In last week’s blog, I explored the context of 2 Corinthians 11 and 12. I specified the nature of Paul’s thorn in the flesh: “I believe Paul’s thorn in the flesh resulted from the harsh experiences, particularly the persecutions he endured for the gospel’s sake.”

Paul’s experiences can teach us some essential lessons, which I’ll explore in this week’s blog. Do you have a thorn in your flesh – a continuous problem or annoyance that makes life challenging? More importantly, like Paul, what can we learn from our experiences?


I like the way Eugene Peterson expresses Paul’s words in The Message Bible, “Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees.” When we experience a thorn in our side, does it push us to our knees? Do we pray about it or complain about it? Does it define us and our conversation, or do we Take it to the Lord in Prayer?

A couple of things are worth noting here. Firstly, don’t use the thorn as an excuse not to pray. I’ve heard people say, “It’s just a thorn in my side that I have to bear”—a fatalistic attitude that is the opposite of faith.

Secondly, praying about the same thing more than once is fine. Paul pleaded three times with the Lord to take the thorn away. Pleaded is a legal term “to put forward reasons for a case strongly.” Our youngest daughter, Trinity, who wants to be a lawyer, does this whenever she wants something. She writes a proposal stating why she needs a (rabbit, kitten, new phone, etc) and then asks Christie and me to sit down so she can plead her case. She’s very convincing, and sometimes her “prayers” are answered with “yes.” We can put this same kind of effort into our prayer life until God answers.

Paul pleaded in prayer three times until he got an answer from God. The answer was not what he expected, but it was still an answer. Jesus prayed three times in Gethsemane, “saying the same words.” Jesus prayed twice for a blind man because his sight was only partially restored the first time he prayed.

I encourage you to practice persistent prayer until God answers and then, like Paul, accept God’s answer.

What else can we learn from a thorn in our flesh?


At the start of 2 Corinthians 12, the apostle writes about visions and revelations from the Lord, of an experience of being caught up to the third heaven or paradise and hearing inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. One can only wonder at these experiences. I’ve had some overwhelming times feeling God’s presence, but nothing like this has ever happened to me.

Paul says, “In order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh.” The weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties Paul endured kept him humble. It’s important to note that the degrees of responsibility will equal the depth of suffering. Jesus put it this way: ” Everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” We may be tempted to want the same experiences Paul had, but we must also realise that those encounters and responsibilities led to immense suffering. Do you want that too?


Paul learned that his weaknesses were an opportunity for Christ’s power to rest on him. The change in perspective allowed him to delight (take pleasure) in weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties. Why? “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” This is an amazing lesson—one I’m still working on.

Paul told the Philippians that his sufferings had helped him learn the secret of being content in any and every situation and that he could do this through Jesus, “who gives me strength.” We can only learn dependence and contentment when we face adverse circumstances. So, discipline your mind to view these things from a different perspective.


Have you noticed that God invariably answers our prayers in a way that differs from our expectations? Sometimes, God answers before we pray. At other times, God may answer immediately. But more often than not, the answer is “yes, but not now” or, as in the case of Paul’s thorn, “No, but here’s my grace.” God always answers prayer; as I tell my kids, “No” is an answer!

When the answer is “No,” God provides the grace we need to bear the thorn—this is God’s sustaining grace. Eugene Peterson again: “[God] told me, ‘My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.’ Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness.”

When facing tough times, I encourage you to change perspective and focus on God’s grace and strength, moving in on your weaknesses. You don’t have to enjoy the hard things life dishes up, but you can endure them. By doing this, you’ll witness God refining your character and providing strength and grace. Learn the lessons from the thorn.


Over the years, there has been much conjecture about what Paul called a thorn in his flesh, which he was given by a messenger of Satan. All kinds of assumptions have been made, and we’ll explore these before investigating the context of Paul’s statements.


Context is everything, but if it is ignored, we resort to speculation. For example, some have suggested Paul suffered from a chronic disease like epilepsy, even though there is no evidence for such a claim.

Others have proposed it was an eye disease based on Paul’s comments in Galatians: Although my illness was a trial to you…If you could have done so, I can testify that you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. Some have interpreted this to mean that Paul had an awful eye disorder, but the original language does not support that interpretation. The word “illness” is not in the Greek manuscripts and has been added by the translators.

Investigating the book of Acts, we learn that Paul had been in Lystra, stoned by an angry mob, dragged out of the city, and left for dead. Lystra was in Galatia, which was a region and not a city. Because of the injuries resulting from being stoned, he remained in Galatia, where the Christians cared for him as he recovered.

Others have suggested the messenger of Satan had harmed Paul in some way while he was visiting the third heaven, but again, this is just pure conjecture and highly unlikely. Still, others say it was Paul’s anxiety or a specific opponent.


With all that in mind, let’s investigate what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10: “Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times, I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

The term Thorn in the flesh is an Idiom, one of many that we find in Scripture and still used in everyday life like:

A leopard can’t change his spots (Jeremiah 13:23)

A little bird told me (Ecclesiastes 10:20)

Escaped by the skin of your teeth (Job 19:20)

Fly in the ointment (Ecclesiastes 10:1)

Take someone under your wing (Psalms 91:4)

A thorn in one’s side is a continuous problem or annoyance that makes life difficult. It could be a person, thing, experience, or habit one can’t overcome. The word thorn refers to a bodily annoyance or disability. Paul experienced this in his body (flesh) as a human weakness. The messenger was an angel (in this case, a fallen one!). To torment means “to strike with the fist” and is the same word used for the treatment Jesus experienced before His crucifixion when he was beaten and punched.


The above description is vital to our understanding of Paul’s thorn. Remember, Paul wrote 2 Corinthians as a letter without chapters and verses. Before speaking about the thorn, he had outlined the persecutions and sufferings he had endured for the gospel’s sake:

I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times, I was beaten with rods; once, I was pelted with stones; three times, I was shipwrecked; I spent a night and a day in the open sea.

Paul informs them that he is constantly travelling and faces multiple dangers. He often goes without sleep, food, drink, and sufficient clothing.

