The ‘P’ word

Last Sunday I spoke at our church on the subject of Pornography.  Pornography has been around for centuries, but it has never been so widespread and prolific as it is today.  Today we have the internet.  That means any child, teen or adult can instantly stream on to their computer, phone or tablet, graphic sexual images and videos, without anyone knowing about it.

How bad is it?  It’s really bad.  And it’s not just the religious moral right who are concerned.  Health professionals and educators concerned, because they see how it’s messing up peoples’ lives.  Doctors and neurosurgeons are concerned because they are seeing what porn is doing the brain.

Porn Facts & Stats

If you think I’m overstating or overplaying this in some way, have a look at some of these statistics.  These are the most recent I could find.  They are all based on credible studies carried out in 2016 and 2017.

  • In 2016, people watched 4.6 billion hours of pornography at just one website (the biggest porn site in the world). That’s 524,000 years of porn or around 17,000 complete lifetimes.
  • 61% of pornography is watched on a mobile phone. In the United States that is as high as 70%.
  • The average age of first exposure to Internet porn is 11 years old.
  • Pornography has typically been considered the domain of men, but its use is rising among women. Today, 33% of women aged 25 and under go searching for porn at least once per month.
  • 62% of teens and young adults have received a sexually explicit image. 41% have sent one, usually to their boyfriend or girlfriend.
  • 36% of young adults watch pornography to get tips or ideas that they can apply to their own sexual relationships.
  • 96% of young adults are either encouraging, accepting, or neutral in their view toward pornography.
  • 64% of Christian men and 15% of Christian women view pornography at least once a month.
  • Out of 1351 pastors surveyed, 54% said they had viewed internet pornography within the last year, and 30% of these had visited within the last 30 days.

Porn and the Brain

It gets worse.  Pornography is also highly addictive.  Counselors knew this, as they began seeing the very same traits in the people they were counseling as drug addicts.  Neurological research has revealed that the effect of internet pornography on the human brain is just as potent – if not more so, than addiction to cocaine or heroin.

And here’s how it works: deep inside the brain, there’s something called a “reward centre.”  You’ve got one. Your dog has got one.  The reward centre’s job is to release “pleasure” chemicals into your brain whenever you do something healthy (like eating tasty food or doing a workout).  The “high” you get from that chemical rush makes you want to repeat the behaviour.  Thanks to your reward centre, your brain is hardwired to motivate you to do things that will improve your health and chances of survival.  It’s a great system… normally.  The problem is, the brain can be tricked.

When addictive substances are used (like drugs or tobacco), they give the brain a “false signal.”  Since the brain can’t tell the difference between the drugs and a real, healthy reward, it goes ahead and activates the reward centre.  An important chemical is released called dopamine, which makes the brain start developing a craving for the fake reward.  So the consumer keeps pursuing more and more of whatever it is he is craving.

Continued exposure to porn, especially for long periods of time, releases surge after surge of dopamine, giving the brain an unnatural high.  The brain eventually fatigues, limiting the release of dopamine, leaving the viewer wanting more but unable to reach a level of satisfaction.  This is called desensitization.  Everyday pleasures begin to lose its lustre – including sex – and the viewer expands their pornographic tastes and seeks out more novel or harder pornography to get the same arousal.[1]  In her article, “Pornography: The New Narcotic”, Morgan Bennett writes:

Think of the brain as a forest where trails are worn down by hikers who walk along the same path over and over again, day after day. The exposure to pornographic images creates similar neural pathways that, over time, become more and more “well-paved” as they are repeatedly travelled with each exposure to pornography. Those neurological pathways eventually become the trail in the brain’s forest by which sexual interactions are routed. Thus, a pornography user has “unknowingly created a neurological circuit” that makes his or her default perspective toward sexual matters ruled by the norms and expectations of pornography.

Supply cannot keep up with demand.  The porn user goes back, craving more graphic and deviant sexual content in order to re-awaken the craving to “feel the high.”

We must take this issue seriously.  We cannot treat it lightly.  And it’s not just the so-called ‘hard porn’ that’s the problem.  It’s the sexualization of just about everything we see; the movies we watch, the books we read, the images on magazine covers and billboards etc.  We live in a porn-saturated society.

Something better than Porn

Let me tell you about something better than porn.  Porn cheapens sex.  It makes it dirty and grubby.  That’s not how God views it.  God sees sex as something beautiful and wholesome and good.  Take a look at this passage from Genesis chapter 2:

“The man gave names to all the livestock, to the birds of the sky, and to every wild animal; but for the man no helper was found corresponding to him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to come over the man, and he slept. God took one of his ribs and closed the flesh at that place. Then the Lord God made the rib he had taken from the man into a woman and brought her to the man. And the man said: This one, at last, is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh; this one will be called “woman,” for she was taken from man. This is why a man leaves his father and mother and bonds with his wife, and they become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:20–24)

Here we have Adam alone in this beautiful creation God has made.  He has no one to share it with.  So God puts him to sleep, takes a rib from his side and forms the perfect helpmate – a woman (which means in Hebrew, “taken out of man”).  Adam wakes up and the Lord says, “Birthday present Adam.”  Well, he takes one look at her and his heart races.  And there in the garden, a brand-new union is formed, a union that is physical, emotional, spiritual and sexual.  It is called one flesh.

“One flesh” is the relational and physical union of two human beings – male and female where they become one in their hearts and their minds and their souls and their bodies, in a covenant relationship.  And in this relationship, sex – the act of lovemaking is not just a physical act.  That’s what the world wants to make it.  It says, “It’s purely physical. It’s just like eating or drinking.”  You can’t look at sex that way.  You can’t separate it out as just a physical act.  It doesn’t involve one part of you; it involves ALL of you – mind, body, soul and spirit.

Sex was God’s idea.  He created it.  It is God’s good gift to mankind.  Stay within the parameters God designed for it and it is not just good, it is beautiful, wonderful and fulfilling.  Go outside the parameters God set for it and it’s not the same.  It’s not designed for that.

