Courage and grace under fire

Screen Shot 2020-08-02 at 4.00.07 pmYou’ve probably never heard of Jonathan Isaac. But that needs to change, because he’s shown himself to be a man worthy of some attention.

Isaac is a promising young forward for the NBA’s Orlando Magic. He’s long and athletic with brilliant defensive instincts and a developing offensive game. If things break his way, he could be something special. (After I wrote those words but before I got around to posting this, Isaac tore his ACL in a game and probably won’t play for at least a year. He still has time, but the mountain is a little steeper now.)

But that’s not why he deserves to be talked about. He’s worth our attention because he has shown extraordinary courage, integrity, and grace at a unique moment in the league’s history, and he has done so in the name of Jesus Christ.

The NBA’s restart this week has, unsurprisingly, been marked by players banding together in carefully orchestrated protests. Every player from every team has linked arms, donned a ‘Black Lives Matter’ t-shirt, and knelt during the playing of the American national anthem.

It’s been a powerful show of unity and commitment. And, of course, the players have every right to protest and advocate in this way, and most are doing so for generally admirable reasons.

But one man stood out from the crowd. Continue reading

Of earthquakes and pandemics: lessons from a decade of disruption and trauma

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Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Eight months. Eight normal, peaceful months. That’s what my family enjoyed after moving from Sydney to our new home city of Christchurch. Then, in September of 2010, the first of our major earthquakes hit, and life was never the same. (That’s if you count adjusting to life in a new country with a new job, a newborn baby, and two other children under five as ‘normal’ or ‘peaceful’. I guess these things are all relative.)

Whether it’s the ongoing ordeal of the earthquakes or the sudden shock of 2019’s terrorist attack, the last decade of every Cantabrian’s life has been characterized by more than our fair share of disruption and trauma. Hopefully, somewhere amid these disasters, we’ve learned a few lessons that might help navigate the coronavirus pandemic. So here are eight brief lessons I’ve learned—one for each of those long-forgotten months before life in New Zealand was turned upside-down.

Go easy on yourself (and on others)
In a fast-paced society oriented around productivity, struggling to get things done can make us feel worthless. But these types of traumatic events have a significant effect on almost everyone’s capacity. Post-earthquake, there were days where my brain felt clouded in fog. There were days where, after pushing on for too long, I hit the wall. It happened to almost everyone. Continue reading

A prayer about the coronavirus

Heavenly Father, I praise you as the sovereign Lord of the universe. I praise you that, to you, the nations of the world are like a drop in a bucket and like the dust on the scales. I am so thankful to know that you own the cattle on a thousand hills, and that nothing is too hard for you. I thank you that you care for me—that you number even the hairs of my head, and that all the days ordained for me were written in your book before any of them happened.

I thank you that you can be trusted. And I do trust you.

Help me to trust you more. Continue reading

Calvinism in the Time of Coronavirus

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Photo by tam wai on Unsplash

When I was about nine or ten, at the height of worldwide panic about AIDS, I stumbled across a newspaper article that outlined the symptoms of the dreaded disease. I can still recall reading, to my horror, that one of the tell-tale signs was ‘thick, white matting on the tongue’. You see, I had a few small but obvious patches of white matter on my tongue. And my ten-year-old self became utterly convinced: I had AIDS. The fact that I was in the world’s lowest-risk category didn’t matter, nor did the fact that I was asthmatic and regularly took large doses of medication that left white deposits on my tongue. For at least a week, I was convinced that my end had come.

In my early 20s, it was a brain tumour. After all, I had a few really bad headaches on the way to uni one week; what else could it be?! As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become slightly more sanguine, but I’m still highly susceptible to fear setting in. Honestly, I feel like I’m tempting fate (even though I totally don’t believe in ‘tempting fate’) by even writing this piece.

I am a card-carrying hypochondriac.

So you can imagine how the last few weeks have made me feel. I’ve had to dig in and battle hard to not give in to the paralyzing fear of the coronavirus that’s been sweeping the globe. Continue reading

‘Completely defeated already’: The case against non-disclosure agreements in churches

cytonn-photography-GJao3ZTX9gU-unsplashThis may be controversial, but I’d like to briefly put forward a thesis:

No Christian church or ministry should ever ask a Christian to sign a non-disclosure agreement (or non-disparagement agreement, or any other similar document to the same effect).

You may read that and think, “Okay, but big deal. Which churches or ministries are doing that anyway? Aren’t you tilting at windmills? This sounds a bit like calling on churches not to insist that everyone must eat KFC for lunch on Thursdays.”