He summarises all this by confessing the weaknesses that result from his sufferings. Imagine the result of these experiences in this little man. The physical effects would have been severe, leaving his body scarred and disfigured.

And so, in chapter 12, Paul has had enough and asks God three times for things to change. God answers Paul’s prayer by offering grace, so Paul has to modify his attitude and expectation of God: Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” There it is; the thorn is clearly outlined by Paul in those five words.

I believe Paul’s thorn in the flesh resulted from the harsh experiences, particularly the persecutions he endured for the gospel’s sake. Context is everything.

Paul’s experiences can teach us some extremely important lessons, which will be the subject of next week’s blog.

Jesus taught us not to swear oaths, but there are occasions when we are required to. Should I swear an oath in a courtroom, for example? I’m asked this question occasionally, so writing a blog on this topic would be helpful. Here it is!

The Scriptures

Jesus taught this during his famous Sermon on the Mount. He said, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.”

Some translations end with “comes from the evil one,” suggesting that Satan is somehow behind the swearing of oaths. But that’s not correct. Swearing an oath does not originate with a personality such as Satan. More on that in a moment because the word “evil” actually holds the key to what Jesus is teaching.

Changing Scripture

In this section of Jesus’ Sermon, he modifies some of the Scriptures. If you read Matthew chapter five, you’ll notice Jesus say several times: “You have heard that it was said to those of old… But I say to you.” Jesus quotes from the Tanakh (The Christian Old Testament) each time and updates the meaning. His statement about oaths paraphrased several verses from the Tanakh:

  • You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name. (Exodus 20:7)
  • Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:12)
  • You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name. (Deuteronomy 5:11)
  • If you make a vow to the LORD your God, do not be slow to pay it, for the LORD your God will certainly demand it of you, and you will be guilty of sin. But you will not be guilty if you refrain from making a vow. Whatever your lips utter, you must be sure to do because you made your vow freely to the LORD your God with your own mouth. (Deuteronomy 23:21-23; plus, Numbers 30:3-15).

Jesus argues for a better way by teaching that vows are unnecessary. He agrees with Ecclesiastes 5:5: It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfill it.

The apostle James quoted Jesus in his letter: “But above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.” The Greek word “condemnation” refers to an accusation against you by others and does not refer to God’s judgment in this context.

Unnecessary Oaths

Jesus teaches against the use of oaths because they are unnecessary. All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from evil. In other words, oaths are worthless or pointless.

Jesus showed that oaths are unnecessary and have no value. He taught simplicity and integrity by encouraging people not to make things more complicated than necessary. Rather than getting into all kinds of oaths, just a simple YES or NO will do. Keep your communication uncluttered. Be an upright and honest person.

One of the lessons my recently departed dad taught me was always to make my word my bond, a phrase that originated in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. From there, it became an accepted English Proverb: “An honest man’s word is as good as his bond.” “Word is Bond” has been used by several rap artists, stressing the importance of speaking the truth and standing by what you say.

If I tell someone, “I give you my word,” they can rest assured that I will do what I say and do not need to swear an oath to add assurance. My word is my bond. When we live like this, no one can accuse us of failing on our promise, as James suggests.

Everyday Life

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches people how to live everyday life. I don’t believe his comments address an oath like one would give in a courtroom. Jesus is teaching about our communication with one another where just a simple YES or NO will do rather than attempting to back it up by swearing on God, yourself, or something else.

When I’m asked if I would take THE oath, my answer is Yes, most definitely. I have done so on many occasions and always do so with great sincerity. I have appeared in a courtroom several times as a character witness for someone accused of a crime. I have professed an oath on the Holy Bible: “I swear by Almighty God that the evidence I shall give will be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”

I also swore an oath when I became an Australian Citizen in the 1980s: From this time forward, under God, I pledge my loyalty to Australia and its people, whose democratic beliefs I share, whose rights and liberties I respect, and whose laws I will uphold and obey.

These days, Conferees can choose between two versions of the pledge: one that refers to God and one that does not. I will always choose the one that refers to God, but that’s a personal choice.

There’s nothing wrong with saying that kind of oath, but keep your communication simple and sincere in daily life.

Our Bayside Church community is in the midst of grief as we stand alongside a family whose eldest daughter took her life a week ago. The family are foundational church members, joining Bayside Church in its first year in 1992. So, they are well-known and deeply loved. The pain they and others are experiencing runs deep. And so, I write this blog hoping to comfort anyone who faces the depths of grief and loss.

The Psalms

The Psalms are an excellent source of the expression of genuine faith. The 150 Psalms can be divided into three main groups:

Group 1: Everything is lovely; praise the Lord, hallelujah.

Group 2: Everything is not okay. I’m struggling intensely, but the Lord is going to rescue me.

Group 3: Everything is not okay. I’m struggling intensely and praying hard, but God seems absent. These are the lament Psalms and make up almost one-third (42 out of 150) of the Psalms. Let that sink in.

Psalm 88

One such Psalm is Psalm 88, which Charles Spurgeon described as follows: “In this Psalm, Heman makes a map of his life’s history. He puts down all the dark places through which he has travelled. He mentions his sins, his sorrows, his hopes (if he had any), his fears, his woes, and so on. Now, that is real prayer, laying your case before the Lord.”

Please read and reflect on this Psalm and the raw and honest words the author uses. He was overwhelmed with troubles, drained of strength and abandoned by God. Although he prayed daily, he felt cut off from God’s care. “My eyes are dim with grief. Why, Lord, do you reject me and hide your face from me?” The Psalm concludes with, “Darkness is my closest friend.”

The Psalm title instructs the music director to set the song to Mahalath leannoth: “The Suffering of Affliction.” This contemplative poem helps us understand that human existence is not always easy. Wherever we live, whoever we are, and whatever faith we have, there will be terrible times when we wonder where God is and why he let “it” happen.

The lament Psalms sanction our grief, honest questions, expressions of doubt, and anger at God. I am so grateful that the Holy Spirit inspired their inclusion in the Scriptures.