You say, “Well I’m in a committed relationship with my boyfriend or girlfriend and we’re enjoying sex.  I’m sure you are.  But you’re settling for less.  And God can’t bless it.  Sex was intended for a covenant relationship and in that relationship, a man and a woman say to each other, “I don’t just feel things for you, I’m committed to you. I made a promise to God to stick with you. Feeling or no feeling, good sex or bad sex, I’m in. I’m not going anywhere.”  When that kind of commitment is reciprocated, the result is something more wonderful than any mere sexual encounter can promise.

Hope for the porn addict

So what hope is there for the porn addict?  What hope is there for the person who has saturated their minds with graphic images so that even if they were to stop, they have enough in their heads to torment them for a lifetime?  What hope is there for the person who is wrestling with deep feelings of guilt and self-hatred?

God doesn’t hate you.  He hates your sin, but not you.  And he has a provided a wonderful remedy for you.

Jesus was like us in every way, but without sin.  He lived a perfect life, which included a perfect sexual life.  He never had one lustful thought or took one lustful glance.  When he went to the cross, he took upon himself the punishment for our sins – all of them, even the most shameful sexual sins.  The bible says that “He made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor 5:21)

So, what does that mean for the sexual sinner?  It means this:  God made Jesus, who never looked with lust, to be an adulterer and a porn addict for us, so that in him we might become sexually pure.  So whatever you’ve done, whether it’s fantasizing, looking at porn, sexting, one-night stands, Jesus took all of it. And when we put our trust in Jesus to save us, God writes on our account PAID IN FULL.

That doesn’t mean we stop sinning.  From that point on there is an internal struggle – the flesh against the Spirit.  Every time we face temptation we need to make a decision, to follow the Spirit or the flesh.  The flesh promises temporary pleasure but leaves you empty.  The Spirit promises lasting satisfaction and leaves you full.  Jesus said this:

“Whoever drinks from the water that I will give him will never get thirsty again. In fact, the water I will give him will become a well of water springing up in him for eternal life.” (John 4:14)

Porn promises much, but never delivers.  Jesus promises to meet the deepest longings of our hearts.  He promises what porn can’t deliver.  Only when you come to him in faith, and keep coming to him, will your soul thirst be fully quenched.  That’s how you win the battle over lust – by fighting fire with fire.  When you see that what Jesus promises is far more satisfying and liberating and exhilarating than the cheap thrill of sexual pleasure, you’re on the way to being finally set free.

[1] Judith Reisman, “The Science Behind Pornography Addiction,” U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation, November 18, 2004.

This post was based on a sermon on Pornography.  It is part of a Hot Topics series we are working through at our church.  You can listen to the full audio on our website here.  You can also listen to the discussion forum that followed here.

You might also want to have a look at this video from Fight the New Drug website.  It’s a story about Matt Harrow who was exposed to pornography at a young age and had a serious struggle with porn for many years.  After meeting the love of his life and having a wonderful honeymoon, he thought the problem was cured.  Then one day, when his guard was down, he fell and found himself in a dark hole once again.

Here are some helpful resources for keeping porn-free:

Here’s a book I highly recommend for those who want to be set free from pornography:





A couple of weeks back I watched a Sunday documentary about a downhill mountain bike rider who is causing a bit of a stir in the sporting community.  Anton Weatherly rode as a male until December last year.  His performance was average, crossing the finish line midway in the field.  Then Anton switched genders and became Kate and started riding in the women’s division.  In January she raced in the New Zealand national women’s championship in Wanaka and won by almost 13 seconds.  The other female riders are crying foul.

You can hardly blame them.

Sporting bodies in NZ and worldwide are grappling with how to accommodate transgender athletes.  How do you support human rights and diversity while ensuring a level playing field?  No one knows.  Like the saying goes – it’s complicated.  The first thing we need to do is get our heads around what transgenderism is all about.  Let’s start with some terminology.

Transgender terminology

When we use the word gender, we are referring to the social and cultural aspects of being male or female.  Think masculine verses feminine; facial hair verses lipstick.

 Gender identity is a person’s internal sense of their own gender, whether male or female or something else.  If I asked you the question, “Do you sense you are male or female?” (not, do you look male or female), I’m enquiring about your gender identity.

The term Transgender (the “T” part in LGBT) is an umbrella term to describe a person who experiences a gender identity that differs from the sex assigned to them at birth.

 Gender dysphoria is the term used to describe a person experiencing distress or discomfort because of a mismatch between their sex assigned at birth and their gender identity.  They often use phrases such as being “trapped in the wrong body.”

Tansitioning refers to the steps a trans person takes to live in the gender with which they identify.  Sometimes this involves hormone therapy, medical intervention, surgery, and almost always some kind of counseling.

If you want to know where the transgender trend is heading, just look at the social networks.  Facebook, which is on a mission to be the most “progressive” social network on the web now has 71 gender options to choose from.  They’ve been outdone by Tumblr which has at least 300 (to date).

How did we get to this?

The answer lies where all societal changes lie – in a worldview or a belief system.  Everyone has a worldview.  It is what we use to make sense of life.  There’s a belief system driving transgenderism.  And you need to understand it (I wrote about this in a previous post on Love Thy Body, so I apologize if it appears that I am repeating myself).

Back in the 1960’s and 70’s there was a very well-known Christian thinker and apologist by the name of Francis Schaeffer.  Schaeffer recognized a deep division running through all Western thought and culture, between science and morality; between facts and values.  This division has its roots in the period of the Enlightenment when intellectuals began to put human reason over and above divine revelation.  He illustrated it with the metaphor of a two-story building:

Private, Subjective, Relativistic
Objectively true, Testable

In the lower story is empirical science – that which is objectively true and testable.  On the upper story is the realm of theology and morality, which is considered subjective and relative.  When you hear people say, “That can be true for you but not for me,” you’re looking at the upper story.

