Israel Folau, Sin and the New Intolerant Tolerance


It’s been interesting watching the latest skirmish in Australia’s own version of the culture wars. In the latest chapter, Australia’s number one rugby union player, and evangelical Christian, Israel Folau has found himself on the wrong side of the new intolerant tolerance brigade. While the way he went about calling out a particular sexual sin on social media could be up for debate, to me it reveals a massive insight into the post Christian era that we are entering, and how as Christians we need to respond.

And lo and behold the usual Christian haters like Peter Fitzsimmons (who I really believe has a shockingly irrational hatred of the Christian faith) pile on in the Sydney Morning Herald.

And, apparently it is all leading to an interesting show down with his bosses at the Australian Rugby Union… click here

Some things I’d note…

Firstly, I’d submit to Israel Folau we need to be careful how we talk about sin. As I will say below, I think Christians will be called to ever more brave statements and lifestyles that reflect following Jesus. Where I would possibly differ is that it is easy for Christians to come across as self righteous or hypocritical whenever we call out sin or the need to repent. Indeed Jesus himself said that we should not judge others and that with the measure we use, it will be used against us. Hence when talking about sin we need to speak with a compassionate and humble approach. I want to be the first to say that I struggle with sin, that I need to repent, and that only by the grace of God am I saved. When asked about any ‘sinful’ lifestyle or group I would want to echo the words of the Apostle Paul who called himself the worst of sinners, before talking about the sin in anyone else life.

Secondly though, the truth of Jesus’ call to repent for the Kingdom of God has come has not changed. Fundamental to this truth is that all sinful behaviour ultimately separates us from God, diminishes our lives and hurts our neighbours. Israel Folau doesn’t stand on the wrong side of history, he stands with Jesus who is the truth and grace of God. As Christians we do no one a favour by giving anyones sin a thumbs up like it is not a problem. Sin damages everything and it leads to hell. Any type of sexual activity outside of marriage is adultery and the scriptures couldn’t be clearer that people who engage in this type of activity won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Of course it is not our behaviour that saves us, but the love of God, but Israel is right that what we are called to do is repent of this or any other sinful behaviour and align our lives with the ethics and values of Jesus’ kingdom. That is where true life and freedom are found!

Finally, welcome to the margins of society. I’m under no illusions that Christians in Australia are a persecuted minority (for goodness sakes we run schools, charities hospitals, have people in the highest levels of government and society), but we are no longer in the cultural ascendancy. Our voice and message is going to be increasingly sidelined and ridiculed. It’s a shame because so much of what makes Australia great comes from our Christian heritage and values. But we will increasingly need to minister and operate from the margins and without power. Around this there is a lot of debate, but I personally don’t think it’s a major problem. While it may be uncomfortable for many of us, it’s good to remember that Jesus started his movement from the fringes and without power. In fact it allows us to proclaim Jesus by living radically set apart lives. We should look very different to the new values of our society, that in turn will not tolerate Christian truth or ethics. The light shines brightest in the darkness!

So… well done Israel Folau on not being ashamed of the gospel. I would encourage us all to minister, like Jesus, with grace and truth, with conviction and with humility. The opportunities are immense, because a world detached from Jesus is given to decay. We have the answers, repent and believe for the Kingdom of God has come in Jesus!

What do you think?


How we are Transformed from Selfishness to Love


So God has called you to a free life… do you believe that? 

The Bible is full of stories and metaphors and explanations of what Jesus has done that speak of being set free. Jesus himself said the Son of Man came to give his life as a ransom for many. In Hebrews it says he has died as a ransom to set us free from our sins…

The question I want to explore is how do we use that freedom? Indeed that is what Paul is speaking about in Galatians 5. He says, “don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom.” (I’m using the Message version today!). Indeed he says, “Use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows… Love others as you love yourself.”

So you can use your new found freedom to do whatever you want and actually end up destroying it… or you can grow in it by learning to love!

You see, we can have these amazing experiences of God at church which is great! But then as you face each week, it is the same temptations, the same mistakes, the same heart. The Apostle Paul puts the struggle this way in Romans 7:18-19 “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.”