Express Yourself

When life is unfair, we suffer and grieve and have many unanswered questions; it’s okay to say exactly how you feel. That’s what Heman did. Over 2,700 years since it was written, we’re still reading Psalm 88 because Heman expressed himself. Imagine if he had bottled up his feelings because he didn’t want people to think he wasn’t a real man.

All the Psalms were sung publicly in the community. Heman voiced his feelings in a community of people who could support him through his grief. I am so grateful to belong to an authentic community of faith where we can be honest.

Good Grief

Grief is a process with many ups and downs. Losses that cause grief include the death of a loved one, a friend, or a pet, the ending of a marriage, or a miscarriage or stillbirth. We grieve the loss of friendships, a job, health, and life changes like retirement or moving house. We’re pained when dreams fail, future plans don’t eventuate, or our financial security is shaken.

Grief is a proper emotional response to these and other losses. In Bible times, grieving people would dress in sackcloth and pour ashes on their heads. Jesus spoke of this as a favourable expression of sorrow. Our modern Western mindsets could benefit from the example of our Eastern friends, whom we often judge as “over the top.” A healthy expression of grief is one way to live through it.

The fact that the lament Psalms like Psalm 88 are included in inspired Scripture tells us a lot. It tells us that God is totally okay with human grief and with humans expressing that grief. He’s alright with being questioned, with people being angry with him and accusing him. God is not going to smite you, turn away from you, or stop listening to you, and he will not have a holy huff. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

Resist Platitudes

In my work as a pastor, I have noticed how uncomfortable we Aussies tend to be around death, grief and loss. And in our discomfort, we tend to say thoughtless things. My eldest daughter told someone this week that a lifelong friend had just ended her life. His response? “Well, life goes on.”

If you don’t know what to say, say nothing. Be present and listen. Give a hug or an arm around a shoulder. Don’t say, “I know what you’re going through” unless you do. Give practical help where possible and let people know you’re thinking of them, but don’t be intrusive. Resist platitudes like:

  • There’s a reason for everything.
  • They’re in a better place.
  • Time heals all wounds.
  • They wouldn’t want you to cry.
  • It’s all happened for the best.
  • It’s time to put all this behind you.

The last one is only for the grieving person to decide.

Not Okay

People say, “Well, everything will be okay,” but none know that will happen. What if things aren’t okay? Not everything ends well, even in the Bible, and a faith that tries to convince you otherwise is bogus.

Christie and I have a friend in South Africa who lost her son in a tragedy many years ago. At the time, she was a member of a Word of Faith church and was told by her pastor that she didn’t need to grieve because Jesus “has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” When we met her, she still hadn’t grieved her loss.

The Hebrew word translated borne means to be lifted like Noah’s ark on the flood waters. It’s a stunning picture of God’s promise to carry us as we live through grief. It reminds me of the Footprints story.

Because of Jesus, we have hope in the resurrection of the dead; we do “not grieve as others who have no hope,” but we still live our way through grief. Today, our friend has processed her heartache and joined a Christian community free from toxic positivity.

Weeping and Laughter

The Psalms intertwine joy and grief, rejoicing and mourning. This is a very realistic picture of life. At funerals, stories are told that make people laugh, but we also cry. If you’re living through grief and loss, I encourage you to be gentle with yourself and incredibly honest with God. As you live your way through grief, something beautiful happens within. Paul wrote about it like this: “The Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

If you are struggling in any way and need support, please call
Lifeline Australia: 13 11 14
Pastoral Care Phone: 0401 721 912

There’s a fascinating verse in Romans chapter 12 that, at first glance, looks like permission to inflict pain on the people we don’t like: “In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Paul’s teaching in Romans 12 is about showing kindness to those who don’t like us (or we don’t like, or both). The apostle quotes Proverbs 25:21-22, If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.

It appears to read: be nice to your enemies and cause them pain! So, what’s the deal with the burning coals? How should we understand what the Bible is teaching us here? I have found three explanations:


In the ancient world, people would carry a tray of burning coals on their heads as a sign of repentance. The scriptures speak of people expressing sorrow by wearing sackcloth and ashes. Consider Mordecai, who, upon learning of Haman’s plot to destroy the Jews, tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly.

Jesus reprimanded two cities, Chorazin and Bethsaida, for their hard-heartedness towards his ministry: Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. Bethsaida was the hometown of the apostles Peter, Andrew, and Philip. Imagine hearing Jesus’ words of rebuke about your birthplace.

So, the explanation is that showing kindness to your enemy may open the door for them to repent and change how they behave towards you. And that certainly can happen.


The second understanding of the burning coals symbolises a life of nonviolence and allowing God’s judgement to operate. The context certainly supports that understanding. The previous verse says: Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. In other words, be kind to your enemy and allow God to judge them.

In this interpretation, the burning coals symbolise God’s judgment.


In the third explanation, the burning coals are a sign of kindness, not judgment, and I agree. Paul encourages people to act kindly to their enemies.

In ancient times, people would cook their meals over a fire, as in many parts of the world today. If the fire went cold, the woman of the household would put an earthen jar on her head, walk to their neighbour’s house, and ask for hot coals.

Imagine your enemy coming to your door and asking for hot coals from the fire. Our natural inclination would be to refuse them. And that’s Paul’s point for followers of Jesus. Live in such a way that does better than expressing your typical feelings. If your enemy is in need and you have the opportunity to be kind, then be kind. If their fire’s gone out, give them hot coals to carry home on their head.

Jesus’ Teaching

In Romans 12, Paul reiterates Jesus’ teaching from his sermon on the Mount:

  • Give to the one who asks you.
  • Do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
  • Love your enemies.
  • Pray for those who persecute you.
  • Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.

Paul agrees:

  • Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
  • Do not repay anyone evil for evil.
  • Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
  • If possible, as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

The last statement is significant because sometimes, living at peace with someone is impossible. You should not feel duty-bound in such circumstances.

Jesus’ way is never passive or idle. Jesus was an activist, not a passivist. But the activism he supported was showing practical kindness to others, even our enemies.

We could summarise Paul’s teaching here by this statement: The best way to destroy an enemy is to turn them into a friend.

Jesus sent out his Twelve Apostles with a mixture of warnings and encouragement, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore, be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard…” He goes on to warn them about persecution because of the gospel.