Here is the same fragmented worldview using different terms:

Private, Subjective, Relativistic
Objectively true, Testable

Nancy Pearcey points out in her book Love Thy Body this two-story worldview is the underlying current beneath many of the social issues in our society.  What has happened, she explains, is our concept of what it is to be a human being has also become fragmented into an upper and lower story, with the body in the lower story and the real person in the upper story.  The two-story worldview for them looks like this:


So, you no longer have an integrated but fragmented human being, in which the body is treated as something different from and in some cases disconnected from the authentic self.

How is it possible people think this way?  Because of our dualistic worldview, spawned in the period of the enlightenment, nurtured in our education system, and now bearing fruit in society.  For those who saw it coming, it’s of no surprise.  But it is also tragically wrong.  And I want to tell you why.

Real answers from a Caring Creator

True freedom is not found in asserting our independence and trying to be something we are not made to be.  True freedom is found in being who we are.  Vaughn Roberts describes it this way:

“A fish that decides to make a bid for freedom by jumping out of the water will not be free – because it is created to live in the environment of water. And as soon as we try and become what we are not, far enjoying freedom, we can’t expect to flourish.”

So then, who are we?  How should we as human beings view ourselves?  God, our Creator reveals that to us in the opening pages of the Bible in Genesis chapter 1.

“Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:26–27)

The Bible tells us we are first and foremost creatures.  We are not machines.  We are not just atoms and molecules banging into each other.  We are secondly, embodied creatures.  Our bodies are an essential part of our true selves.  God sees us as an integrated whole.  Third, we see that we are embodied sexual creatures, in the form of male or female.

You might have heard of the “brain-sex” theory.  It claims that sex differentiation of the genitals and the brain takes place at different stages of fetal development[1].  OK, so they are partly right in that.  We had scans on all our kids and their biological sex wasn’t determined until a later stage.  But then they go on to say that a baby in the womb can be developed with male genitals and a female brain.

There are over 37 trillion cells in my body.  There are 46 chromosomes in every human cell. ‘Two of these are specialized chromosomes called sex chromosomes.  I have one X and one Y chromosome in every cell of my body (if you are a female you have two X’s).  These remain in my cells from conception until death and do not change.  I am “hard-wired” to be a male down to every cell in my body.

You say, “Well if that’s true – if we are really ‘hard-wired’ to be male or female since birth, how is it that some people seem to be genuinely struggling with their identity?  Why the disorders?  Why do some men feel they are women trapped in a man’s body and some women feel they are really men trapped in a woman’s body?”

The answer lies in Genesis chapter 3: The Fall.  Sin has corrupted us in two ways: physically, with our bodies and psychologically, with our minds.  The result is we have disordered bodies.  We have sickness and disease.  There are corruptions in the genetic code causing all kinds of defections and abnormalities in our bodies.  But we also have disordered minds.  We struggle with stress and depression and all kinds of mental health issues.  None of us are immune.  Some of us are born with a predisposition toward addiction or schizophrenia or OCD or ADHD.  Some experience gender dysphoria.  It’s all part of the fall.  And it’s not right to point to one group of people over here and say, “you’re queer” or “you’re not normal” because, since the fall, none of us are normal.  We have dysfunctions of one kind or another.  So we need to be understanding to people who are experiencing these strange feelings.

The question we want to ask next is – is there any hope for them (and us!)?  Has God offered any solution?  Yes, he has!  He put into plan something wonderful: a rescue mission, to set right all that had gone wrong.

God sent his very own Son into this world to redeem us.  Jesus Christ was born as a human being – a wonderful affirmation that God values the human body.  He lived in perfect submission to his heavenly Father.  Then he took our place on the cross, bearing our sin, and taking the place we deserve for punishment for our sins.  On the third day, he rose from the dead – bodily.  Again, another powerful statement about the importance of our human bodies.

After his resurrection Jesus told his followers to take the good news to the world: every man, woman, and child can be completely forgiven and renewed, simply by turning from their sin and rebellion and putting their trust in Jesus to save them.  They will, in return, receive a new identity, a new mind, new desires, a new citizenship, a new family (the family of God), and one day, a new resurrected body.

That doesn’t mean that everything changes completely overnight.  The change is sometimes slow, and agonizing.  There will be an ongoing struggle with our disordered bodies and disordered minds.  Some of us struggle with depression and anxiety.  Others struggle with addictions and lust.  There are even those who struggle with same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria.  God does not promise to take these things away immediately.  But he does give us His Holy Spirit, which gives us the power to work on them.  He calls us to deny some of those desires, take up our cross and follow Him.  There is pain involved with that.  But the temporary pain is worth every much the final gain.


If you are reading this and you struggle with some kind of sexual disorder – whether it be pornography or same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria, Jesus’ message to you is the same for everyone:

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28–29)

I’m not telling you, “Get your sexual disorders sorted out and then come to Jesus.”  That’s not how it works.  I am saying, “Come to Jesus and he will start to put you together again.”

Jesus the rescuer has come.  He has died, he has risen, and he has sent his Spirit to make it possible for us to be changed and transformed to what God, in the beginning, intended us to be – men and women who are made in the image of God, wholly integrated in soul, mind and body.

That’s where I am convinced our ultimate freedom and happiness is found.

[1] Mark A. Yarhouse, Understanding Gender Dysphoria, p.67.

This post was based on a sermon on Gender Identity.  It is part of a Hot Topics series we are working through at our church.  You can listen to the full audio on our website here.  You can also listen to the discussion forum that followed here.

Here’s the Sunday documentary I referred to in my introduction.  It is interesting viewing and runs for around 12 minutes.

Love Thy Body

LOVE your body?  Somehow it just doesn’t seem to fit right, especially if you happen to be a Christian.  Christians are not meant to love their bodies.  They are meant to beat them into subjection (as least, that’s the impression I got as a new believer).