I wonder if you can relate to that? You know you are loved by God and set free by God but you find yourself doing the same destructive things in your life…

Maybe it is drinking… you don’t like who you become or how much you consume and yet you find yourself almost powerless when trying to abstain… Maybe it is pornography. Two thirds of men and a fifth of women are regular watchers of pornography and yet despite the facts on what it does to us, our relationships and our minds, people keep logging in… Maybe it’s a temper that explodes at the slightest inconvenience… That is the human condition… we gratify our own desires… we are fundamentally selfish beings.

You know it is funny watching our 3 year old daughter Hope with her toys, especially since our 1 year old son Luca came on the scene. Hope has many good attributes but sharing is not one of them. The other day he came to grab one of the toys she was playing with and whack! You don’t need to teach a child that kind of response… it is like it comes naturally. Of course many of us never really grow up! We never get good at loving others and keep putting our own needs first.

We will look at some of the specifics in other posts, but broadly I want to speak on that movement from selfishness to love…

So what is this selfishness we all have within us?

Selfishness is being concerned excessively for our own advantage, pleasure, or welfare, regardless of others. It is the opposite of altruism or selflessness. It is what causes most relationship breakdowns, it is what leads to greed, a lot of immorality and vice. It is putting yourself constantly first!

In Galatians 5 this kind of selfishness is described as pursuing cheap, loveless sex, cut throat competition, having a brutal temper, having never satisfied wants and so on. And the concern of course is that it hurts us. When I act this way I know I don’t like who I am… but even more so it is the way our selfishness hurts others. I was talking to someone just this week about how their selfishness had left a trail of broken relationships and pain.

The opposite according to Paul is use our freedom to serve one another in love. In 1 Corinthians 13 we are told about this kind of love… it is patient and kind, not keeping records of wrongs… it doesn’t boast or envy, it is not self seeking, it doesn’t flare in anger.

Now when you present it like that… you would have to be some kind of psychopath to want to pursue a selfish life rather than one of love… So what is the issue? Well we find it so hard to do!

Well if this change is going to happen where does it start? 

I believe it starts with God’s unconditional love. It can take a while even if we have been Christians for a long time, to realise that this is where it all starts. So much of our lives is dictated by a performance based acceptance… if we are good we will be loved!

The message of our faith completely turns this upside down! It is Jesus’ performance not ours that sets us free. You see Jesus sets us free by paying the ransom for our sins. God does this as an act of love. The foundation of our lives then becomes not our own performance… but the unconditional love of God.

There seems to be 2 ways to change a persons behaviour – Impose rules or change the heart. The Old Testament has lots of grace in it, but in some ways is an exploration of why the law is powerless to bring real transformation. The people of God are called to be a light to the nations and the means to that is they have the 10 commandments and so on. But there is a difference between knowing what to do and doing it. Indeed it says in the bible that sometimes the law telling us to not do something actually awakens the desire to do it! I remember being at Oxford University and seeing all the ‘Keep Off The Grass’ signs… well I just had to walk on the grass!

So you can hope for transformation by imposing rules… or you can be loved into a new life. Think of it with a teenager. Say the goal is that you don’t want them to be promiscuous – you want to protect them from the obvious harm that being over sexualised and potentially used, can cause. So you could have rules for your girl – no hanging out with boys, no parties, no time out on your own! But usually this is a recipe for disaster! The kid will rebel…

But what about loving them, giving them self worth through words of affirmation, unconditional love, lavish amounts of your time and presence… Here is my guess – they are not going to go looking for that affection elsewhere…

So God goes for the unconditional love… not that he doesn’t give us boundaries within which to flourish… but he knows that it doesn’t change the heart! He says I am going to set you free because I love you unconditionally and from that foundation you can then follow my Spirit into a life of love and personal transformation!

So quickly, what advice does Paul give to us if we want to live freely?

Firstly, serve others in love, that is how freedom grows!

