations who let us down, these nations of ours will be healed.

Our hope lies not within us, nor among us, but beyond us. Our hope is with us, and our hope is for us. He was broken for the world we broke, he died for the people who put him to death, he beat death so that we might join him in life. One day he’s coming back – if we trust him, he’s coming back for us.

This year may not have been a good year, but it will make us look forward to the year that will be good, the year that will be the first year of all the good years to come. The year of healing, the year of restoration, the year of brokenness made new, and hope realised. The year of true life forever.

This post has had some minor edits since I first posted it because my excellent wife fixes my broken grammar.

The Cathedrals



Recently my local shopping centre, Eastland, has been making improvements. When we first moved into the area it was in the process of getting demolished. It used to feel like a sad, 90s shopping centre, just ripe for a few factory outlets, closing down sales and small time drug deals. Now it has been rejuvenated. Like a butterfly, it has been destroyed only to be reborn as a magnificent, architectural wonder.

It really is a beautiful shopping centre. When it opened I was all ready to think of it as just another shiny, ho-hum shopping centre, but it isn’t. In a newly built town square the centre has a small, ufo-like entrance, where you enter and ride the escalators down into the earth. But instead of finding yourself in some rabbit warren of shops, you are welcomed into a catacomb-cathedral. Bright shining spaces, high ceilings that beckon you to look up in wonder. You are descending into the earth to purchase your daily needs, and rising into the heavens on Jacob’s escalators to purchase your high-end fashion and goods.

I’ve long held the entirely unoriginal view that shopping malls have replaced churches as the centres of our communities. They are temples to the god of materialism. While they have long been functional places, more and more they are also becoming beautiful places. Only when I entered our newly resurrected, local shopping centre have I felt like the shopping centre has stopped merely functioning as a temple, but has chosen to own it’s place at the centre of our community worship.

This afternoon I took a photo and posted it on Instagram with the accompanying quote by R.C. Sproul: “The use of high ceilings, vaulted space, towers, and spires all served to communicate that in this building, people met with the holy.” Finding the quote and seeing it next to the image drove home for me the audacity of this new building.

In Eastland it’s as if the architects have blatantly appropriated the designs of ancient cathedrals for this new building, it is like they have stopped pretending that they are merely a meeting space, a place of entertainment, a place of commerce, but have almost explicitly stated that this is house of worship. Our eyes are drawn up, so that we might be impressed by the transcendent power of our god, that we might sacrifice our wealth, covet the wonders in the windows, and purchase by purchase inch a little closer to our sanctification.

The shopping centre is even designed with beautifully instagrammable spaces so that others too might see the glory of our god and they too might be drawn to worship.

What challenges me in this is that while we Christians are off worrying about the influence of Islam and homosexuality on our society, a new temple to an old god has been built on every major road and no-one has protested, we just want bigger and better temples. Perhaps the food that is sacrificed to idols is not halal meat that we might feel the need to boycott, but the free samples handed out in the food court. We get concerned about our young people who spend too much time in nightclubs, but perhaps we should be more concerned about all of us who spend too much time at the shops. And even when we’re not physically at the shops, we’re lusting over the products that flood our Instagram and Facebook feeds, and receiving emails in our pockets about the latest sale at JB Hifi or the Iconic.

So do we boycott the shopping centres? Probably not. But we should at least be aware that they are not spiritually neutral places. Our hearts yearn to worship, and materialism is as good a god as any. Some of us can shop at the shopping centre and all it is a place to buy food for the week and clothes to wear – a place where we gratefully receive our daily bread. For some of us they are places to meet friends, enjoy our community, have a drink and hear each other’s stories. But sometimes our shopping centres are darker places, tempting us into dissatisfaction with our lives, offering us a better, false reality. They invite us to hand our money over with the promise that with just the right box-set, outfit, appliance or experience we will be happy. Perhaps for me and for you, we find ourselves sacrificing to a false god before we even asked the question, “which god’s house are we in?” In 1 Corinthians 10 Paul challenges his readers that they can not expect to sacrifice to an idol and then expect to also be welcomed by God to his table. All gods require sacrifice, only one God has made that payment on our behalf. We would do well to remember that the battle for our hearts is less likely to happen in the temple of some foreign god, and much more likely to take place between the carpark, Coles, and H&M.

Psychopath Test


No Country for Old Men

So a long time ago I put out a call for people to give me suggestions for things to blog about. I said I’d blog about each and every one of them. I intend to complete the entire list before I die. I’m almost 33 and my life expectancy at birth was 72 years, so I guess by 1983 standards I should aim to have this completed in the next 39 years. That should be enough time.

Anyway, Lesley suggested that I do the psychopath test and blog about the results.

I did the test here. I’m a bit upset that it didn’t ask me if I like to hurt small animals. I don’t but they could have at least asked.