Jesus is speaking in proverbs and comparing people with types of animals: sheep, wolves, snakes and doves. Israel viewed themselves as sheep amongst the Gentiles (wolves). Both Jesus and Paul warned about people who were like wolves in sheep’s clothing!

In Matthew 10, Jesus only sends his twelve apostles to Jewish people saying, “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.” And so, it is likely that the wolf-like people would also be Jews, particularly Jewish religious leaders who wanted to protect the status quo against this new sect of Judaism.

Paul’s Experiences

Paul’s ministry was constantly resisted by a group of Jewish Christians who insisted that followers of Jesus were saved by a combination of God’s grace and human effort. They held that a true disciple would obey the Mosaic Law, and men were required to be circumcised.

These men follow Paul around. As soon as he moved on, the Judaizers moved in. Many of Paul’s letters were written to the churches he established to correct the false doctrine spread by these men. To the Philippians, he wrote, Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. He was even blunter to the Galatians wishing these agitators “would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!”

Interestingly, Paul was once one of the wolves but had been radically converted when Jesus appeared to him. Opposition would also come from the Roman Empire, but this opposition would usually be at the behest of the Jewish religious leaders.

Back to Jesus

In his instructions in Matthew 10, Jesus mentions four kinds of animals to guide his disciples’ conduct. Sheep were viewed as timid and unassuming, unlike wolves, which could be assertive, aggressive, and dangerous. Jesus instructed his disciples to adopt a meek posture as they taught and demonstrated the kingdom of heaven.

They would sometimes face persecution for the gospel but were not to become aggressive in return. They were to conduct themselves with humility and grace and not be antagonistic. Let that sink in. Followers of Jesus are to clothe themselves with meekness, humility, and kindness, not antagonism. Watching some Christians behave poorly during the lockdowns grieved me deeply during the recent pandemic. We should be known as people of compassion, not condemnation.

Snakes and Doves

After the contrast between sheep and wolves, Jesus tells the Twelve to be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Unlike the previous proverb, Jesus’ followers are to embrace the qualities of both animals, snakes and doves, and imitate two virtues, namely, wisdom and innocence. What’s Jesus teaching here?

Be as shrewd as snakes. The Greek word (phronimos), translated by the NIV as “shrewd,” comes from the root of the English word “diaphragm.” The diaphragm regulates our breathing from the inside out, often involuntarily. In fact, until now, you have been breathing without thinking about it, except now you are!

And so, Jesus encourages his followers to practice being wise, sensible, intelligent, and practical until it becomes a natural part of who they are without thinking.

Snakes and Wisdom

Wisdom is not something that we usually associate with snakes in our culture or faith. The first snake in Scripture is the talking serpent, later identified as ha-satan (the adversary). Now the serpent was craftier than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. “Crafty” is used here negatively, but the word can be positive. Depending on the context, it can mean wise, sensible, and intelligent. The Hebrew word is translated in all those ways in the scriptures.

The idea of the serpent as symbolising wisdom entered most Eastern nations’ early parables.

Snakes and Healing

You’ve probably noticed the caduceus or The Rod of Asclepius, but maybe you didn’t know what it was called. It’s the Medical symbol with one or two snakes on a staff. The sign is based on a Bible story in the Book of Numbers. On the way to the Red Sea, the Israelites grew impatient and started complaining against God and Moses, “Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” As punishment, the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people, and many Israelites died. This brought the people to their senses, and they begged Moses to ask God to remove the snakes. Here was God’s remedy:

The Lord told Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So, Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.

Be Like Snakes!

Snakes in the wild demonstrate wisdom in quickly assessing and escaping danger. Jesus taught his followers to evaluate trouble or persecution and move away from it if possible. Christians should not seek persecution as if it were a badge of honour.

And Doves

Jesus tells the Twelve to be as shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves. The word innocent can mean simple, unsophisticated, sincere, blameless, or have pure motives.

Using this proverb, Jesus instructs his followers to be inherently wise, humble, and uncomplicated in character. I encourage you to consider the character qualities Jesus teaches his people to embody. Christians are to be meek, modest, wise, kind and straightforward. Clothe yourself with these things, and you will be like Jesus.


Reformed theology includes a system of belief that traces its roots back to the Protestant Reformation over 500 years ago. It also contains many of the doctrines taught by Augustine in the 4th and 5th centuries.

A brief history

The Reformation was an extensive religious revolt against the abuses and authoritarian control of the Roman Catholic Church. The Reformers included Martin Luther in Germany, Ulrich Zwingli in Switzerland, and John Calvin in France. These men protested the unbiblical practices of the Roman Catholic Church and encouraged a return to sound biblical doctrine. The triggering event of the Protestant Reformation is generally considered Luther’s posting of his Ninety-five Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Church on 31 October 1517.

The Theses focused on sin and forgiveness, mainly how people were to seek pardon and salvation. They protested against the Roman church and how it was selling forgiveness and pardon through indulgencies (A letter of indulgence was given in exchange for a monetary gift or a charitable deed). Indulgences often led people into poverty and reduced the amount of charity people could do. People experiencing poverty, Luther said, should be helped.

A copy of the Ninety-five Theses was sent to Rome, and efforts began to convince Luther to change his tune, but he refused to keep silent.  In 1521, Pope Leo X formally excommunicated Luther from the Catholic Church. The Reformers, their followers and successors, formed a theology that they believed better represented the original intention of scripture and Jesus for his church.

Reformed theology

Reformed theology is not a new belief system but seeks to continue apostolic doctrine. In summary, reformed theology holds to:

  • The authority of Scripture.
  • The sovereignty of God.
  • Salvation by grace through Jesus Christ.
  • The necessity of evangelism.

Reformed theology is also called Covenant theology, Calvinism, the Doctrines of Grace, or Augustinian theology. It is alive and well in Reformed Churches, some Presbyterian churches, some Baptist churches, Lutheran Churches, and the Acts 29 movement, a global family of church-planting churches that adheres to Calvinist theology.

