Category Archives: Christian Living

We must be a life-line for those in self-isolation

Whether you’re in Australia, the US, Italy, China, Singapore or Timbuktu, we are all facing the realities of the COVID-19, or corona virus, pandemic. I’m not going to go into the panic buying (although that is shocking) and I’m not going to post prayers as I hope that’s a feature of all our responses as Christians.

What I want to talk about is how we support people in isolation. At the moment that might not be so many, but the number may increase, and potentially quite dramatically.

Parents with kids may look on this with a heavy heart. Some who will be working from home might initially jump at the idea. Some introverts might even look forward to the idea of being able to catch up on all that reading.

But there’s a hidden risk in self-isolation that may only become apparent when we’re in it – and that is an impact to our emotional health and mental well-being.

There are four aspects of this:

  1. We need interaction. Humans are social creatures. Even for us introverts and ambiverts, we need contact and communication. For extroverts, who are energised by being around other people, being stuck in the home can be especially difficult. We can go about our daily routine, work-from-homers can hold our meetings and so on via connective technology, but we’re missing the communication that we get in church, at the play group or at the office that is of vital importance to emotional health and mental well-being. We miss the water-cooler talk, the chats over lunch, the side comments after something funny or annoying happens, the coffee runs, the post-weekend catch ups. In other words, the day-to-day nothingness that enriches our day in community with others. Without it for prolonged periods of time, this can become a slow track into adverse mental health. It provides fertile ground for people being in their own heads too much – unproductive and circular negative thinking – which can lead downwards into depression.
  2. We need a pressure valve. We work in industries and live lives that can involve high pressure situations, whether that means deadlines and aggressive project timeframes, or relentless energy being poured into aging parents or multiple children. One of our coping mechanisms can be the interaction with others in the same situation. It helps us to talk and laugh and blow off steam. Being in isolation can mean that coping mechanism is removed.
  3. People are experiencing fear on top of fear. There have been a lot of scary things happening in the last few months. There’s been the Amazonian and Australian bushfires, floods in Australia and the UK – and now this. These are real life events that we’re used to seeing in disaster movies. Except this is not Hollywood. This is real. This can cause very real feelings of fear and uncertainty. When people are dealing with this on top of their day-to-day real life, this can very quickly become hopelessness. And when people feel hopeless and helpless, they can begin to despair.
  4. The home may represent additional pressure. People’s home lives can come with extra stresses on a normal day, and more so if working/existing in isolation. There could be elderly parents to take care of and kids that becomes extra pressured if fixed within four walls. The home situation might not even be a safe one for them. The world outside the home could be the place that they go to every day that represents safety and security and fellowship. These people could be facing compounded pressures at home during this time that reduces their coping mechanisms. In a time of additional stress and pressure, it could even be a potentially more dangerous place for them.

This sounds very dramatic, but even a fraction of what I’m talking about can mean that we have people working and living in isolation in a way that can have long reaching effects.

As Christians, I would hope that we have a better handle on this supporting people even under normal conditions, let alone a crazy scary time like this. But even we might have to get more creative as we have to limit personal contact and practice social distancing.

What can we do? We need to check in with each other for no reason – create opportunities for that water-cooler talk. Think about doing that over facetime or Skype so you can have a cuppa and see each others faces.

Host a watch party so you can gather as people for something fun and people don’t feel alone. (Even, as a worker from home, host a watch party with you work team of a TED talk or something).

Go back to Old School days and send cards in the mail. Leave notes or flowers or small gifts at people’s doors. Call and pray with people over the phone. Maybe even link everyone in via Skype to have a Bible study – the point is to not just stay connected personally but to stay connected spiritually. When we are under pressure, when there is fear and uncertainty, our faith can take a battering. Remember in the Garden – “Did God really say….?”. All it takes is a shadow of doubt and our faith can fade into the noise of panic. Let God’s light shine in the darkness, even when we are hard pressed on all sides – and help each other to do it. Lets get creative in our care.

There are a lot of ways we can stay connected even when we are far apart. As a community of believers, this is an area we can excel. We are called to have mercy and compassion. Lets get creative with our application so in these uncertain times, we can glorify God and express His character through our outstanding and visible kindness and thoughtfulness.

Between Christianity and feminism: Where is a womans’ place now?

Continuing a theme from this week which started with Do we still need International Women’s Day and What are Christians to make of gender equity in the workplace, I wanted to explore this issue of where a woman’s “place” is. In my reading I’ve come across opinions that are pretty unequivocal in Christian writings on one hand and “Big F” Feminism on the other. A woman’s place is in the home, they say. Feminism has destroyed the family and puts pressure on women to be working when what they really want is to tend to a godly hearth and home. A woman’s place is wherever she wants, say others. Christianity has suppressed and oppressed a woman’s natural desire to do valuable work in the world.