The test was pretty boring. I was hoping for questions like “Have you ever gone on a killing spree while classical music played in the background?”, “Do you like to dress up as your dead mother?” or “Have you ever dated Dexter’s sister?”. But the questions were things like “Do you lie often?”, “Do you feel guilt?”, “Are you a bully?”. It was all pretty run of the mill, if boring questions about if you function as a normal human being are how mills are run.

Anyway the results told me that I got a score of 9. I needed a score of 30 or above to be considered a psychopath, so I think I’m a pretty long way off psychopathy. Doing a bad estimate from a distribution graph on my results page, only about 10% of people a less psychopathic than me, so you should all feel very safe around me. I would make an ideal pet sitter.

Now that that’s done I’ll go back to my calm life of none-psychopathy. Perhaps I’ll do another internet test to find out from which Disney character I was separated at birth. I’ll probably get Sebastian.

This is post is part of the Blogging by Request series. To make your suggestion of what I should blog about, go here.

Those Who Leave




Lately, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about those who leave the church.

Having been in ministry for almost fifteen years now I’ve had the chance to lead many excellent young people in youth group. I still get to keep up with most of my former young people, many of them on Facebook, and some of them in real life. As far as I can tell they’ve grown up to be excellent adults. So many of them are doing impressive things and being kind, loving people to boot – it’s excellent! In addition to this, through my time in church I’ve made many wonderful friends. People I love and care for, whom I still love and care for, though I may not see them very often.

What saddens me however is that a lot of those who were in the youth ministries I led, people who I was friends with, and people I served alongside have left the church, and many of them appear to have no faith in Jesus. I do not know the state of anyone’s heart, I don’t know what anyone but me really believes, I just know what I am able to see and hear, and the reality of that is that people leave. As much as I’d love everyone who joins the church to stay in the church, as much as I’d like everyone who calls themselves a Christian to keep being a Christian, it just doesn’t turn out that way. Many people don’t stay.

To begin with, some were never going to stay, I knew this while I was with them even if some of them didn’t. With some people it’s obvious, they hang out at church because it’s where they have friends and there’s fun stuff going on. They were never captured by a love for Jesus, they never “got Christianity”, they were just going with the crowd. This isn’t the worst thing in the world. If the church can provide a safe space for young people, even those who aren’t “true believers”, that’s great! The church isn’t just a club for the faithful, so I’m glad to give people a place to be, if only for a time.

Others however were seriously seeking answers and some were, as far as I or they could tell, totally onboard, committed believers in Jesus. Some made a decision to follow Jesus with me right there praying with them. When these people leave, it saddens me the most. Not that they are any more valuable than those who were never going to stick around, but I saw them differently. I saw them as fellow followers, sisters and brothers, friends who beheld the beauty of God’s love and cherished it just as I did. When they go, it hurts. It may not end my relationship with them, but the thing I thought we both held as precious and beautiful, I realise they no longer love. It feels a little more lonely on the narrow path.

People leaving is not surprising. The Bible teaches it will happen, experience says it will happen, but that doesn’t stop it from hurting when it does.

The question for me is why did they leave? I don’t mean the Christians’ theological explanations, but what was going on for the people who left. Some people’s stories I can guess at, some people’s I hear second hand, some people have told me for themselves why they left, and the reasons are diverse.

For some it seems merely to have been an admitting of what they always knew was true. Their family brought them up as Christians, but they never really believed it. They went through the motions, they sang the songs, said the prayers, knew the answers, but it never felt true, they never felt convinced, and so the only honest and logical thing do was to leave. They were never Christians, they were just in the Christian community. Better to live a life that better suits who you are, than live a life that isn’t true.

Others seem to have really wanted to believe. They seriously sought out God, they seriously sought to believe and love what Christianity teaches. Yet no matter how much they sought God, he just never seemed to be there. Sometimes they would feel like they had an encounter with God, but the memory would fade, and the encounter could have very easily been the result of emotions, atmosphere, or a creation of their desires. Some people felt let down by God: he didn’t answer their prayers, he didn’t show himself to them, he didn’t stop the pain they felt, so he was either there and he didn’t care, or he never existed in the first place. And so in the end they face up to the fact that wanting something to be true doesn’t make it true and so they leave.

Others I suspect never made a conscious decision to leave, life just got in the way. Life is busy, church is one more thing in a busy life. Some are probably planning to go back sometime soon, but have yet to get around to it.

Other people leave not so much because of any particular problem with Christianity, but with Christians. They look at the way the Christians have treated them or people they love, their friends or their family and they decide they don’t want a part of it. Perhaps they have been doing something that their Christian friends didn’t approve of: maybe they were dating the wrong person, or getting drunk on the weekends, and instead of getting grace, they got judgement. So they left. If Christians can’t be accepting, if Christians are hypocrites, why be part of Christianity?