I don’t know how else to say this, except to say it again… your freedom grows by serving others in love! As we learn from Jesus what love looks like and imitate it in our lives… freedom grows! We become more free not by giving into our selfish desires, but by turning outward in love! I wonder what opportunities will be presented to you this week to put this into practice? Putting someone else’s needs before your own? Mine will probably arrives at about 3am when one of the kids wakes up and needs something. Will I let my wife sleep or will I roll over and pretend to be asleep?

Secondly, live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit!

All through the New Testament we are told to be filled by the Spirit, to keep in step with the Spirit, to walk by the Spirit. Simply put that means allowing God to be involved in your thoughts, words and deeds. You see the way we live freely, is that we become so wrapped up in the presence of God that we intrinsically begin to act out of God’s character and nature.

Do you remember a couple of years ago the story of Casey Sullenberger and the Airbus passenger plane landing on the Hudson river? It was pretty cool. Some geese flew into the engine causing him to land immediately. He brought that baby down on the Hudson River, with no casualties…

If it had been a new pilot they say it would have ended in a catastrophe but Captian Sullenberger was so experienced as a pilot that his instincts kicked in and it came naturally to bring the plane down on the river. He didn’t have time to look things up in the Book of Instructions, and he certainly didn’t have time to run a calculation about what would do the most good for the most people. He had to act instinctively, and fortunately, those instincts had been trained by years of practice.

Now translate that into the challenges you face each day to either act selfishly or to act in love. What we want in our lives is to act and live so deeply within this story, keep so in step with God, that you instinctively choose love over selfishness when faced with challenges and temptation…

I remember being on a bucks night in the city a few years ago and as is often the case it ended with a bunch of the guys heading to a strip club. Now a group of the guys who were Christians even went with them, but not for a second did I even consider going along. Why? Well that’s not my story. That is not who I am. I have been set free by Jesus and I live out of a radically different story!

Finally, work it into every aspect of our lives.

Galatians 5:25-26 says, “Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives.”

Abraham Kuyper who was the Dutch Prime Minister from 1901-1905 famously said; “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, does not cry, Mine!”

Imagine your life is like a house with many rooms. When you first meet Christ every single one of those rooms need renovating. When Jesus comes in to your life, he doesn’t want to leave some of those rooms un-renovated. Instead he wants you to invite the presence of God in to transform every part of you! Starting with your heart and leading to your relationships, your work, your sexuality, what you do with your time, your resources and so on… Christ says “Mine!”

The risk is we hold back parts of our lives… but that has a way of infecting every other part of who we are. So work out the life of the Spirit and its implications into every aspect of our lives. That is how freedom grows…

The best prayer you can pray today… and tomorrow… and the day after that…

ML-logocircleWhat is the best prayer that you can pray today… and tomorrow… and the day after that?

It probably relates to the thing that causes us the most mental stress – other people! We are relational beings and so much of what ends up consuming our thought life (and knocking on to the rest of our health) is the grievances, hurts, strains and at times out right conflicts we have with other people. So what should we pray… assuming that we’d rather live at peace with others and with ourselves?

It is little co-incidence that when Jesus taught his disciples to pray it included the line ‘forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.’ It bumps up right against a line about God giving us our daily bread… this is meant to be a prayer that we pray, meditate on, live out, on a daily basis!

Forgiveness is hard work… both the need to extend it to others, and to receive it from people we have hurt… but there is no other short cut to living well. Either we allow the mercy we have received from God to shape us into forgiving people, or we can choose to stay in the place of hurt and bitterness. It is said that forgiveness is as much for ourselves as for those we set free.

At this stage my temptation is to give 327 caveats about forgiveness… What about really serious hurts… What about those who have hurt us who are unrepentant… What about the people we feel deserved what we did to them… These are all good questions – but we are ultimately going to orient our lives in one of two directions. Either we go on the forgiveness journey, or we travel in another, more angry, more bitter, more alienated direction.