But it’s a very fitting title for the book from which I want to talk about.  Nancy Pearcey, a leading Christian thinker and author, has put together a very compelling case for providing a clear, biblical answer for a confused and mixed-up generation regarding matters of sex and the body as well as numerous other ethical issues we are faced with today.

I wasn’t actually looking for this book.  I bought it almost by accident when searching for good resources to prepare for a new series we are currently going through at our church.  We are covering some of the “biggies” like euthanasia, homosexuality, suffering and evil, pornography and transgenderism.  I’d read Total Truth, another of Pearcey’s works and thought this would be a helpful contribution to my study.  It was more than that.  It completely altered my thinking and provided a whole new framework for understanding where our society is at today in terms of its worldview.

The introduction and first chapter, “I Hate Me” laid the foundation for the rest of the book.  Once I had that in my head everything else fell into place.  In the introduction she writes:

“The problem is many people treat morality as a list of rules.  But in reality, every moral system rests on a worldview.  In every decision we make, we are not just deciding what we want to do.  We are expressing our view of the purpose of human life.” – Nancy Pearcey

To be strategically effective therefore, she says we must address what people believe about the nature and significance of life itself.  In other words, we must engage their worldview.

Pearcey then unpacks that worldview.  In the past, she explains, reality for most people consisted of a natural order and a moral order, integrated into one unity.  But in our modern age, people think that reliable knowledge only exists in the natural order – that which is scientifically proven and can be tested.  Where does that leave moral truth?  It consists merely of personal preferences and feelings.

Some years ago, there emerged a Christian thinker and philosopher called Francis Schaeffer.  Schaeffer recognized this divide running through all Western thought and culture.  He illustrated it with the metaphor of a two-story building.

Private, Subjective, Relativistic
Objectively true, Testable

In the lower story is empirical science – that which is objectively true and testable.  On the upper story is the realm of theology and morality, which is considered subjective and relative.  When you hear people say, “That can be true for you but not for me,” you’re looking at the upper story.

Here is the same fragmented world view seen using different terms:

Private, Subjective, Relativistic
Objectively true, Testable

What has happened, Pearcey explains, is our concept of what it is to be a human being has also become fragmented into an upper and lower story, with the body in the lower story and the real person in the upper story.  The two-story worldview for them looks like this:


So, you no longer have an integrated but fragmented human being, in which the body is treated as something different from and in some cases disconnected from the authentic self.

You say, “So what does that mean about anything?”

  • It means a baby in a mother’s womb is not a person until a certain stage (determined arbitrarily it seems, by our culture).  It’s just a body, a fetus; a thing.  It has no personhood.  It is still on the bottom story.
  • It means, if you are mentally disabled, and you have limited neocortical functioning, and can’t make decisions or exercise self-awareness or plan for the future (the upper story), then you don’t qualify as a person, and may be eligible for euthanasia.
  • It means, in the hook-up culture today, what you do with your body sexually does not necessarily have any connection to who you are as a person.  It’s just sex.  It’s just something you do, like eating or drinking.
  • And for the transgender person, it means you have a sex assigned at birth – male or female.  But that doesn’t necessarily mean anything.  Because the “real you” – the authentic self, has no connection to the body.  The real person resides in the mind, will and feelings.  That’s why transgender people often say they are trapped in the “wrong body.”

How is it possible people think this way?  Because of our dualistic worldview, spawned in the period of the enlightenment, nurtured in our education system, and now bearing fruit in society.  For those who saw it coming, it’s of no surprise.  Once you understand the worldview, it makes total sense.

But it is, as Pearcey states, a destructive and dehumanizing view of the body.  The Bible gives us a vastly different view.  The human body is the handiwork of a wise and loving God.  Mankind is the pinnacle of his creative work.  He forms him from the dust of the earth and breathes into him and he becomes a nephesh, a living soul (Gen 2:7).  Man is an integrated whole – soul, mind and body.  He is, in mind and body, an image bearer of his Creator.

Pearcey summarizes with this,

“The Bible does not separate the body off into a lower story, where it is reduced to a biochemical machine.  Instead the body is intrinsic to the person. And therefore it will ultimately be redeemed along with the person – a process that begin even in this life.

A biblical ethic is incarnational.  We are made in God’s image to reflect God’s character, both in our minds and in our bodily actions. There is no division, no alienation.  We are embodied beings.”

You see then, what this means.  It is a game-changer in terms of how we view all the difficult ethical issues of our day, from euthanasia, abortion, and sexuality.  Christians need not be throwing their arms up in despair.  Armed with helpful resources such as this, we can tackle these issues head-on, wisely, respectfully and biblically.

There is so much about this book I haven’t said.  This post doesn’t really do it justice.  I would encourage you to get this for your shelf.

Better still, put it on your coffee table for all to see.

Nancy Pearcey is considered by The Economist as “America’s pre-eminent evangelical Protestant female intellectual.”  She presently serves as professor of apologetics at Houston Baptist University.  She is co-author with Chuck Colson of How Now Shall We Live? and is the author of several other books including Total Truth, The Soul of Science, and Saving Leonardo.  

God, suffering and the meaning of life


There’s no doubt about it: one of the most difficult and perplexing questions that any of us face – whether you are a Christian or an atheist or an agnostic, is the problem of pain and suffering.

It is a matter that is particularly difficult for the Christian.  The Christian believes in a God who is all-loving and all-powerful.  Immediately he is presented with a dilemma: if God is all-powerful, he has the ability to put an end to suffering.  If God is all-loving, he would care enough to put a stop to human suffering.  Since we continue to suffer God must either not be good and loving or he is not all-powerful.  This is the card the atheist continually throws in the Christian’s face.

John Lennox, Oxford Mathematician and Christian apologist says there are two different perspectives to this problem: the intellectual and the personal.  Both need addressing.  If you were told you had a terminal disease, you need a clear and accurate diagnosis so that you know exactly where you stand.  But that’s not all you need.  You also want someone who can empathize with you.  You need someone who will sit with you and hold your hand.