Some people I suspect leave for similar reasons, but not because of anything anyone says or does, just because of what they imagine people will say or do. As they started living a life that didn’t fit with Christian standards; dating someone who’s not a Christian, sleeping with their partner, getting drunk, doing drugs, or they found themselves attracted to people of the same-sex; they left the church before the church could kick them out. They pre-empted the rejection and they don’t want to go back because they suspect that all that waits for them is judgement.

Others I suspect were not afraid of what other people thought, they just knew that their choices didn’t fit with Christianity, so they left so as not to be one more hypocrite in the church.

Still others leave for intellectual reasons. Whatever they believed when they were young, as they have gotten older and encountered a wider range of beliefs and opinions, Christianity just doesn’t hold up. How can Christianity be the only true religion? How can we believe in all these miracles? How can God exist when there doesn’t seem to be any supporting evidence? How can God condemn everyone who doesn’t believe in him to hell? Related to these are the questions that come from personal relationships: How can Christianity be right if it means my gay, atheist, Buddhist, kind, loving, agnostic friends and family are going to hell? Being a follower of Jesus doesn’t feel like a valid option when it means concluding that some of the people you love may not be recipients of God’s mercy.

Similar to the above, some people will start dating a person who isn’t a Christian, and while they are committed to it not affecting their faith, often times it does. Not generally because their partner is actively against their faith (though sometimes that happens), but because they realise when they are in this intimate relationship that people who aren’t Christians aren’t boogiemen (or boogiewomen). They’ve been told in the church not to date someone who isn’t a Christian, so when they do it they realise it’s not the disaster everyone made it out to be. They discover their non-Christian partner isn’t out to destroy their faith, they are just a good person doing their best to be a good person. So they ask “If I love this person, how can God reject them? I don’t want to believe in a God like that.” Sometimes it’s not as clear as that, sometimes it’s just that the life they are becoming part of with their partner makes holding on to their faith harder. They aren’t actively supported in their church life, their partner isn’t actively supporting their sexual choices, their partner isn’t actively encouraging their faith, and the path of least resistance is to slowly leave their faith behind, till however they view their religious identity, the life they are living looks nothing like the life they once led when they actively pursued their faith.

I could go on I guess. The reasons that people leave the faith are more varied than I could fit into a blog post and than I could even begin to guess at. People leave, I don’t always know why they go.

Sometimes I think about those people who have left, and I wonder what I would say to them if I could really tell them what I think. When I meet them often we talk in passing, or we’re catching up, we’re being polite. I wish we could talk about it, but it rarely seems right, and it seems like it could get real awkward. But if I could say anything, what would I say? I guess I would say something like this:

I love you. I miss you. I liked being your brother. I still want to be your friend. Or perhaps if we were never really friends, could we still be friendly acquaintances?

I don’t feel betrayed by you or angry at you, nor do I judge you.

If you left because of conscience or belief, I appreciate your bravery. Leaving the safety of a community where you fit in, where you knew the norms, where your friends and family were, because you wanted to live a life of integrity must have been frightening and hard. I hope that in my own convictions I might be able have the bravery you have.

If you left because you didn’t like what Christians do, you were appalled by the way the church treats people, or you were opposed to the positions Christians have taken on important things, please don’t reject Jesus because of something less than what is central to Christianity, the saving death and resurrection of Jesus. There are many things, big and significant things, that are up for discussion, don’t let them force you away from Jesus.

If you never intended to leave but you have found yourself a long way off, seemingly too far to come back, know that you’re never too far gone. Don’t let unintentional drift define your faith.

For whatever reason you left, I haven’t given up on you. You’re just as important and valuable now as you were when you identified as a Christian. I don’t know how to show you this without it seeming weird, but I would do the same for you now as I would have when you were following Jesus. There’s always room at my table for you.

I’m sad that you left because what’s most valuable to me, is not valuable to you anymore. You are not responsible for my feelings, and I may not even be right in my beliefs, but my feelings are what they are, and I liked having you on the team.

Much more important than any of my feelings is that God hasn’t given up on you. If he’s real, and I’m sure he is, he’s not fuming that you left. I’m guessing you remember the story: he’s watching the road in the hopes you’ll come home again. He will run to meet you, he will welcome you back as his precious child. He will have a great party at your return.

I don’t know, but my guess is there are times you miss him, you may speak to him sometimes, you may somewhere be holding onto a belief in his existence, hoping against hope that he’s real and he loves you. If I know nothing else, I know this. He’s real and he loves you. He will always have you back. With all your doubts, all your questions, all your baggage, all your sin and all your pain, he will always have you back. You have unlimited forgiveness, unlimited acceptance, unlimited grace available for you. God likes you. God loves you. There’s always room at his table for you.