Far out! What are we to make of that?

Well, OK, lets ask the question – is there a prohibition in the Bible on women working outside of the home? Not that I can see, although some would argue with that. Advocates of the “woman’s place is in the home” paradigm lean on Titus 2:1-5:

You, however, must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine. Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance.

Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.

It’s important to see that this is not prescriptive – it is not a universal command but relates to the character of the people Paul is talking about. Why do I say that? Because scripture is littered with women who have a variety of occupations outside the home and Paul mentions no censure of them:

  • In the Old Testament, we see women with many jobs – not least of which is the famous Proverbs 31 woman who buys and sells land and goods ‘sees that her trading is good”
  • In the New Testament we see some women were servants (see Rhoda in Acts 12:13) and Lydia was a dealer in purple cloth (Acts 16:14-15)

In addition, in New Testament times, women worked in a variety of professions including artisanal work, shop keepers, fullers and dyers and many more. So women working was not at all uncommon and Paul is not talking to some Utopian ideal. He is speaking to character and a reverence for God’s created functional order (which can be observed in our occupations outside the home as I discussed here).

Women working has been a reality of life since the beginning. Women worked when there was a need. Through time, this has included many money making occupations within or associated with the home. For example, women were wool makers, carders and dyers, weavers, bakers, dressmakers – and yes OK, we might not find those terribly scintillating but theses were honest to goodness professions. As Dorothy L Sayers (who was a strong Christian and did not identify as a feminist) helpfully points out in her 1938 essay “Are Women Human?”:

“It is all very well to say that woman’s place is in the home – but modern civilisation has taken all these pleasant and profitable activities out of the home, where the woman looked after them, and handed them over to big industry, to be directed and organised by men.” She continues, “It is perfectly idiotic to take away woman’s traditional occupations and then complain because she looks for new ones

Part of the Christian focus on marriage is also a cultural hangover from the Reformation. The reformers (principally Martin Luther and Martin Bucer) exalted marriage to a status just below scripture itself. I am not exaggerating. They believed that the marriage relationship and family unit was where God’s work would be achieved and where culture would change. Bear in mind the culture they wished to change was built on the corruption of the Medieval church and which they felt needed to be revolutionised through a re-focus on scripture and the familial unit among other things.

As a Reformed Evangelical, I’m a mad fan of the reformers but this particular one created a hierarchy of purpose that echoes down to today. This exaltation of marriage has hangovers still in our churches, leaving many with the feeling that singleness is the entry level with progressive level-ups through “work”, and then “married-and-working” with the highest level at “married-with-kids-and-not-working” which is second only to paradise in the presence of God.

On the other hand, separate to the relentless onward march of progress, the women’s movement has opened doors to opportunities that were denied women for centuries. In so doing, women who would rather make their occupation in the home do feel under great pressure and can be made to feel as though they are wasting themselves, and somehow should be obligated to do “valuable” work outside the home.

This is a very poor outcome of feminism and I find that very disappointing. It is by no means an across-the-board reaction within the women’s movement but it can be a damaging by-product. Particularly because this leaves women in an impossible situation. Women already feel guilty if they leave their children to go back to work (even when they love their work and really want to). They also feel guilty when they don’t work and choose to support their children full time through the formative years.

The Bible does focus on the family to a certain extent. Partially this is cultural (the ancient near east was built on familial clans and tribes) and women’s work was more limited. But also God’s creation itself began with the man-woman relationship and their first command is to go do some procreating. God’s people is built on the idea of family.

In addition, God’s teaching comes through the parents. In Proverbs there is an exhortation to heed the teaching of both father and mother (see Proverbs 1:8 and 23:22 as examples). This is striking because in the rest of the ancient near east, the mother is absent from these kinds of wisdom exhortations. God sees this teaching in his ways as a joint effort – built through the family unit. So just as the Bible does not censure women who work outside the home, there is also a strong family component to biblical teaching – not at the exclusion of all else though. The Bible still illuminates the power and potential in young single people and widow(ers) and the church family to whom we are not biologically related, but to whom we are deeply spiritually related under Christ.