I am struck by Jesus on the cross. His fellow citizens have called for his death, his closest friends have largely turned their back on him, his message of mercy seems to have fallen on death ears. And then as a final act he says one more thing; ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.’ It is powerful right? Maybe because we know deep down we will never be as compassionate as our saviour. But what a saviour to follow, what a saviour to be shaped by, what a saviour to lead us in our daily prayer!

Christmas at Manly Life Church

Christmas sand

Join us this Christmas at Manly Life Church as we celebrate the coming of Jesus into the world. We are a church full of life, love and peace! You and your whole family will have a great time with us this Christmas! There will be carols, readings, a kids play and a great message of hope.

Isaiah 9:6 says; “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

That is who we celebrate at Christmas! So come along…

Sunday 20th of December – Manly Life Christmas Celebration, 5pm at Star of the Sea Theatre – corner of Illuka and Collingwood Avenue, Manly.

Thursday 24th of December – Christmas Eve Service, 5pm at Star of the Sea Theatre – corner of Illuka and Collingwood Avenue, Manly.

Building a Strong Marriage House

Last week I wrote about the 4 signs that your marriage needs help. Well, it is time to go on the positive and talk about how to build a strong relationship. Marriage is such a gift from God, and is worth investing in on a daily level. Victoria and I are working our way through these suggestions that Allan Mathews has put together. Allan is married to the wonderful Julie (who is an elder at church) and a trained counsellor. In turn these suggestions come from Professor John Gottman who has mapped which marriages work and last.

There are some great practical things here (more compliments than criticisms) and also some key things that you need to spend time on like working out shared values and beliefs. So… with help from Allan Mathews from church, and using the picture of a house, here are the 3 main areas to build a strong relationship…

So firstly, building the foundation. A good marriage is composed of friendship. These foundation elements are:

  • Build Love Maps – Know your partner intimately. A “love map” is that part of one’s brain where one stores all the relevant information about your spouse’s life, such as their worries, hopes, and goals in life; their history; and the facts and feelings of their world.
  • Share Fondness and Admiration – Nurturing fondness and admiration involves meditating a bit on one’s partner and what makes one cherish him or her. Exercises suggested for doing this include thinking about incidents that illustrate characteristics one appreciates in your partner; talking about the happy events of the past.
  • Turning towards – Turning towards each other means connecting with one’s spouse; being there for each other during the events in each other’s lives; and responding favourably to your spouse’s bids for attention, affection, humour or support.

Secondly, building strong living areas – the places where you daily rub against each other!

The Positive Perspective -. Gottman has a measure that says partners who give more than 5 compliments for every 1 negative comment to each other are up there with the “masters in marriage”. This is the opposite of the two indicators to divorce discussed in part 1 (criticism and contempt).

Managing Conflict Well – You will disagree on a large number of issues, so you will need to manage conflict in a healthy way. There are three parts to this:

Establish dialogue and agree on the rules of how you will discuss conflicts. This is the opposite of the two indicators to divorce discussed in part 1 (defensiveness and stonewalling) which leads to gridlock.

Gridlock occurs when: A conflict makes one feel rejected by one’s partner. They keep talking about the disagreement but make no headway. The partners become entrenched in their positions and are unwilling to budge. When the partners discuss the subject, they end up feeling more frustrated and hurt. The conversations about the problem are devoid of humour, amusement, or affection, and finally, the partners become even more immovable over time.

Conflict resolution involves: Softening the start-up (i.e. leading off of the discussion without criticism or contempt). Making a straightforward comment about a concern and expressing one’s need in a positive fashion. The efforts a couple makes to de-escalate the tension during a touchy discussion. Soothing oneself and one’s partner. Compromising and being tolerant of each other’s faults.

Finally, building a strong roof – the overall meaning of your relationship that you build your life together under!

The final level has to do with creating shared meaning for the marriage that both can share and aspire towards. This consists of:

Creating Shared Dreams – Meshing the couple’s individual life dreams together to create a shared life dream, for the two to work together towards.

Creating Shared Meaning – Meshing rituals of connection, goals, roles, beliefs, narratives, and metaphors.