Let’s start with the personal.  I know what it is to experience suffering.  I haven’t suffered as much as others have.  I’ve never experienced Nazi gas chambers or been a victim of ethnic cleansing or been told by a doctor that I have incurable liver cancer and have 3 months to live.  But I’ve still seen and experienced suffering.

I remember, as a young boy, watching my grandfather vomiting up his food all over the table because his stomach lining was falling to pieces from the tins of bully-beef he ate in the trenches of Gallipoli.  I remember the day I was told that my brother Michael was killed after stalling his plane on a top-dressing run.  He immediately put the plane into a dive to build up air speed but never pulled out.  He was married only a month.  It was something my dad never fully got over.  We were all profoundly affected by it.

My wife’s upbringing wasn’t much easier.  Her dad left when she was only two years old.  Her mother had to raise two children on her own, working two jobs to make ends meet.  Then she developed Multiple Sclerosis and had to stop working, with no sickness benefit or family assistance.  One morning she found her mother dead on the kitchen floor.  She was 17.  Her mother was only 39.

Francelle tried staying in touch with her brother but he remained aloof from the family.  She wrote him many letters and prayed for him daily, but he never replied.  A few years back she received a phone call from her Aunt: her brother’s body was found in a hotel room, with a bottle of pain killers.  He had overdosed on pain medication and alcohol.  I don’t think he ever got over his father abandoning him.

Over the years of ministering together, we have seen people suffer greatly.  We’ve held a lifeless 6-month-old baby in our arms, days after his little life was taken by a brain tumor.  We’ve comforted parents of teenage son, who slipped under the waters of a lake while swimming with friends and never resurfaced.  We’ve sat with people overwhelmed with grief after learning their loved one has terminal cancer.

Our world is full of suffering.  None of us can escape it.  In one way or another, each of us have been personally affected.  So how do we make sense of it all?  Let’s begin with some inadequate answers.

Inadequate answers to the problem of suffering

Naturalism / Materialism

The naturalist says ultimate reality in life consists of matter and energy.  That’s all life is: atoms and particles banging into each other.  There is no God, there is no good and there is no evil.  Richard Dawkins, a leading 21st century spokesman for atheism says:

In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, and other people are going to get lucky; and you won’t find any rhyme or reason to it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at the bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good. Nothing but blind pitiless indifference. DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is, and we dance to its music.[1]

This is what happens when you take Atheism to its logical conclusion.  Terrorists and murderers and rapists are simply dancing to the music of their DNA.  So how can you blame them?  Well Dawkins would say you can’t because there is no good and no evil.  The problem of evil simply vanishes – intellectually.  How people find that satisfying I have no idea.


Pantheism is the view that God is everything and everyone and everything is God.  A tree is God, a rock is God, an animal is God, the sky is God, the sun is God, you are God.  Hinduism, Buddhism, and the New Age Movement are all forms of Pantheism.  But there’s a problem: if God is pure goodness (as God should be), then everything must be good – I’m good, you’re good, Hitler was good, the Holocaust was good.  Child abuse is good.  Cancer is good.  It’s all good because it’s all God.  Pantheism, as an answer for suffering, isn’t much better.


The theist believes in a personal/transcendent God who is both Creator and Ruler over all things, including suffering and evil.  All Christians are theists, as are orthodox Jews and Muslims (and some others).  Ask a Jewish a Jewish Rabbi about why suffering exists in the world and he won’t want to answer (especially since the Holocaust).  Ask a Muslim and he will say “it is the will of Allah.”  If you are suffering, Allah wills it.

The only adequate answer to the problem of suffering

None of those are adequate answers to the problem of pain and suffering.  That leaves one last option: Christianity.  Most of us a familiar with the biblical story.  God creates a perfect world, free from any disease or death or suffering.  Everything was as it should be.  Then Adam believes the serpent’s lie that he could be like God.  He disobeys and plunges the entire human race into sin.  Both Adam and Eve, along with the planet they inhabit, are cursed.  Death enters the scene and pain and suffering becomes his constant companion.

Why is the world the way it is?  Because we humans messed it up.  Natural disasters – hurricanes, tornadoes and tsunamis: it all comes back to human sin.  Don’t blame God for what we see.  We caused it.

Now all that is true and useful as far as it goes.  But it doesn’t go far enough.  It leaves the impression that God has washed his hands of the problem.  In trying to absolve God from any responsibility for suffering and evil, we end up with a God who has no say or control over human suffering.  He is merely a spectator.

But that not what we find in Scripture.  And Isaiah chapter 45 is just one very good example.  Here you have Cyrus, the pagan king of Persia.  The Medes and Persians conquered Babylon, a world empire.  Cyrus led that conquest.  In verse 1 God calls him “My anointed” – my chosen one.  God is going to use this pagan king to accomplish his good purposes.  Cyrus is going to kill people – lots of people.  He is going to cause much suffering.  But God has control of him, as the following verses indicate.  Then in verse 7 we find this very difficult verse:

“I form light and create darkness, I make success and create disaster; I am the Lord, who does all these things.” (Isaiah 45:7)

The word “disaster” could also be translated adversity, affliction, calamity, distress, or misery.  The Lord, at times, for his own good purposes, cause adversity, affliction, distress and yes – when needed, even misery.

  • He sent an evil spirit to torment Saul
  • He sends poisonous snakes to bite the grumbling Israelites
  • Under King David he sends a pestilence that takes the lives of 70,000 men.

Evangelist Tony Evans says it this way: “Everything is either caused by God or allowed by God and there is no third category.”  When it comes down to it, I’d rather worship a God who suddenly and without warning does things that make no sense to me, who gives life as well as takes it, who sends prosperity as well as trouble – a God who at times leaves me speechless and confused, than worship a God who I can understand.  Because that would be a god who would be just like me.


There is one more important piece of the puzzle we haven’t yet touched on.  And I believe it’s the most important.  How do we make sense of all the suffering we see in the world?  We look to the cross.