The point is that both/either is OK. The Bible does not censure women for working so if you want to (or for many of us, need to), then we should not feel guilty as Christians for doing so. And we can take advantage of the opportunities afforded us through the women’s movement – even more so now as flexible working conditions become more available to us so we can balance work and family far more readily (although this is not the norm yet). By the same token, a focus on the family is biblically good. We see this time and again in scripture. If you don’t have to work and would rather focus on home (which is a full time job in itself) and even volunteer in ministries at church, that is a great and wonderful thing – but there is no hierarchy of purpose and we should be clear on that, lest we fall into legalism. We know what pleases God and it isn’t the outward trappings of where we work and what we do – it is the demeanor of our hearts, curved towards Him.

So, as with many things, the reality lies somewhere in between the two extremes. Women being in the home is not prescriptive. Women being out in the world is not a command. What is important is how you build your house. A fall-back should always be Psalm 127:1 “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain.” How do we build our home through the lens of God? How do we do our work through the lens of God? Do we keep a godly focus on the family even though we have/want to work? How do we build the work/home balance so we are still (to the best of our ability and among the realities of life) expressing obedience and humility to God?

Sometimes asking ourselves these questions might result in some changes being made so we can be more intentional in what we are doing. We also need to support the women around us who may be feeling the pressure both ways – whether they are working outside the home or within it. We should support women who – married or unmarried – don’t or can’t have children and so feel the extra pressure of not conforming to this “woman in the home” picture.

Both work and home can be done obediently and in humility. Both have value. Both can glorify God. And we should support each other to do this.

So the question as to where a woman’s place is needs to be shifted. We need to ask:

Whether at work, or in the home, or both, are we glorifying God in everything we do?

How are Christians to make sense of gender equity in the workplace?

The gender debate is everywhere these days and there are great discussions about many issues facing women. As Christians, many seem obvious to us in how we deal with them as the Bible provides us at least some guidance. Other areas are less clear though. What about gender equity in the workplace? Once we get outside of church and family, the Bible does not provide clear guidance, so how are we to apply godly wisdom here?

First, in the interests of full disclosure, I am a complementarian. That means I believe that men and women were created with equal value and dignity. Their complementarity is found in their functional difference – we complement each other. I believe this functional difference is expressed in male leadership and authority – but I do not believe that functional difference in any way diminishes woman. We are equal and different. I believe this functional difference is seen in the Trinity – the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are equal and ontologically the same (ie they are the same in their being) and yet have a functional difference.

I acknowledge that there are other views of the man-woman relationship and my declaration of complementarianism is in no way a slight to my egalitarian sisters. Because we are sisters in Christ and we will all be worshiping together in heaven.

As a complementarian though, believing in male leadership, how do we view the gender pay gap? How do we view female leadership in the workplace? Does that mean we can’t be project manager, team leaders, senior managers and CEOs?

Lets go first to the gender pay gap. The pay gap exists for a number of reasons and so is not easily explained or swept away. But lets take some of the reasons:

  1. If a woman is paid less than a man for doing the same work, that is not an expression of submission, it is an expression of outright sexism and is not just wrong, it is illegal under gender discrimination law. Women are called to submit to their husbands – not all men. There’s a lot in the submission issue alone and you can read more on it here in a previous blog.
  2. Women tend to drop back or out of the workforce after having children. Partially that’s by choice as our priorities change, but partially that’s because flexible working conditions don’t exist for many. Without the ability to work part time or work from home, women are left with lesser paying jobs. Again, while I fully support women’s changing priorities in support of the family (I’ve done it myself!), I find many workplace responses discriminatory – which is not biblical. Women tend to “submit” in this scenario because they have no choice.
  3. Women still carry the bulk of domestic work and primary care of the children even when working equal days to the partner. Again, this may be a choice and I fully support that. I also know many women who wanted to re-join the workforce after having their kids and found that their male colleagues could freely move around for work because they had wives to take care of the domestic scene. Women don’t have this fall-back, and so become restricted in their ability to contribute.

There are many other reasons for the gender pay gap but what I think can be seen is that it exists because women are functionally and biologically different (we have children) and because we are emotionally and mentally different (even without children, we make different choices, have different values and respond emotionally differently to things).

That said, those differences should not result in a lesser financial value of the female workforce. And this goes for the secular workforce as well as in churches and Christian institutions. Paying women less, financially, in fringe benefits, opportunities or resources, de-values her work and de-values her person. It says she is not as valuable as her male colleagues. It says that her work is not as important. And this is not a biblical picture.

It does not overturn God’s created relationships if we seek equal pay and seek to close the gender pay gap. Equal pay is about equality of being, not her function. In fact, if we see this kind of discrimination, we should stand up for those women. This shows clearly that they are of equal creation, value and dignity.