Is that helpful? Why not take each part of the strong house and discuss with your partner an area each night, for 3 nights. Ask each other, how well do we do these things, and, how could I grow (take turns)?

What is the Christian Faith?

grace treeIf you ask a lot of people what does it mean to be a Christian, they may say ‘being good’ or ‘going to church’, or even ‘being a hypocrite’. The true essence of Christian faith though is very different. In this sermon from Romans 3:21-26, Pastor Tim explains that to be a Christian is to receive from God as a free gift, the righteousness of Jesus instead of our own record. This is grace, and it changes everything.

Have a listen (press play and wait for audio to start) and if you find it helpful, please feel free to share!

4 signs your marriage will break up in 5 years

Marriage Break UpI had a great conversation this week with Allan Mathews from church and a friend who is about to get married. Allan is a trained counsellor and all round wise guy! We ended up speaking about the things that put great strain on a marriage, and the things that lead to a healthy, loving marriage. So, this is part 1 in a little series on marriage (the next one will be the 7 things great marriages have in common).

Every marriage is made of two imperfect people seeking to love each other. I know that the things below can creep into any marriage (um, hello, I thought I invented defensiveness). For all of our good intentions going into marriage we bring different ways of feeling loved, communicating, dealing with conflict and what we think is normal from watching our own parents.

As you read what Allan has sent me, if you recognise some of these traits in your marriage, then don’t be afraid seek some help. We get our cars checked and serviced every year… surely our marriages are even more important, and are worth investing in! So… over to Allan.

The 4 pointers to divorce or relationship break-up in 5 years

After extensive research an American Psychologist John Gottman has put together 4 indicators of a marriage that’s in trouble and will probably end in 5 years. He calls them the four horsemen of the apocalypse.

These indicators are:

Criticism – verbally attacking a partner’s character or personality.

Contempt –  attacking a partner’s sense of self with an intention to insult or psychologically abuse them.

Defensiveness –  seeing yourself as the victim in efforts to ward off a perceived attack and to reverse the blame.

Stonewalling –  Withdrawing from a relationship as a way to avoid conflict in efforts to convey disapproval, distance and separation.

The troubles normally start with one of the above manner of communicating (thinking) and quickly develop into all four. The earlier you recognise that there are issues between you and your partner, and take steps to deal with those issues, the more likely you are to build a sound marriage.

Seeking out help in sorting out issues from a professional counsellor early will save a lot of pain and distress later.

(part two to come…)

10 Great Verses on the Holy Spirit to Fire You Up!

holy-spirit-1yeigvkOK, here we go… 10 of my favourite verses about the Holy Spirit…

1. Ezekiel 36:26 (in which God promises the gift of the Holy Spirit)

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

2. Luke 4:18-19 (in which Jesus reads from Isaiah declaring himself to be the Spirit filled Messiah)

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

3. Luke 11:13 (in which Jesus promises the Holy Spirit to those who ask)

If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!

4. Acts 2:17-18 (in which at Pentecost Peter explains what is going on with everyone receiving the Holy Spirit)

“‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.”

5. Acts 2:38-39 (in which Peter talks about Christians receiving the Holy Spirit for all of time)

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

6. Acts 10:44-46 (in which the Holy Spirit comes to Gentiles and they speak in tongues)

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.

7. 1 Corinthians 12:7… (in which Paul then explains how the Holy Spirit gives miraculous gifts to the church for it’s common good)

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

8. Ephesians 5:18-19 (in which Paul encourages believers to experience the ongoing filling of the Holy Spirit)

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord.

9. Galatians 5:22-25 (in which Paul explains the changed life of the Spirit filled believer and exhorts us to keep in step with the Spirit)

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

10. 2 Timothy 1:7 (in which Paul tells us of the Spirit given to believers)

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self discipline.

… so this is just a few of my favourite verse on the Holy Spirit. What are your favourites?

Facing the awful stuff in life!