Finally, seek the truth. If Jesus didn’t die and rise again, this whole Christianity thing is a waste of time, and this love I’ve been writing about is a lie. Don’t believe in anything because it sounds good, or feels comfortable. Always seek the truth. If you left because because you were pursuing truth, always be willing to come back for the same reason. It’s all I can ask.

Let’s keep being friends. Or if we were never that, maybe at least we can be friendly acquaintances.

There’s a chance, if you read this, you are someone I know who was once a Christian. Or maybe I’ve never met you, but you too are someone who left. I’d love to hear from you. Email me, or Facebook me, or SMS me, you can even write me a letter. If you don’t have a way of contacting me, comment below. Tell me your story, tell me why you left, tell me how you’re going now, I’m still interested in you. I mean what I said. Let’s be friends, or friendly acquaintances at the least.

The Force Awakens a New Hope


The Force Awakens

Warning spoilers below. I mean it. I tell you the whole plot of two Star Wars films.

I saw The Force Awakens at the midnight screening on Thursday morning with some friends from church. I went dressed as Princess Leia, Em went as Han Solo. It was one of the most enjoyable movie watching experiences of my life.

I remember watching the prequels, so excited to see Star Wars at the movies, and finding them so unsatisfying. I went to the midnight screenings for two out of the three, the lining up, the people cosplaying, that was a whole lot more fun than the movies. (This is my blog post from the opening night of Episode III. Judging by my review, I liked the film, which I guess is a result of my disappointment with the first two prequels.) This time though, the movie was the best bit of night, and not because I didn’t enjoy the night, but the film, it was glorious.

It looked beautiful. The characters were interesting and fun. The action was exciting. The plot was easy to follow (I still don’t quite know what happened in the prequels). I have seen quite a few people saying The Force Awakens is the greatest sci-fi movie of all time. They could be right, it is definitely the best Star Wars film of the franchise. It’s a shame that the further you get George Lucas from Star Wars, the better it gets.

Here’s the thing though, I couldn’t help feeling like The Force Awakens was paying for George Lucas’ mistakes. The plot was far from ambitious. In fact, of all the films it is the least ambitious film in the series. Watching the film it seemed to be Disney and JJ Abrams sending a message to fans saying “You can trust us.”

I was excited in The Force Awakens to see a new Star Wars story, the continuing of the saga, but the film is basically a remake/reboot of A New Hope.

Consider the plot:

A droid with secret information necessary for the rebels to the defeat the evil Empire is discovered on a sandy planet by a force sensitive teenager. The teenager is the mentored, and helped to discover their true potential, by an older man who has seen things in the past that are just myths and legends to the young, force sensitive teenager. Together they work to get the droid back to the rebel base going via a bar full of aliens some of which play groovy music, while avoiding capture by a black masked villain, powerful in the dark side. This villain is in control of a giant weapon with the ability to blow up whole planets. The force sensitive teenager sees their mentor killed by the black masked villain, but goes on to use the force to defeat the villain. The rebels blow up the giant space weapon. The force sensitive teenager is ready to be trained in the ways of the force by a powerful jedi in the next film.

That is the plot of both A New Hope and The Force Awakens.

I loved The Force Awakens. I think they make A New Hope better than A New Hope. It was a great film. But if there is anything I was disappointed about is that didn’t really see a new Star Wars story, I saw an old one, retold. In the prequels Lucas was clearly telling the first third of a giant 9-part story. Whatever they were, they certainly were nothing like the original trilogy. I suspect that Disney and JJ Abrams basically remade A New Hope because they needed all the Star Wars fans to feel safe. I think they made entirely the right choice. Had they tried anything else, any story which strayed too far from familiar, original trilogy territory, even if they did it really well, would have resulted in millions of angry, let down fans. No-one wanted to see another prequels disaster, The Force Awakens is the very opposite of that.

It’s sad that George’s mistakes forced Disney to deliberately avoid breaking new ground.

But where to now? I hope that Episodes 8 and 9 are brand new films. I don’t want to see The Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi again. I’m super excited to see Rey become the greatest Jedi who ever lived, able to defeat Snoke. I’m excited to see Poe Dameron continue being the greatest X-Wing pilot in the universe. I can’t wait to see Finn, become a kick-ass rebel soldier. I want to see General Leia commanding armies and fighter squadrons, not just blowing up another Death Star. I want to see Captain Phasma escape the garbage compactor and beat up Finn for his insolence. I don’t really know where I want the story to go, I just want it to go to new and marvellous places. Now that we trust Disney, I hope they do something as ambitious as the prequels, but with the success of The Force Awakens. If they can do that then Star Wars will have come as close to perfection as cinema can.

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