Recognising the good

There is much in reformed theology that is good. I appreciate the high regard for scripture, the focus on Jesus and salvation, and the desire for others to experience the gospel. I acknowledge that there are various streams of reformed theology and that not all reformed theologians hold to all its tenants of the faith.

In addressing my concerns about reformed theology, I am not critical of individuals or churches. I acknowledge that people who hold to reformed theology love Jesus and are part of the Christian family. Christians have and do differ on all sorts of doctrines. I appreciate the words of 17th Century Lutheran theologian Rupertus Meldenius, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” Having said that here are my chief concerns with reformed theology:

* Reformed theology denies people’s free will

Augustine wrote, “By Adam’s transgression, the freedom of the human will has been completely lost … we have lost the free will to love God.” Martin Luther said, “For if man has lost his freedom, and is forced to serve sin, and cannot will good, what conclusion can more justly be drawn concerning him, than that he sins and wills evil necessarily?” I believe reformed theology has an unhealthy emphasis on sin and people’s lack of free will not to sin. Their doctrine of total depravity states that human nature is thoroughly corrupt and sinful due to the fall.

While I believe the Bible teaches that “all have sinned” and that no one is righteous outside of God’s grace, we witness human beings exercising their free will to do good. Most people are NOT depraved. Scripture also attests to people’s inherent goodness. The Bible starts at Genesis One, not Genesis Three, with people created in God’s good image. While the image has been marred, it has not been destroyed.

Reformed theology denies personal accountability

The blame for every person’s sinfulness is placed on Adam. John Calvin noted, “Adam drew all his posterity with himself, by his fall, into eternal damnation.” Whether we like it or not, we’re all going to hell, and it’s all Adam’s fault. Reformed theology buys into the blame game of Genesis Three – Adam blamed God and “that woman”. Eve blamed the snake, which didn’t have a leg to stand on.

Reformed theology has a harmful obsession with original sin. Scripture teaches that each person is responsible to account for their sins.

Reformed theology denies Christ died for everyone

Aussie evangelist Joshua Williamson said, “If Christ died for everyone, everyone would be saved.” And yet, the New Testament is replete with verses that use words like EVERYONE and ALL. The New Testament affirms that Christ died for all people. God’s boundless atonement does not make salvation automatic but available for everyone. **

Reformed theology teaches an unhealthy view of predestination

There are some horrific statements made by reformed thinkers about the destiny of the “unsaved”. Consider John Calvin, “not only was the destruction of the ungodly foreknown, but the ungodly themselves have been created for the specific purpose of perishing.” Let that sink in. Author Alan Kurschner said, “God desires that his people are saved. He does not desire that every single individual who has ever lived live in glory with him forever. If that were the case, we have an incompetent, unhappy, and impotent God.”

Erwin Lutzer (former Senior Pastor Moody Bible Church, Chicago) said, “The revealed will was that all men be saved, but the hidden will was that the greater part of mankind be damned.” Seriously? Does God have a hidden will? And John MacArthur comments: “[God’s] patience is not so He can save all of them, but so that He can receive all of His own …” The rest be dammed.

Have you noticed that people who say these things are always in the “saved” category? How easily we condemn people who are not us. Contrast the above quotes with Jesus, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” The apostle Paul wrote, For as in Adam all die, so in Christ, all will be made alive.

For in-depth teaching on Romans 9:12-21 and why I believe those who embrace reformed theology misinterpret these verses, listen to my podcast on predestination.

Reformed theology pushes the sovereignty of God too far

Martin Luther believed, “God worketh all things in all men, even wickedness in the wicked …” John Calvin stated, “Whatever things are done wrongly and unjustly by man, these very things are the right and just works of God.” It reminds me of the meme, “You’re telling me that when God told Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit that he really wanted them to?”

While it is true that, because of free will and the laws of nature, God created the potential for bad things to happen in the world, to say that God works wickedness in the wicked is to deny the heart of God, who is LOVE and GOODNESS. *** James is especially concerned that we’re not misled: Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

Reformed churches diminish the role of women

Reformed churches are invariably complementarian, believing that men and women are equal but different. Valid, except in these churches, men are usually more equal than women, to misquote George Orwell.

Complementarianism holds to exclusively male leadership in the church and home, and women should not have church leadership roles that involve teaching or authority over men. Women are expected to support and submit to male authority. I recently saw a Facebook post where a pastor shared his joy about a retreat with his fellow pastors (all men) and thanked the wives for “holding the fort”. I have written about complementarian elsewhere and recorded a podcast outlining my views that complementarianism does an injustice to scripture and women.

For these reasons, I believe Reformed Theology could do well to experience another Reformation.


* Lev. 18:29; Deut. 24:16; 2 Kings 14:6; 2 Chron. 25:4; Eze. 18:2-6; Eze. 18:20; Jer. 17:10; Matt. 16:27; Rom. 2:5-6; Rom. 14:12; 2 Cor. 5:10; 2 Cor. 11:15; 1 Pet. 1:17; Rev. 20:11-12; Rev. 22:12.

** Heb. 2:9; 2 Cor. 5:14-15; 1 Jn. 2:2, Jn. 3:14-17; 12:46; Acts 10:43; Rom. 10:11; Rev. 22:17, Rom. 14:15; 1 Cor. 8:11; 2 Pet. 2:1.

*** Gen. 1:31; 6:5-6; 1 Sam. 15:22; Jer. 19:5, 32:35; Isa. 5:4; Zeph. 3:5; Ecc. 7:29; Matt. 6:10; Lk. 7:30; 1 Cor. 14:33; Heb. 1:9; James 1:13; 1 John 1:5

The Bible gives us an incredible revelation of the goodness of God. But some parts of it seem to present God being anything but good. Sometimes, God overreacts, becomes extremely violent, appears volatile, and then regrets his behaviour.

Some have attempted to explain this disparity by suggesting there are two gods ~ the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New. Professor Richard Dawkins puts it like this: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”  But there aren’t two gods, only the One True God, and sometimes he doesn’t come across as very pleasant. What are we to make of this?