How about women leading teams and being in management positions? Because this speaks more to function, this would seem less clear. The Bible only shows two categories for male-female relationships – father/daughter and husband/wife. There is no category for women and men in the workplace. However, in Carrie Sandom’s Different by Design, she helpfully reviews biblical wisdom that can be applied in the workplace. We are going to be lawyers and doctors and vice-principals and cafe owners and project managers. We are going to be team leaders and managers with men under our authority. We should not feel compelled to remove ourselves from these situations. However, how we conduct ourselves is key. We can apply the servant leadership that we see in Jesus. We can approach leadership with missional motherhood. We can interact with people with gentleness and humility that means we can fulfill our work obligations (and excel) but is supportive to God’s designed creation.

There are many ways I think we can apply this in the workplace. It takes some thought on our part to think through how it would apply in our context. It takes prayer and intentionality. We think often about how we are building God’s house in our homes. How are you building God’s house at your workplace?

This takes wisdom, humility and great strength on our part. But Jesus never promised that following him would be easy. At the same time, Jesus also never said we should be meek women without voices.

Many things occur because we think they might upset our biblical responsibilities. Many things occur because we have been told that they will. But this is where we need to be clear about what is biblical, and what is just discrimination.

Biblical wisdom and humility must be our baseline. God must be our guide. Supporting gender equity in the workplace does not subvert His created order. If we apply our godly obedience in the workplace, we can even amplify His created order. Because we will look different to the world. People will see Him in how we conduct ourselves.

The prayer which gives an instant diagnostic on the health of my faith

We’ve all had those dark times. The relationship that fails. The job opportunity that disappears. The medical results that will blow your reality apart. The financial hits that keep coming.

When I had that time in my life, I leaned on God like I had never leaned on him before – not because I was an amazing disciple, but because it was instinct, and it was because he was all I had. I absolutely had nothing else to lean on.

I would pray every day for things to get better. They didn’t for a long time and for a while got worse. On one hand it felt like he was stripping things away from me. On the other it felt like he was preparing me for something. But, I remember thinking at the time, is that what we tell ourselves when things are not going as we had hoped? Is that the comfort we give ourselves? Like we are some kind of walking inspirational meme?

But we can’t think like that, because its by faith that we lean on God and trust that in his sovereignty he is working things for his own plans and purposes. If we discount that as false self-comfort, we are discounting faith. Believing in God’s sovereignty and providence is an entirely biblical premise.

Paul in Romans 8 talks about his present sufferings being nothing compared to the glory to come. And he talks about the Spirit helping us and interceding for us when we don’t even have the words to say.

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:26-28)

I remember not knowing what to pray for and starting to pray the Lord’s prayer. I felt so helpless, I didn’t even have my own words.

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one. (Matthew 6:9-13)

When I got to the bit about “your will be done” I couldn’t go on. Everything is his will – what if he was stripping things away from me? What if he was pushing me somewhere I didn’t want to go? What if he was pushing me towards something I didn’t want to do? What if the worst possible situation that I could imagine was his will?

Here’s the thing though. I was scared of God’s will because it was not my will. My will was about things getting easier as quickly as possible. His will for my life could be anything.

I didn’t know what God’s will for me was, but I knew it was more intricate and applied with infinite knowledge and wisdom. And I knew it is for my good.

That didn’t make it any easier but it started to help my mental processes and my spiritual strength. It meant I could pray for God’s will to be done, but ask for it to come with the kindness of strangers, or for it to play out with some help and guidance. I realised its OK to ask for things like that. Because the main thing is in praying for God’s will to be done and to believe it will be done.

And thats when I realised that this was revealing something quite amazing about the health of my faith. I was scared of praying for God’s will because I believe that it will be done.

That realisation gave be a feeling of enormous spiritual strength. I believe. Among the darkness and chaos and uncertainty, my faith was so strong that I truly believed God’s will would be done in my life. I believed it so much I was scared to pray it because I knew it would happen and that there was a possibility it wouldn’t align with my will for my life.

The confidence it gave me was huge. The strength it gave me was massive. I could pray to God for his will to be done, knowing my faith was strong and that he would eventually work all things for my good because I love him.

Now, with my life far more settled, I don’t know if what I’m living at the moment is God’s ultimate will or what comes next will be – who knows? But I have seen his divine providence over the years and I believe that he has, and is, working for my good.

From time to time now I pray the Lord’s Prayer – its a good thing to do, but it also gives me an instant diagnostic about how my faith is. Do I still feel scared to pray that his will be done in my life? If it is, I know I am close to him. If it isn’t, or isn’t as strong, I know I might be slipping into spiritual laziness.