The cross is the ultimate proof that God does not stand aloof from the suffering of the world.  He entered into it.  Two thousand years ago Jesus left the glories of heaven for the indignity of a lowly stable.  He entered our world, took our nature, and then died a sacrificial atoning death in our place. “Greater love has no one than this,” Jesus said, “than to lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

He didn’t simply die with us.
He died for us.

But it doesn’t finish there.  Jesus came back from the dead.  He reversed the curse, broke the chains of sin and death and set in motion a chain of events that will one day mean an end to all hurricanes and tsunamis and earthquakes and cancer and suffering and pain that plagues us  in this world.

God has not left us without hope.  He has provided a way for us to be made whole, to be made new, and to live forever in the new creation.  Our bodies, our loved ones, our earthy home will one day be redeemed, restored and renewed.  This is how God is going to fix everything, and it’s all going to happen when Jesus returns.

In the last book of The Lord of the Rings, Sam Gamgee wakes up, thinking everything is lost and discovers instead that he is still alive and all his friends are around him.  “Gandalf!” he cries out, “I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead! Is everything sad going to come untrue?”

The answer is YES.
And the answer of the Bible is YES.
Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, the answer for those who believe is YES.

Note: This post was based on a sermon on Suffering and Evil from our “Hot Topics” series.  You can listen to the full audio on our website here.  You can also listen to the discussion forum that followed here.

[1] Richard Dawkins, Out of Eden, page 133.

The Right to Die


Last Wednesday, a distinguished scientist bid farewell to his home in Australia to fly half way across the world to Switzerland, where it is legal to end your life.  He had no terminal illness nor was he suffering from any disease.  He’s just old – 104 years old, to be exact.  The tipping point for him was his diminishing independence.

“I’m not happy. I want to die. It’s not sad particularly. What is sad is if one is prevented.” – David Goodall

Prevented?  I found that interesting.  No one is preventing him from dying.  He will die; and most likely fairly soon.  Age will take him.  And if he is under medical care, he will die peacefully and comfortably.  So then, what’s the problem?  The problem is he wants to die when he says so.

It’s another example of mankind’s desire for personal autonomy, only to the extreme.  It is human rights pushed too far.  Most of us in the West are privileged to live in a democracy.  We all have certain rights –  irrespective of our age, ethnicity, culture, religion or sex.  But those rights only go so far.  We don’t have “rights” to do anything we want.  The law places limits on us.  And where the law doesn’t place limits, God does.  We don’t decide, for example, the day we are born.  Nor are we to decide the day we die.  Unless of course we override God’s plan and do what we want – which seems to be what is going on here.

This whole issue is receiving a lot of media attention in our country lately with the latest End of Life Choice Bill, which had it’s first reading in Parliament and is now being presented to the Justice Select Committee.  Currently, all forms of euthanasia including Voluntary Euthanasia (VE), Non-voluntary Euthanasia, Assisted Suicide and Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS) are illegal in New Zealand.  The administration of drugs with the intention to relieve pain however (even though the effect will result in the shortening of life), and the withdrawal of life-preserving medical treatment that is not accomplishing anything useful, is lawful.

The Australian and New Zealand Society of Palliative Medicine (ANZSPM 2013) states:

“Treatment that is appropriately titrated (measured and adjusted) to relieve symptoms and has a secondary and unintended consequence of hastening death, is not euthanasia.”

Doctors and palliative care-givers administer heavy pain medication with the intent of relieving suffering.  They may foresee that same medication will eventually bring about an early death but that is not their primary intent.  There is a clear difference and our legal system recognizes the difference.

There are a number of sound, rational, and practical arguments against euthanasia.  One is the risk of abuse.  Those vulnerable to a law change include the poor, the elderly, the handicapped and disabled, the emotionally distraught and so on.  Along with this is the slippery slope argument, which states once society accepts one form of termination of human life with a given set of conditions, it will be difficult or impossible to confine VE to those conditions.  Another is the ‘right to die’ could soon become a ‘duty to die.’  The elderly and terminally ill may come to feel euthanasia would be the right thing to do as they do not want to be a burden to their family. In fact, according to a health report from the State of Oregon (where VE has been legalized), one in three patients requesting euthanasia reported that part of their motivation was because they felt a “burden on family and friends.”

The concern is a subtle coercion placed on the vulnerable to end their lives.  In the Netherlands, where VE has been legalized for over 30 years, if a patient does not want to be killed by their doctor, they must state it clearly orally and in writing, well in advance.  A change in law allowing people to ‘opt in’ for VE or PAS will eventually become so normalized that people will feel pressured not to ‘opt out.’

But there is a greater and more powerful case against euthanasia.  It has served as the basis for the moral and ethical code in our country since it’s foundation.  It is called the sanctity of human life, which states that all human life, in whatever state or condition, able or disable, is of intrinsic value and cannot be taken.

In Genesis chapter one, verses 26-27 we find this:

“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness. They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, the whole earth, and the creatures that crawl on the earth.” So God created man in his own image; he created him in the image of God; he created them male and female.”

We are image bearers – made in the likeness of God. This includes the mentally impaired, the deformed, the diseased and the terminally ill. Each one, in some way, bears the image of God.

The bible gives us another reason we must not take human life: God alone has authority of life and death. Deuteronomy 32:39 states,

“See now that I alone am he; there is no God but me. I bring death and I give life; I wound and I heal. No one can rescue anyone from my power.” 

Psalm 139:6 says that God ordained every one of our days before even one of them began.  That means we cannot add or detract one second of our lives beyond what God has decided.

And as to the matter of suffering – the bible has something to say about that too.  Listen to what the Apostle Paul says in Romans 5:3-5

“And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” 

Suffering develops character.  Suffering reminds us of the temporal nature of this world and causes us to long for the new world to come.  Suffering teaches us about mercy and kindness and compassion.  In fact, the word ‘compassion’ literally means to “suffer with.”  True compassion is the willingness to suffer on behalf of others and helping them to bear their burdens.