Awful Examples

There appears to be some truth to Dawkins’ words. Consider Deuteronomy 20:16–18, in which Moses gave these instructions to the people, “However, in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them…as the Lord your God has commanded you. Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshipping their gods, and you will sin against the Lord your God.” In other words, I know you people lack self-control and might get led astray, so let’s kill everyone and remove all temptation!

The Hebrew word “destroy” means to devote something to God by eradicating it. We are outraged by the terrorism we witness in the world, yet here it is encouraged, indeed commanded, by God.

From Joshua chapter six onwards, we see the systematic destruction of thirty-one cities and their inhabitants – men, women, children, and all the animals. Entire towns were slaughtered with no terms of surrender and no chance to relocate to another land. And according to the author, God is right there cheering on the massacre.

I’ve read the Bible many times. When I was young, these were great war stories about my faith heroes. Then, I began to feel uncomfortable with them and would skip over these sections pretending they were not there. Except they are. We need to face it. The Bible records some pretty awful stuff.

Most pastors NEVER teach or read them to their churches. We’re embarrassed that they are in the Bible. But they ARE there. So, what do we make of them? To discover the answers, we need to understand how the Bible works.

The Bible is Inspired

Paul told Timothy that God inspires all scripture. Inspires means God-breathed and expresses the sacred nature of the Scriptures (their divine origin) and their power to sanctify believers.” God breathed into Adam, and he became a living being. So, God gives life to his word.

People Wrote the Bible

Throughout time, God has chosen to work with and through imperfect people. God is still doing that now by acting through you and me. In forming the Scriptures, God used the authors’ knowledge, culture, personality, language, and idioms to communicate. People wrote scripture inspired by their interactions with God, one another, and the world around them. Then God breathed life into their words.

God could have given us an A4 Sheet of paper with “things to do” on one side and “things not to do” on the other. But he didn’t. God chose to reveal himself to people through people. And so, what we see in scripture is an unfolding of God’s nature as people increasingly comprehend.

The Bible is Ancient

The oldest parts of the Bible (Job and some Proverbs) are almost 4,000 years old. The newest sections are some New Testament writings, like John’s gospel, written in the final decade of the first century (1,900 years ago). Life was VERY different back then.

Consider how things have changed during our lifetime. For example, we have witnessed massive advances in technology. When our eldest daughter was born (now 24), she enjoyed cassettes, compact discs, and videos. Next came DVDs. These days she (and the rest of the family) streams her music and programs.

Consider the changing attitudes to smoking. From the 1930s to the 1950s, advertising’s most powerful phrase—”doctors recommend”, was used to promote cigarettes. Today, we know that smoking causes all sorts of illnesses. Why did we EVER think that breathing smoke into the lungs could be anything but bad for you? And these days, we’re facing a younger generation repeating history by vaping.

So, if life has changed dramatically in the last few decades, how much have things changed in the past 3000 years? We must remember that when we’re reading the Bible.

The Bible Doesn’t Erase History

The Bible includes questionable things. It details cases of rape, incest, genocide, and violence. Regarding the genocide passages, we must understand these in the context of life in the ancient world. Three thousand years ago, if you left one of your enemies alive, they would live to take revenge and kill you. So, if you wanted to live a long life, you’d wipe out your enemies.

The Scriptures don’t censor the stories or erase history. They report the good, the bad, and the ugly. At that time, that’s how wars were fought. That is what life was like in the ancient world. We look at life differently now.

The Bible is not Static

The Bible is living and active, dynamic, and energetic. Just like flowing water, the Bible’s message is heading somewhere. It’s got momentum, and it’s progressing.

This progression of truth is called the Arc of Scripture. Over time, the Bible shifts from the revenge mentality to a better way. The Bible’s arc shows how people’s view of, and relationship with, God has matured over time.

For example, when God instructed Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, Abraham didn’t blink an eye. Why? Because in the ancient world, child sacrifice was an accepted form of worship. In the Genesis 22 story, God met Abraham according to his cultural understanding and then shifted him from child to animal sacrifice. It’s not that God was fussed about animal sacrifice either, as we read later in the Scriptures, but killing an animal is preferred to slaying a child.

We witness the Bible’s progression on many other subjects, including slavery (Cf. Ex 21:20-21; Leviticus 25:44-46; Luke 12:47; 1 Peter 2:18); and Eunuchs, who were at first excluded, then welcomed, and then pursued (Cf. Deuteronomy 23:1-4; Isaiah 56:3-8; Acts 8). Other examples of the Bible’s progressive revelation include women’s rights, interracial marriage, illegitimate children, war, capital punishment, gender diversity, LGBTIQA+ rights, and dozens of other examples demonstrating that the Bible is not a static book.

God’s Final Revelation

If the Bible is motionless, and every part of it equally applies today, we’re in serious trouble. But, if it is active and developing, we can equate troublesome stories to how ancient people viewed life.

They were nomadic tribes that were often at war. To them, God was a warrior who gave them victory over their enemies and endorsed their enslaving captured enemies. They saw God through the culture of their day. God met them where they were but then took them on a pilgrimage of discovery and understanding.

Jesus is God’s final revelation to humanity, showing us what he’s like – a redeemer who does not kill or destroy. John Wesley said, “As the full and final revelation of God, Jesus is the criterion for evaluating Scripture, the prism through which the Hebrew Scriptures must be read.” 

While Jesus affirmed the Hebrew Scriptures as the authentic Word of God, he did not endorse every word in them (Cf. Matt. 5:44). When the disciples wanted to destroy a Samaritan town by calling down fire as Elijah did (Luke 9:51-56), he said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.”

James and John, the “Sons of Thunder“, were ready to consign Samaria to destruction because of the inhospitality of a few people. Jesus clarified that the “manner of spirit” that would exterminate people was alien to God’s character. The vengeful spirit that dehumanises, depersonalises and demonises an entire town, nation, or race is not of God.

We must understand the Arc of Scripture and that the Bible is progressing (growing, improving, developing); otherwise, we will cherry-pick random verses and use them to condemn others or shut down conversations. Christians are to live by the Royal Law and the Golden Rule: love your neighbour as yourself and treat others the same way you want them to treat you. That is how the Bible works.