Not that I want to be scared of God’s will as a punitive or disciplinary thing – merely that to be fearful of God’s will means being open to God pushing me outside of my comfort zone. It means knowing that God’s will for my life (which could be anything) takes precedence over my will for my life (which involves a lot more comfort and security). And that, to me, is scary.

So, if I feel my fear of the Lord slipping into complacency, I go back to scripture. I go to Exodus, I go to Psalms, I go to the cross. Anything that drives me back to God’s infinite power, sovereignty, love and grace.

That’s where I see his love for me. That’s where I draw my comfort – not in his ability to give me a comfy life, but in his salvation of the whole world, and the intricate working of his activity in our day to day lives.

If I could be anyone, I’d be Lucy Pevensie

I daydream sometimes. Sometimes its replaying events of the day and all the awesome things I should have said. Sometimes I imagine myself as the heroine of a great story where I’m winning the court case, or saving the children or winning the battle against the orcs. I’m Cate Blanchett in The Lord of the Rings. I’m Peggy Carter in Captain America. I’m clever, strong, beautiful, sassy, feminine and mysterious.

But then someone posed the question to me who was my greatest hero, and if I could be them, who would I be?

For me, there is only one – Lucy Pevensie. Cast your mind back to your childhood days. Lucy is the 8 year old girl who first discovers Narnia in C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.

Image result for lucy pevensie

Source: costumes.narniaweb.com

Lucy is the littlest and the most courageous of all the Pevensie children. She is the most steadfast, the most loyal and the most faithful. She is beautiful and innocent and brave. “I think – I don’t know – but I think I could be brave.” she says in her little voice. “If you were any braver you’d be a lioness.” Aslan tells her later.

In Prince Caspian, when the children have returned to Narnia, she alone can see Aslan because her heart is strong and her faith is pure. “You’re by my side. Even when I can’t see you, even when I can’t understand.” she says.

She believes with her whole heart and never wavers in her faith that Aslan will be there to support and save them.

Of course C. S. Lewis wrote the Narnia books with allegorical intent – Aslan is the messianic form of Jesus who is betrayed in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but gives his life for many. After his cruel death, he rises again. In The Horse and His Boy, when Shasta, the main character, finally meets Aslan, it might be the testimony of Lewis himself retelling his meeting with Jesus. There is a moment in The Magician’s Nephew when all creation is brought into being that is very reminiscent of the creation account in Genesis. All the Narnia books along the way contain snapshots of Jesus, grace, triumph over evil and salvation.

This gives Lucy her extra fascination for me. With her valiant heart and quiet faith, she has a special relationship with Aslan. It reminds me strongly of Jesus’ words in the gospels:

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14)

The littlest people – the ones who are supposed to be quiet and unobtrusive, the ones who are seen as annoying and frivolous, who are silly and naive – these are the very same ones that have the strongest confidence and the fiercest faith. They are the ones God gathers to Him.

Its almost as though Lewis is giving us a picture of what our aspiration should be – us adults who think we are so clever and strong and have it all worked out.

Lucy gives me a ideal to aspire to. She’s a reminder of all the places where I let life get in the way of my faith. When I think of the children coming to Jesus, I think of Lucy.

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:1-3)

Courage. Loyalty. Integrity. Faith. Innocence not cynicism.

The littlest are the greatest.

It makes me look at myself and how I relate to God. Does my faith drown out my adult cynicism? Does my faith give me courage to do what God wants of me? Am I loyal to God above any other person or thing in my life? When I look at Him does He fill my whole view? Or do I have half a mind on my life and half an eye on my idols?

It makes me look at my children and how I see them relating to God. They have much of Lucy and there’s much that rebukes and corrects me in their attitudes. God is so much bigger in their eyes. I don’t mean that in a cartoon way, I mean that my cynicism has diminished God’s size. My God is too small sometimes. I forget how much power and sovereignty and grace and love He has. Children know it. I have to remember.

So its time to go back to the beginning. Its time to go back to the cross. Remember God’s bigness. Remember God’s tenderness.

And in a world where we could be Black Widow, Wonder Woman or Captain Marvel – lets be Lucy Pevensie.

 

 

 

 

We need more men (and women) to be outraged

This week, Hannah Baxter and her three children (aged 6, 4 and 3) were murdered by being burned alive in their car on what was supposed to be a routine school run. The murderer was Hannah’s ex-husband and father to the three children.

Something like this happens every week here in Australia. In other countries it is more often. Here in Australia, this is relatively ubiquitous news but every so often, as was the case with this one, the country is shocked. There is a conversation about why our domestic violence statistics are so high. There is a vigil. Then nothing happens. Until the next time a woman is murdered.