But, sadly, NDAs have become all too common in Christian circles.

The most common situation where an NDA may be used (to my knowledge) is where a Christian leader is being accused of ungodly behaviour—spiritual abuse, verbal abuse, bullying, dishonesty, manipulation, and the like—by someone within their church or ministry.

Continue reading

Gaslighting in a world of Submission – anonymous guest post

“Silence is part of what allows abuse to continue. I have found my voice, and I will use it to warn others and to remind them that this is not a normal Christian experience.” 

As some readers of this blog will know, my family and I experienced significant spiritual abuse many years ago in a church in Australia. It was a horrific experience, made all the more challenging by the struggle to make (some) people understand the reality of what we were enduring.

This anonymous article came to me some weeks ago from a woman who has her own first-hand experience of spiritual abuse. Having endured this abuse and largely come through, she now has a deep desire to support others—especially other women—who are experiencing this very real, very dangerous situation. Though the author has wisely asked to remain anonymous, she can be confidentially contacted here. Continue reading

The Death of an Icon

kobe-bryant-shoes-logoWhy do celebrity deaths stop us in our tracks and shock us so deeply?

Kobe Bryant is dead. It feels like a sick joke to type those words, but it’s much worse than a sick joke. It’s real.

I have an old but powerful memory that’s making it feel unreal.

In 1997, I ran a 2-on-2 basketball tournament where the winners’ prize was to meet Kobe and take a few shots with him during his off-season tour of Australia. The event with Kobe was held in a small high school gym in the inner city of Sydney. Probably 40-50 people were there on the day, and maybe 6 or 8 people had the chance to play against him for various reasons. We all figured Kobe would glide in, fulfil his obligations, smile for a promotional photo, and glide out again as quickly as possible.

But we didn’t know Kobe. Continue reading

The (Temporary) Triumph of Secularism: Religion in New Zealand at the dawn of the 2020s

The inevitable has happened: the number of people with ‘No Religion’ in New Zealand now far exceeds the number of Christians. We are officially one of the most godless nations on earth.

This is hardly breaking news—because I’m a bit late to the Census data party, but also because Visually Impaired Freddy could have seen this coming for years, if not decades. It was only a matter of time.

The 2018 Census[1] records no fewer than 2.26m people (48.6% of the population) as saying they have ‘No Religion’. As I’ve pointed out before, there are no nominals in the No Religion category. Meanwhile, the number identifying as Christian continues to plummet, with just 1.74m (38.3%) ticking this box. And let’s face facts: the overwhelming majority of those people would be ‘Christian’ in name only, lacking a saving trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Here, in the form of several graphs (along with the odd extra note or editorial comment), are the key findings from the most recent Census (with figures going back to 2001 to help us see the trends).

1

While we all knew that ‘No Religion’ would become New Zealand’s dominant ‘belief’ in this Census, it’s more of a blowout than expected. Growth from 1.63m to 2.26m is clearly a very pleasing result for the secularists. That’s 629,000 more people (in a small country) in the space of five years. Continue reading

Stop talking about God calling you (because he already has)

crossroads.jpgWords are endlessly fascinating. As a card-carrying pedant, I’m forever analyzing the way that words are used in various contexts. I find it especially intriguing to observe the ways in which subcultures develop their own idioms and jargon.

Christians are no different. We tend to spend a lot of time within our own communities, with each Christian subculture developing its own slightly nuanced, quirky ways of speaking.

Often this can be positive, reinforcing biblical ways of thinking and encouraging one another in the truth. Sometimes it can be completely neutral, nothing more than the development of quick and easily understood references. Christian jargon becomes unhelpful when it excludes newcomers or outsiders, confusing them or perhaps making them feel like unwelcome onlookers who are sneaking a peek at some exclusive, odd little clique.

But sometimes our Christian jargon can become unhelpful in another critical way—not just for outsiders, but for those within the community. We can inadvertently develop ways of speaking that cause confusion and lead us away from clarity in our thinking about God and his ways.

So I’d like you to pause and think with me about one important word that probably has a place in your Christian subculture’s jargon: call. And let’s include all the variations: call, called, and calling. Continue reading

No Taylor, We Won’t Calm Down

Screen Shot 2019-06-19 at 1.26.16 pmWell, another day, another lecture from a celebrity on why I’m a terrible, degenerate person.

These days, people like me (Christians, or people who hold conservative views on various social or political issues) can expect to receive a stern talking-to almost every week from someone rich and important and glamorous. Start looking and you’ll see these proclamations everywhere—and before long, you too can realize what a disgusting louse of an individual you really are. Continue reading