On the long weekend, I watched The Kingdom twice. I encourage you to watch it too.  The Kingdom is a documentary in which Australian journalist Marc Fennell “investigates the successful but scandal-plagued megachurch Hillsong, stepping back into the world of Pentecostalism that he left behind and asking what happens as the Hillsong kingdom crumbles.” Unlike other documentaries on Hillsong, The Kingdom interviews people from various standpoints and looks for the good in Pentecostalism and the not-so-good.

And so, I write this blog NOT as another voice to knock Hillsong, but rather to ask what we can learn to ensure the church’s future is better than its past. I write as someone from within the church who loves and values the church and wants the church to be everything Jesus had in mind when he started it.

My Experiences

I attended Hills Christian Life Centre in the mid-80s while studying full-time at Bible College. Hills was in a school hall, Geoff Bullock was on piano, and the place was jumping. I stayed with Hills CLC as it moved into a factory. Eventually, I joined a small outreach from Hills, Westside CLC in St Marys, and was on the Ministry Team for over two years. We had a Sunday afternoon service and headed to Hills for Sunday night. It was an exciting, vibrant Pentecostal church. I loved every minute of it.

Since relocating to Melbourne in the late 80s, I have observed Hillsong from a distance, watching its phenomenal growth and influence. My interactions with Hillsong have mainly been positive, but I realise that is only the case for some. So, what can we Pentecostal Christians learn from all the scandal, negative press, and the multitudes who have been hurt and disillusioned by their experiences in our churches? What lessons can we learn to ensure that history doesn’t repeat itself and that the future is safer and, simply, more like Jesus?

As I reflect on these questions, I am not targeting Hillsong or any other church. I have identified some of these negatives in my ministry and church leadership approach and have worked hard to address them in the past few years.

American Influence

The American version of the church highly influences Australian Pentecostals. It’s no secret that Brian Houston’s trip to the US in 1989 proved a turning point for his church as he bought into the health, wealth, and success doctrines that had gripped the US church for a decade. As Hillsong leapt from success to success, many other Australian churches copied them, myself included. All this led to the second major problem amongst Pentecostal churches.

The Frenetic Pace

Marc Fennell said, “The insatiable growth of Pentecostalism has left far too many casualties.” I agree. The church growth movement of the 1980s focused our (pastors) attention on growth at all costs. At pastors’ conferences, the most often asked question was, “How many people do you have in your church?” It was like comparing sizes in the boys’ locker room at school. “How many are you running at Bayside these days?” The pressure was filling facilities, starting more services, opening campuses, and planting churches. Bayside Church had five services over three campuses every weekend at one stage. We were successful and exhausted.

I watch other pastors do the same thing and hear of their burnout and need for time off. I recently saw a Facebook post by a young man outlining his ministry schedule in the US, touring Australia, speaking at churches and conferences, producing a podcast and vlog, and running a youth conference. I wanted to comment, “It sounds like a recipe for burnout.” I didn’t, but it is. I know; I’ve been there. Not all growth is good. Cancer is growth, and we cut it out! Scripture says, “God doesn’t count us; he calls us by name. Arithmetic is not his focus.” (Romans 9:31 MSG)

Unholy Expectations

Many years ago, a pastor friend stepped away from Pentecostal leadership and accepted a pastoral role in an evangelical church. He told me the difference was stark. The people expected so much less, and his job became manageable rather than exhausting.

Pentecostal churches have created a harrowing “success” cycle. Everything always has to be better. This year’s conference was phenomenal but wait for next year’s; it will be the best ever. Today’s service was incredible; next weekend will be even better. Once you’ve set the bar so high, you must keep performing to attract more Christian consumers. You can’t have great music one Sunday but an average band the following weekend. And no, you can’t take a break because the show must go on. The best is yet to come!

The expectancies of the senior leadership on their people are enormous, and the congregation return the compliment—the demands of leadership overwork volunteers and leaders are exhausted by the people’s expectations. I bought into this kind of churchianity in the past. I do so no longer, but I know that I’ve hurt some people on the way. And for that, I apologise unconditionally.

Being driven by success and wanting more people, resources, services, and campuses becomes more like an enterprise than a church. These are unholy expectations.

I feel deeply for Brian Houston. Keeping the show going for so long has taken its toll on him, and he’s turned to medication, alcohol, and other unhealthy practices to cope. He looks tired and shaken. I pray that he will take the time to heal and be restored. But how do you stop when you’ve been doing this for so long? I loved John Sanderman’s words in The Kingdom when he was asked what he hopes will happen for Brian: “that he takes time out, and he goes and does something of redeeming value that gives him pleasure and hope. He does not try and be what he was before.”

Manipulative Offerings

I have listened to more than my fair share of coercive offerings over the years in which people are made to feel guilty for not giving or not giving enough. “God has told me fifty people here will give $1000 each in the offering.” “Invest in this offering for your God-given breakthrough.” Don’t get me wrong. I believe in giving, tithing, and generosity to God and the work of a local church, but there’s a fine line between teaching Scripture and the high-pressure tactics of some Pente preachers.

Paul wrote this to the Corinthian church: “you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” The Greek word translated as “compulsion” means “to bend the arm.” I promised Bayside Church at its first service in 1992 that I would NEVER pressurise people to give. I vowed to teach the Bible and present needs when they arose but never to compel anyone. I have kept that promise.

I feel for the many good people in Pentecostal churches who have succumbed to coercion and given to the point where they are struggling financially because they’ve given more than they can afford. Seeing their leaders flying in private jets, receiving luxury gifts, money laundering, evading tax, and getting and providing huge offerings rubs salt in their wounds. People feel hoodwinked and often quietly walk away from the church and sometimes from Jesus.

But Wait … There’s More!