As I read the opinion pieces, I feel myself swinging between sadness over such a senseless tragedy, anger and outrage that nothing ever seems to happen and so nothing ever changes, and heart-soreness and despair over the lack of voice for women. Are we so dispensable? Are we just to accept that this just the kind of thing that can happen to us?

Is verbal abuse, put downs, physical, emotional, sexual abuse and possibly murder, just something we have to accept as being part of the female existence?

How can this be? How can we be OK with this as a status quo?

The opinion pieces are largely written by women who are expressing their outrage. Unfortunately, outraged women can be sidelined easily – they are banging on again. Of course they are outraged, they are always outraged by this kind of thing.

Women’s anger is seen as un-womanly. It’s screechy and inappropriate. It apparently shows we are overly emotional, irrational and out of control. But women’s outrage and anger has been, throughout history, channeled to effect enormous social change. Women’s outrage has awarded women the vote, it has changed legislation that is discriminatory and unprotective of the disadvantaged, it has started charities, it has opened orphanages and hospitals.

But when it comes to the protection of women in society, women’s outrage can only achieve so much. We need the men to be outraged too.

Where are all the outraged men?

Seriously, where are you?

I need to be clear here – there are many outraged men, and there are many men working tirelessly in the background to make a positive and lasting change, in individuals lives and in our culture. We won’t hear from these people necessarily, but they are there. And many face this issue head on every day in their jobs. I can’t even imagine what they go through and how they process those emotions.

What I mean by this is a call to action for men who could do something but might not be currently – for varied and valid reasons.

If anything is going to change, we need more men to be outraged by this status quo too. If its just women publicly outraged by the abuse and murder of other women, the whole debate can be put on one side as a “women’s issue”. By its very nature then, the issue can be largely ignored.

But this is an everybody issue. It’s a societal issue. It’s our sons and brothers and fathers and nephews and Bible study participants and co-workers and friends. This is not about women protecting women but everyone protecting women. It’s also about all of us together, and with men leading the charge, modelling and teaching other men what is acceptable and appropriate behaviour. It is about men calling out other men when they are saying words or displaying behaviour that is not OK. This is about men being real men.

This is even more so for Christian men. Let me explain.

The death of Hannah Baxter and her children, the death of those other women every week, the beating and violent oppression of women breaks God’s heart. It is contrary to everything He wants for us and it is an injustice that carries the full weight of God’s outrage.

God made men and women equal in dignity and value. This alone should make men feel equally responsible for their lives (and equally outraged at their murder). The Old Testament is full of God’s view of justice (Exodus 22:22 and Deuteronomy 10:18 are prime examples of God’s exhortation to care for the poor, disadvantaged, fatherless and alone). In the New Testament, men are to care for their women like Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25). Christ died for the church. That’s how sacrificial the love of woman is in God’s eyes.

Many of our men are absolutely trying to live to these principles. My words are are a plea to those who may not be, or may not be thinking about it.

God gives men a higher bar. He gives men the bar that Christ himself stretched to – sacrifice of total self.

That being the case, how can we support outraged Christian men to act and to speak publicly as many women are doing? Many aren’t, for many reasons. I wonder if partially it might be that the news is ubiquitous. It might be that feeling that it’s someone else’s story and doesn’t really have anything to do with them personally. It might be a sense of “What can I do?”. I get that. That’s understandable. For all of us.

But it is your story. It’s all of our story. It’s your responsibility because God has called you to be a leader and protector. We can’t do this on our own. We need you.

I don’t know what you can do but perhaps, you could talk about it with your Bible study – just raising awareness and the level of discussion among men (particularly Christian men) would be a great start. Talk about it with your spouse – how can you parent or be friends in a way that starts to correct culture?

Can you start raising your own voice? Can you, as a group of Christian men, talk to your ministers and ask, as a community of God’s men, what you can do? What can your church do? Can you, as a church and as individuals, write to your local member? Exercise your democratic voice? I am going to start writing to my State and Federal members and anyone else I can think of. It’s only me and it’s a start. But what if we all did it? And what if it wasn’t just women but hundreds of men raising their voices too?

What can you do in your workplace? Can you be the one to ask if there is a domestic violence policy? Can you champion it? Can you open the discussion with other men in your business to talk together about what you can do to be aware, protective and supportive of women?

What else can we do? Do you, or your business, have any influence or contacts that could support channels of change?

I don’t know what the answer is. But the more men that make themselves seen and heard being outraged by this issue and willing to stand up against it alongside women, the greater the waves of change will occur.