It saddens me to see an individual like David Goodall, who has lived a long and healthy life and who is not suffering from any illness, wanting to take his own life.  If only he knew how valuable he was in the sight of God, that God knows him intimately since the day he was formed in his mother’s womb, and that Jesus has provided a way for him know and love God, have his sin forgiven and receive eternal life.

Perhaps that might have changed things for him.  For death would not be the end, but a doorway to a new beginning.

Note: This post was based on a sermon on Euthanasia from our “Hot Topics” series.  You can listen to the full audio on our website here.  You can also listen to the discussion forum that followed here.

Why your worldview matters

We are about to embark on a new series in our church called “Hot Topics.”  We are going to cover a lot of the issues troubling both Christians and non-Christians such as euthanasia, homosexuality and gender dysphoria, pornography, the problem of suffering and evil and so forth.  Our people are getting excited about it and are even inviting some of their friends (the series kicks off this coming Sunday if you live near).

Someone made the comment to me last week, “You are going to have your work cut out.”  They are not wrong there.  The amount of material I’ve had to cover in preparation for this series is colossal.  There are books and medical journals and articles littered all over the place.  I feel like I’m back in theological college.

One of the things that has become quickly apparent to me in my reading all this material is the importance and significance of one’s worldview.  Don’t be put off by the term; it’s not as scary as you think.

“Worldviews are like belly buttons.  Everyone has one, but we don’t’ talk about them very often.” – James Andersen

A worldview, as the word itself suggests, is an overall view of the world.  It’s the lens you use to interpret everything that is going on around you.  It represents your fundamental beliefs and assumptions about the world and human life.  It’s what you use to answer all the big questions of life such as:

  • Is there a God?
  • If there isn’t a God, does it matter?
  • What is truth and how we determine what is true and what isn’t?
  • Where did the universe come from and where is it going – if anywhere?
  • What is the meaning of life?
  • Is there life after death?
  • Am I simply a collection of random cells that came together by chance or is there more to it than that?

You get the idea.  Your worldview will determine how you answer those questions.  And it also has a big say in your ethics and morals.  Your worldview will frame how you think about abortion, euthanasia, same-sex relationships, gender dysphoria, environmentalism, animal rights and almost any other major issue of our day.

For example, let’s look at the issue of euthanasia (I’m covering this one on Sunday so it’s fresh on my mind).  It quickly became apparent to me, in reading all the various views on this subject, how one’s worldview comes in to place.  If you hold to a secular humanistic worldview, you believe human life is a cosmic accident, a jumble of cells and chemicals that came together purely by chance over millions (or billions) of years and has no ultimate meaning.  Your opinions about euthanasia will be based purely on utilitarian and rationalistic reasons: Does it benefit the individual?  Does it promote human autonomy?  Does the majority of the population support it? Is it working in other places in the world? etc, etc.

If, on the other hand, your worldview is influenced by the Bible and a Judeo-Christian ethic, your views about euthanasia will be based on theological reasons.  A quick examination of the Scriptures will tell you that human beings are made in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:26-27) – whether they be diseased or terminally ill or physically or mentally handicapped; that life is a gift from God and must not be taken (with a few exceptions – i.e. killing in self-defense) and the ending of human life is a divine prerogative shared by no one but God (Deut 32:39).

OK, so that’s a very strong example.  And we don’t normally deal with that on a daily basis.  There are all kinds of decisions however, that you do make on a daily basis that are influenced by your worldview such as the books you read, the movies you watch, the clothes you wear, the people you hand out with, how you go about dealing with a difficult neighbour, how you treat the elderly, how you spend your money, how you discipline your children – the list, literally, goes on and on.

What do you do when your boss asks you to fudge the date on a building inspection?  What about when a friend wants you to lie about where he was on a certain date, or aks you to download a pirated movie?

You can see worldviews are intensely practical and influence almost every decision we make.  Hitler had a worldview that resulted in the mass extermination of millions of people.  William Wilberforce had very different worldview, which resulted in the abolition of the slave trade, putting an end to untold human suffering.

Over the next few weeks, those in our congregation will have their worldviews put to the test.  What will be the outcome I wonder?  Like it not, these issues will force us all to talk about our “belly buttons.”

Note: If you are looking for a starting guide on this subject, I highly recommend a little book by James Andersen called, What’s Your Worldview?  He takes you on an interactive journey of discovery of your world view by asking some of life’s biggest questions.  Not only that, he even helps you to improve and change it. 













Restoring the Fallen

We all know how it feels when we disappoint someone – particularly someone we are close to.  It might be our spouse.  It might be a close friend.  It might even be our boss.  We’ve let that person down.  When they needed us, we didn’t come through.  And we hate ourselves for it.

That’s how Peter felt after failing Jesus.  He boasted that he would never desert Jesus; he would never let him down, and then he denies him three times.  He’s full of shame and guilt.  He’s no use to God or anyone else now – how could he be?  I can just imagine Peter doing what we all do in those situations.  He’s replaying the tape in his mind, over and over, frame by frame – why did I do it? why did I do it?

That’s where we find Peter when we come to John chapter 21.  He’s with a handful of other disciples by the Lake of Tiberias (also known as the Sea of Galilee).  Peter says, “I’m going fishing.”  The other disciples, say, “We’re coming with you.” 

So, you see what’s going on here.  Peter has failed Jesus – badly.  He’s no use to Jesus anymore.  There is one thing he can do however; he can fish.  But that night they catch nothing.  And the reason is because Jesus doesn’t let him catch anything.  Peter is running away.  He is running away, and Jesus is saying,

“You think you can do something without me Peter, but I want you to see you can do nothing without me.  Not even fish.”

Then at dawn, a shadowy figure is seen on the shore and it calls out, “Friends, you don’t have any fish, do you?”  Then the voice says, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat.”  You can imagine what these experienced fishermen are thinking: “Oh that’s just rich.  I like that.  Like, the fish know the difference between the left side and right side.”  John tells us in verse 6, “So they did, and they were unable to haul it in because of the large number of fish.” 