CurveballsWe are starting a new series at Manly Life on the major curveballs that get thrown at us in life. If you are going through or have gone through a relationship bust up, or addictions, or depression or bereavement, or serious illness I hope you will find strength, wisdom and comfort in this series. I also hope it might help you navigate life well and that you will be equipped with tools for dealing with these major curveballs.

Or if you have never really faced a big curveball in life… then this series is also important for you! My hope is that you might grow in empathy, that is the ability to understand and share in another’s situation or feelings. Empathy is important as it helps you to enter into anothers pain and show compassion! I also hope you will be equipped as the reality is that you may well face these curveballs in the future.

CS Lewis said; “Hardship often prepares an ordinary person for an extraordinary destiny…” I wonder in your life what is the hardest thing you have ever gone through? I remember flying back into Sydney after 6 years overseas with my Pastor from London. He asked me what the hardest thing I had gone through in life was. At the time it was difficult to answer because to be honest I hadn’t faced any of life’s major curveballs. He said that was fair enough as you don’t go looking for hard times, but on reflection I wonder if he was asking at the time about my readiness to be a Pastor at 26 years if I hadn’t faced many problems… And certainly in Pastoral ministry I have now come up against many of life’s most awful things… sickness, death, relationship break downs…

It’s a strange idea but the bible seems to suggest that it is only really through life’s curveballs being thrown at us that we can develop and grow. In other words, while we may not wish hard things upon our or anyone’s life, there seems to be no other real path to growth. Would you agree?

So what is the hardest thing you have gone through and how did that shape you? We were discussing this at my men’s life group. I think it is fair to say that as group most of us have faced some pretty decent curveballs. There has been relationship break downs, mental health issues, financial stresses, and yet the resounding feeling was that you only grow through hardship.

Well quickly, what are the big stressors in life? According to the Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory the top 10 stresses in life are;

  1. Spouse’s death- bereavement
  2. Divorce
  3. Marriage separation
  4. Jail term
  5. Death of a close relative
  6. Injury or illness
  7. Marriage
  8. Fired from job
  9. Marriage reconciliation
  10. Retirement

What else would you put in there? Mental health issues? Financial pressures, and mortgage stress? Loneliness? We will look at some of these in the coming weeks…

Well firstly, why suffering? If God is good and loving, why would he allow awful curveballs in life? It seems random right… good things can happen to bad people and bad things to seemingly good peopleA traditional Christian understanding has framed it this way; the cause of suffering is sin, the world and spiritual evil…

So firstly, evil: In John 10 – Jesus described the devil as a ‘thief who comes to steal and kill and destroy…’ Do you believe we live in a spiritual world? The devil is described in the scriptures as a lion who is on the prowl looking to devour! CS Lewis said there are two equal and opposite things to be aware of. One is thinking that the cause of everything is a spiritual attack (there is a demon behind every bush). The other is that we live in a neutral or non spiritual world where spiritual warfare is not real. I think the recent killing spree in South Carolina in a historic black church is an example of this kind of spiritual evil.

Secondly the world: Bad stuff like earthquakes happen and circumstantial things get thrown at us. This can sometimes be described as being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Because this world is fallen and broken, bad things happen. This can be on a large scale like the tsunami that struck over a decade ago killing hundreds of thousands. Or on a small scale, you might travel somewhere and pick up an illness that then diminishes your life… Bad things happen!

Thirdly, Sin: the third cause of suffering is our own actions. I think sin can be like shooting ourselves in the foot or a bit like eating a Crispy Cream donut. The first bite is delicious, but it then kind of makes you feel sick… and so you then have some more, thinking I need the sweet taste again… and eventually the result is a stomach ache! Our sin causes us suffering like that. It might start out making you feel good, but even when you realise it is hurting you, you then struggle to stop. It has a hold on your life and it causes all kinds of pain!

So when something goes wrong… say a relationship is seemingly irreparably damaged… it may be one of these things, it may be all three… It may be you come under spiritual attack… It may be that circumstances like loss of job or illness puts incredible strain on things. It may be that one or both of you are just selfish or prone to stray!