But I know that something needs to happen. If Hannah Baxter and her poor children’s death goes the way of all others, we’ll be upset for a bit but then nothing will happen until another woman is brutally murdered. The only way things change is to show that men will no longer tolerate this, and are wiling to stand up and do something about it.

Anger that leads to the kind of violence we are talking about is so wrong. But anger that is channeled through outrage to effect change is so positive. We need all of us to express outrage publicly that I’m sure so many have inside. We need you to show it publicly. We need you to feel compelled to stand and act.

We cannot do this alone. Please – let’s work together to change what breaks God’s heart.

An open letter from a happy single person on Valentine’s Day

It’s the week before Valentine’s Day. It must be because I’ve started seeing articles and memes about being kind to, and thoughtful of, all the lonely miserable single people. And no doubt that is a thing. Valentine’s Day for many is a reminder of all the things you don’t have. That can be excruciating. Especially when everything everywhere is geared towards rubbing it in your face – 2 for 1 deals for you and that special someone, people forever asking “What are you doing for Valentine’s Day” and even worse, posting their romantic excesses on Facebook. It triggers an extra loneliness because every other day of the year you might feel alone, but on this particular day, you feel super lonely.

We absolutely need to be sensitive to people’s needs around this time.

But lets not assume that every single person is lonely and miserable. I’m single-again (divorced) and decided from the get-go that I would not be in another relationship. So if I was not going to be in a relationship, that means a deliberate choice for single and celibate.

But I am generally a very content alone person. I am happy to be on my own and have a community of Christian brothers and sisters who I can spend time with if I choose. I suppose I miss companionship from time to time – someone to tell about your day, someone to watch TV with, someone to cook with. I guess I feel it the most when times are hard. There’s nobody to fall back on, no one to support you. You have only your own mental and emotional resources and it can be exhausting.

But that doesn’t happen that often in the grand scheme of things and on the whole, I’m very content in my life choice.

How do you “get” that kind of satisfaction? It could be age. Or experience perhaps. It helps that I’m generally very satisfied in my own company. But I have something else. I am content with Jesus.

I can almost hear everybody’s eyes rolling at this point.

I’m not saying “Jesus is my boyfriend” and I’m not saying he is my imaginary friend. I’m saying that an overall happiness in the knowledge of God seeps into a more general state of peace and contentment.

I am also not saying its a silver bullet – an easy fix to “the problem of singleness”. Because it definitely isn’t. Like I said above, some weeks are really hard.

What I am saying is that I don’t see my singleness as a problem. It was my personal choice on theological grounds, but I didn’t (and don’t) see it as a self-flagellating abstinence for the sake of the kingdom.

I see my singleness for what it is – a personal choice, guided by scripture, as to how to live my life.

This seems counter cultural. Our lives are generally focussed on pairing up. It’s a societal norm and cultural expectation. Not being married is to be lacking in something. To not want to be married is something that’s a bit weird.

But Jesus was single.

It’s interesting that in the early church, it was actually celibacy that was exalted to rock-star status. By the time of Martin Luther (and ever since), the pendulum has swung the other way, with the exaltation of marriage. This is problematic in many ways as our churches can be places of great community for families, but much less so for singles, who are seen as “in waiting” til they have spouses of their own.

I’m not waiting. I’m happily single and celibate for the sake of the gospel. I read a lot and I get to know Jesus a little bit more every day, and it is vastly and peacefully satisfying.

I’m not living in a cloister though. I’m living in the world with two kids and a full time job, so how I live out my singleness is just as haphazard and chaotic as anyone else living out their situation.

I live my singleness much the same way that anyone else lives their family situation. It’s not better or worse, its just my life. And I am quite content in it.

So come this Valentine’s Day, if you’d like to know what I’ll be doing – I’m going to see a movie with a mate. It’s an early show because one of my favourite things is also going to bed early, drinking tea and watching TV or reading a book. (Side note: as a younger adult I loved that I could go to bed whenever I wanted. Back then it meant 2 or 3 in the morning. Now it means 9pm).

But, if you need a pick me up, I can highly recommend 7 Myths about Singleness by Sam Alberry. It is solid, biblical, wise and insightful and really should be read by singles and non-singles, because as Alberry points out, everyone will be single again at some point.

Growing in Christ-likeness doesn’t mean giving up your personality

Do you snort when you laugh? Do you get frustrated with your kids? Does your house look like a bomb site? Do you like a drink with dinner? Do you like dressing up? Do you laugh at slightly inappropriate things? Does the odd swear word slip out?

You’re not alone.

A follower recently reached out expressing anxiety and confusion about what she was supposed to look like as a follower of Christ. And she is not alone either.