As they are hauling it in, the disciple whom Jesus loved (that’s code-name for John), puts two and two together and says to Peter, “It is the Lord!”  Peter, without hesitation, dives into the water.  He’s swimming to shore, and he can’t get there fast enough.  He wants to be with Jesus again, in spite of his shame and guilt.  He’s messed up, but he loves Jesus all the same.

When they all get to the shore they find there a charcoal fire, bread and fish.  It’s déjà vu for the disciples.  It’s all happened before.  It’s the same miracle Jesus performed when he first met Peter back in Luke chapter 5.  It’s the same crowd, the same Peter, the same lake, and the same figure on the shore asking how many fish they had caught.  And the same thing happens, except back then, the nets did tear.

What is Jesus doing?  He’s bringing it all back for them.  He’s recalling their memory.  He’s calling them back.  The bread and the fish, recalling the miraculous feeding of the 5000 and later, the 4000.  Jesus is saying, “Do you remember?  Do you remember that we did this together?  Do you recall what I did?”  Jesus has a special way of drawing his straying ones back to himself.  He stirs their memory and touches their conscience.

So there they all are, sitting there by the fire, eating breakfast together.  Then at some point I imagine, Jesus takes Peter on a little walk.  He says to him, “Simon son of John…”  Now you may remember earlier in the book, in chapter 1 verse 42, Jesus said to Peter, “You are Simon, son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which is translated “Peter”). 

Jesus is taking him back. He is taking him back to the beginning – back to the place where they had begun in Galilee, so he uses the name with which they had begun.  You see, Jesus is willing to start over with Peter.

Then Jesus says to him in verse 15, “Do you love Me more than these?”  Now the question here is, what does the “these” refer to?  Is Jesus asking, “Do you love me more than these boats and fish?” or “Do you love me more than these men you are working with?”  I tend to lean toward the latter.  Remember Peter’s earlier boast: he vowed to stay faithful to Jesus even if all the others fell away.  The irony is, it is Peter who denies Jesus, not the others.  I think that Jesus may be asking,

“Do you really love me more than these other men love me?  You made that pledge Peter; did you really mean it?” 

Jesus asks this not just once, not twice, but three times.  On the third time, Peter is grieved (recalling no doubt, his 3-fold denial).

I have a wonderful little book on my shelf called, The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes.  In it he unpacks Isaiah 42:3 where it says (in speaking of Christ), “A bruised reed he will not break and a smouldering wick he will not put out.”  You know what a reed is.  A reed is thin and frail and fragile.  If the wind blows too hard on a reed it often breaks.  Sibbes writes,

“God’s children are bruised reeds, before their conversion and many times after. For usually God empties men of themselves and makes them nothing before He will use them in any great service.”

A little further on Sibbes writes,

“As a mother is tenderest to her most diseased child, to her weakest child, so does Christ. Christ most mercifully inclines to the weakest and His way is first to wound and then to heal. And we see that there is more mercy in Christ than there is sin in us.”

Jesus is tending to a bruised reed.  He is restoring a wounded conscience.  But the way you restore a wounded or guilty conscience is not put a band-aid on it.  You have to do heart surgery.  You need to open the wound.  It’s painful.  And that’s exactly what we see happening here.  Jesus is doing surgery on Peter’s conscience.  And it nearly brings him to tears.

Following Jesus’ 3-fold probing of Peter’s love for him is a 3-fold commission to service:

  • “Feed (basko) my lambs” (v.15)
  • “Shepherd (poimaino) my sheep” (v.16)
  • “Feed (basko) my sheep” (v.17)

This was Jesus’ call to Peter from the beginning.  He’s putting him right back into service.  He not only restoring Peter, he is reinstating him.  He’s saying,

“These sheep Peter, they are mine.  I bought them.  I died for them.  Now I want you to look after them.  Feed them.  Lead them.  Protect them.  Care for them.  And the lambs Peter, my little ones; the ones that are weak and vulnerable and prone to wander.  I’m putting them into your hands.  Look after them.”

And what would be the one thing that would hold Peter to this, that would keep him faithful?  Love for Christ.  You can see it now, can’t you.  You can see how all this fits together.  You can see what makes a good pastor – or any Christian leader for that matter, one who will give the sheep what they need, not what they want, who will faithfully feed them the Word of God and protect them from error and lay down his own life for them if necessary:

It’s not love for the flock.  It’s love for the Shepherd.  It’s love for Jesus.

I’ll leave you with two points of application:

Firstly: no matter what you have done, no matter where you have been, you can start anew; you can start afresh.  What Peter encounters in John 21 is a Saviour who is always eager and always waiting to start over.  There’s new grace.  There’s fresh mercy.

Secondly: What if you are a great failure and you are a great sinner and you can’t say with Peter, “Yes, Lord, I love you,” either because you don’t know Christ or because you do know Him but you feel like such a mixed bag?  Sometimes you love Him; sometimes you don’t love Him.  What do you do with that?  Where do you go?  You can’t cultivate it or create it or manufacture this love on your own.  If you don’t have a love for Jesus, where do you get it?

Here’s the answer.  The answer is very simple.  God gives you that love, when you completely surrender yourself to him.   The good news of the gospel is Christ grants his righteousness to us as a gift.  Salvation is by grace – free, unmerited, undeserved grace.  And God grants that grace to those who fall before him in worship and absolute surrender.  Don’t try to start acting better.  Don’t say to yourself, “I’m going to be a better person.”  Open your heart and allow Jesus to come in and change and transform you.  He will give you what you need.  All he asks is for you to trust him.

Pray, “God, change my heart and make me new,” and then hang on and see how His grace upon grace will burst into your life.

Note: This post was based on a sermon I preached from the Gospel of John.  You can listen to the full audio on our website here.