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

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

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).

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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

Why Israel Folau was right and wrong

Screen Shot 2019-04-12 at 12.08.18 pmFor many months now, a good friend and I have been slowly working our way through the book of Proverbs together. One of the many things that has struck us is the book’s obsession with our words and our speech. But we aren’t just urged to say things that are true; we’re urged to say the right things at the right time and in the right way. “To make an apt answer is a joy to a man, and a word in season, how good it is!” (Prov 15:23) “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” (Prov 25:11)

Perhaps building on Solomon’s wisdom, the apostle Paul wrote that one mark of a mature Christian is not just speaking the truth, but “speaking the truth in love” (Eph 4:15). Hopefully, your experience of life has already shown you that this is true. It’s simply not enough to go around saying true things; we also have to develop both the wisdom and the love to know how and when to say them—and, therefore, when not to say them. Continue reading

A grieving nation seeks answers – where can we find them?

How do we process the tragic events of March 15th? Will we find not just the common grace we know so well, but the saving grace we need?

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Photo: Mark Baker/AP

New Zealand is a country saturated in God’s common grace. I sometimes feel that these islands are about as close to heaven on earth as you’ll find. We have our problems, but we’re served by stable and accountable government that has ensured religious freedom, prosperous without being ostentatious in our wealth, filled with astounding natural beauty, a place that people from all over the world choose as their home (48 cultures are represented at my son’s school alone). Christchurch, my home, is as friendly and tranquil as any small city on Earth, and New Zealanders are a people of quiet strength—not brash and self-seeking, but resolute and generous. Continue reading

A Time To Mourn

I really don’t expect that there will be anything profound in this post. It’s just an attempt to process what happened in our city yesterday. I don’t even know what I’m going to say yet. I’m just going to start writing.

Based on how we’re feeling as a family, and on those I’ve been able to contact so far, we’re all feeling shell-shocked and angry. We’re shell-shocked in the way that anyone would be after their city experiences a terror attack (let alone in Christchurch, a peaceful and friendly place if ever there was one), but perhaps even a tiny bit more shocked because we know what it is for sudden trauma to come upon our whole city and to make us feel like our lives have changed in an instant. It’s been eight years since the earthquake, and now this. What the heck? Continue reading