But can I say, in any curveball it is not as God intended it… we know that because God is in the business of restoring life, responding to our cries and bringing peace! But, and I do find this difficult to understand too… it is allowed to happen. The result though, and this can be hard at the times to understand, can amazingly still be good things. The revivalist Smith Wigglesworth said: “Great faith is the product of great fights. Great testimonies are the outcome of great tests. Great triumphs can only come out of great trial.” 

The Apostle Paul in Romans 5 says about suffering (in other words going through awful things) that it leads to perseverance, the development of character and ultimately hope! Paul was a guy who in his letter to the Corinthians says he has been hard pressed, perplexed, persecuted, so he knows this, he knows imprisonment and slander. And yet he wrote these inspired scriptures about the Christian life.

It starts with what would seem a strange statement… particularly if you didn’t know the rest of the verse. It says we glory in our sufferings. James in his letter will says something similar. He says consider it joy when you face many trials. Somehow they are suggesting, trials and suffering is used by God to produce something better within us! It will bring us closer to Jesus and help us to become more like Jesus.

So from these sufferings comes perseverance. Well of course it doesn’t have to… it can lead to giving up and despair. But as a Christian we are given strength to keep going. This is about courage and patience in the face of curveballs. So in that developing of perseverance, character is then formed in us.  Can I just say that character is so important! The word used here means ‘character that has been proved.’

I came across this during the week on a Facebook page called Humans of New York…

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The text says, “I’ve been having nerve issues, and this past year it’s gotten so bad that it hurts too much for me to walk. It was completely unexpected. I’ve always been such an optimistic person, but now I’m fighting with depression. He’s doing everything he can to take my mind off of it. We’re not sure if I’m going to get better, but he’s planning a backpacking tour through Europe for when I do. And I told him that I didn’t think I could handle a visit to New York right now, but he told me that he’d push me around the whole city. And he has. And whenever I feel particularly down, he tells me that he’s not going anywhere, and how happy he is that he married me. Not long ago I had a particularly rough period, and when I was at one of my lowest moments, he asked if we could renew our vows.”

 I guess that is what I am talking about with this verse. In the face of this couples undeniable hardship and suffering they have persevered… they haven’t given up… they have kept going! And the result is amazing character! So would this man and woman be the people they are today without the suffering they have gone through? Again, you wouldn’t wish this upon anyone… but it is a part of this life we live and it can lead to incredible perseverance and character.

The final thing then is that it leads to hope. You see as we wait patiently we develop hope for the future and we get in those hardest of times to experience the love of God. It is poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit…

So if you want to grow, if you want to experience God… it most likely will come from enduring great trials and tests in life!

7 years on from being asked that question, I would still say that compared to a lot of people, I have been able to enjoy relative peace and blessing! But the two hardest episodes in my life have also led to the most personal growth and development of my faith! One was a very difficult time at the end of my last church role and the other was my wife’s stroke last year. Thankfully she recovered fully, but in those moments when it looked like she would have permanent brain damage, it was the scariest moments of my life. Would we wish for Victoria to have another stroke or something similar to happen? No! But, I tell you what, faith became real, verses that I had read came alive, depending on God and praying fervently became natural. My love for her and our family grew stronger and I am sure it built a capacity and perseverance in me that otherwise wouldn’t be there. And finally, it did lead to hope, hope of that time to come when every sickness will be healed by God and every painful experience taken away!

So what about you? What is the hardest thing or things that you have ever gone through? And what has it led to in your life?

Let me finish with Philippians 3:10-11 – one of my favourite verses – sums up the Christian life…

Paul says; “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.”

He says he wants to know Christ. My guess is because Jesus is his Lord, his saviour, his good shepherd, his rock and salvation. So he wants to know Christ! And part of that is the power of his resurrection. And who wouldn’t, that is the explosion of new life and power to overcome evil and sickness and death! But it only comes if you have participated in his sufferings. You see there is no resurrection without the cross, there is not testimony without the struggle, there is no victory without the battle. I know many of us are in deep battles right now! May you know Christ… his sufferings, his resurrection… his death and his life!

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