The anxiety comes from two things. First, we compare ourselves to others. Second, we know that we are not matching up to what we see in the Bible.

Let’s take comparison. We all know we do it, and we all know it’s a fatally flawed way of looking at the world. But we still do it. We compare ourselves to those people in church who are just amazing at doing Christian life. We compare ourselves to Instagrammers who post filtered shots of themselves hanging out in a beautiful garden with coffee and a Bible. We compare ourselves to the people we see on Facebook who talk about how intentional they’re being in their Christian parenting or how blessed they are to be serving madly at everything.

That’s not me, we think. I feed my kids toast for dinner when I’m too tired to cook. I waste too much time looking at cat videos when I’m lying in bed at night, knowing I should be going to sleep. I like to hang out with the girls over a drink and laugh a little bit too loudly. I’m not godly. I’m not this picture of quiet Christian respectability.

When we compare ourselves to what we see in the Bible, we feel inadequate, small, helpless. I don’t have the faith of the bleeding woman or the disciples that drop everything and go, or Paul, or Barnabas or Timothy. They gave everything. They lived their faith deeply and passionately.

That’s not me, we think. I like wearing nice clothes. I like going out for dinner. I like having enough money to go on holiday.

Here’s the thing though. We need to stop trying to measure up to other people. Firstly, because they have their stuff going on as well. They aren’t perfect. And if they are further along the Christian journey that us, we need to look to them for inspiration, not comparison. Talk to them. Learn from them. But see them as the real, flawed humans that God knows they are. Only God is perfect.

Also, have confidence in yourself. In 1 Corinthians 15:10 Paul says “By the grace of God I am what I am.” God made us in his image and He saved us at our most broken. We are how we are because of God and He loves us. And we are jars of clay (2 Corinthians 4:7-9) – we are supposed to be jars of clay! So we don’t glory in our brokenness, but we can recognise it and take heart that God loves us and chose us because of who we are in and of ourselves, not in spite of what we’ve become.

That’s not to say we can’t improve. We should and we must. But not because we come out unfavourably by comparison to other flawed humans – because we are so deeply grateful to God that it spurs us to action. This spur is a response to what God has done. If we don’t feel this spur, then we need to go back to the cross. It means we have forgotten (as humans are prone to do) or drowned out the truth of the cross with the noise of the world. We need to re-remember and re-orient ourselves back to Him.

We also need to be close enough to Him (through prayer and mediation) and His word (through Bible reading, church and small groups) to be able to self-reflect. I am me, by the grace of God I am what I am – but where are my rough edges? Where do I need to rein in my worldliness? We do this by looking at our motivations. You might like to wear nice clothes. That in and of itself is not a bad thing. But are you wearing them because you are wanting to attract attention? Are you wearing them to show off?

Similarly, if you’re posting things on Facebook, is it to share joyfully? Or deep down, is it to show off? To make others feel a little jealous?

If we look at our motivations honestly, it will show us where our rough edges and blind spots are – where we need to do some business with God and ask the Holy Spirit to help us progress this good work that Jesus started in us. It is OK to be motivated by taking pleasure in things God has blessed us with. It’s not OK to want to dabble in sinfulness, or lead others into sinfulness too. That’s a sign our hearts are not where they should be – and again, we need to go back to the cross.

J. C. Ryle in his book Holiness (I HIGHLY recommend reading it – it speaks beautifully and truthfully into this issue) says “A true Christian is one who has not only peace of conscience, but war within. He may be known by his warfare as well as by his peace.”

This is so true. We have the peace of God, and yet we struggle with our sinfulness. And bizarrely, that’s a good sign. It means we are aware of humanity’s proneness to wander. It means we are struggling with things we are supposed to be struggling with. But the struggle is not the star of the show. God is.

This is a journey and the focus is God. See my awesome sketch below showing the journey…..

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We are broken and imperfect but we are justified. We are sinful but we are being sanctified. And Jesus will complete this good work in us but we have agency and the ability to make choices.

This does not mean that a sanctified person becomes some kind of Christian robot. We are not all supposed to be clones. You are YOU. God loves us in all our uniqueness and rubbishness. In God we can be more ourselves than anywhere else because He knows us inside out – there is no hiding from Him.

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10).

The Christian journey is not about fading into the shadows so that we all merge into an amorphous Christian blob. We let our sinfulness diminish as our focus on Christ increases. And we keep our unique personality and experience that has shaped us, just re-oriented toward God, rather than ourselves. That remains just as unique and individual in how that re-orientation is expressed in your life through your personality.

Self-reflect. Learn. Grow. Sanctify. Be yourself, but be yourself for God. And you will be more you than you ever were before.