Time doesn’t allow me to detail every concern about the Pentecostal church or outline everything Marc Fennell raised in The Kingdom. So, here are a few other considerations:

  • Sexual misconduct is sometimes common and invariably covered up. When sin is discovered, pastors take the role of victim and victim-shaming—blaming people and the devil instead of taking responsibility for mistakes.
  • The power trap. When I first joined the Pentecostal church, we were on the fringes of society and the church world. And that’s where we thrived. Gaining power and respectability have not done us any favours. We don’t do well when we’re in charge.
  • A lack of accountability, honesty, transparency, and good governance.
  • The celebrity pastor who is beyond questioning or critique.
  • Entertaining Christians rather than making disciples. It is my experience that many people from this church background have a wafer-thin understanding of Scripture and what it means to follow Jesus.
  • Reserved seating for VIPs and famous people flies in the face of James’ injunctions to the church to treat all people equally (James 2:2-4). These churches also discriminate against women (men dominate) and LGBTIQ+ people. I have a gay friend who used to attend Hillsong Sydney, and when he came out, he was stepped down from all ministry. He said, “All they’d let me do is tithe.”
  • Toxic positivity. We can’t just celebrate the good. We must own the damage that’s been done.

The Pentecostal / contemporary church must do better. Paul’s words to the Romans ring true here, “And Israel, who seemed so interested in reading and talking about what God was doing, missed it. How could they miss it? Because instead of trusting God, they took over. They were absorbed in what they themselves were doing. They were so absorbed in their “God projects” that they didn’t notice God right in front of them, like a huge rock in the middle of the road. And so, they stumbled into him and went sprawling.” (Romans 9:31-32 MSG)

Of course, thousands of pastors are getting it a good deal right, and we should thank God for them. These days my goal is to know and serve our people at Bayside Church, whether they be few or many, a shepherd that leads, teaches, loves and guides. People are precious; they are not numbers to make me look good at pastors’ conferences. People are not there to serve the pastors. Christians are called to support one another with humility and grace (John 13:1-17; Matthew 20:25-28; Philippians 2:1-7).

Marc Fennell ended The Kingdom by stating that he didn’t belong in a Pentecostal church anymore. And that’s fine. Pentecostal Christianity is just one flavour of Jesus’ church; not everyone will enjoy every aspect. The supernatural power of God attracted me to Jesus four decades ago, and I remain very much at home in that space. But people will explore their spirituality differently and should not be coerced or controlled in their search for meaning. God does not do control, and neither should his people!

Hillsong has given a gift of incredible worship songs to the church. I, for one, will keep singing them. After all, we sing songs (psalms) by people who are all equally flawed. In the meantime, let’s keep our eyes firmly fixed on Jesus, and whenever you encounter someone who’s been hurt by a church, listen, refrain from judgement, apologise, be kind, and don’t preach at them. They’ve had enough of that.

We regularly awaken to the news of another mass shooting in the USA. Several people have recently been shot for simply arriving at the wrong house. They were mistaken or lost and killed or seriously injured. Add to that the mass shootings in schools, churches, and shopping malls, and it appears that America is highly unsafe.

My main concern in this blog is the people who follow Jesus, claim the Christian faith, are staunch defenders of gun ownership and the Second Amendment, and use the Bible to endorse their point of view. How does this align with the teachings of Jesus?


I want to be transparent about my emotions on this topic because I feel very passionately about it. It is also a cause of enormous frustration to me as the US appears unable or unwilling to act on this significant problem. While I am not anti-firearms per se, they should be strongly regulated. I acknowledge some people love hunting, but I’m not one of them. I struggle with the concept of killing animals and calling it a sport. I understand that sometimes culling is necessary, but there’s a big difference between culling and killing for fun.

I greatly appreciate our government’s decisive action to reduce the number of illegal firearms in Australia. After the Port Arthur massacre in 1996, our new Prime Minister, John Howard, introduced a gun amnesty in which 600,000 firearms were handed in. Gun deaths by homicide and suicide plummeted, and Australia has not seen the likes of Port Arthur since. The same cannot be said for the US.

Back in the USA

There were 647 mass shootings in the US last year. A mass shooting is where four or more people are shot or killed, not including the attacker. With this definition, shootings of under four people are not included.

In 2022, there were only 97 days when a mass shooting was not recorded. So far, in 2023, there have been 185 mass shootings. Last weekend saw eleven mass shootings, but we only heard about the worst one. There are so many that it’s not worth reporting on the smaller ones.

Why’s it Getting Worse?

The trend has risen sharply in recent years. In 2022, there were 44,290 gun-related deaths, a 31% increase on 2019. Nine of the ten deadliest mass shootings in the US occurred after 2007. There are several reasons for this:

Gun ownership is on the rise. And no wonder, there is so little regulation that even a 13-year-old can legally buy a gun. If you don’t believe me, watch this short clip from Bryant Gumbel’s Real Sports. US gun laws are lax, irregular, and ineffective. For example, US Federal law does not require that background checks be made on private sales of guns, including at gun shows or online. Regulations on the safe storage of firearms are also lax in some states.

A fractured society. America was already politically divided well before Covid-19. The Pandemic only made things worse.

Rampant Conspiracies. I know this firsthand as I’ve watched some dear friends descend the rabbit hole of ridiculous plots. They believe in a Deep State Cabal that controls the government. They love Trump because this Cabal does not govern him, so they want him back in power. They believe the Port Arthur massacre was a false flag operation, an excuse for the government to strip Australians of firearms so the government can control the masses. Senator Pauline Hansen peddled this rubbish just a few years ago. Many Americans (including Christians) buy into this and fear it is happening in the US.

Toxic masculinity. 98% of shooters are men.

Financial or personal hardship. Undoubtedly, the gap between the haves and have-nots is getting wider. And this resentment can fuel frustration and anger that can lead to violence. But people face these things in Australia and other countries without resorting to shooting others.

The Second Amendment

Christian Nationalism, a perversion of the Bible and the gospel, is sadly rising in the USA. I know several conservative American Christians who love their God and their guns. They view the US Constitution as sacred and defend their beliefs from Scripture.

The Second Amendment states, A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. The militia refers to the American people.

The Second Amendment needs to be amended. It was first enacted on 15 December 1791, long before semi-automatic weapons. Muskets were the order of the day. Muskets were inaccurate, had a 30-second reloading time, and couldn’t shoot as far as 100 metres.

Misquoting Scripture

Christian gun activists quote Luke 22:36 & 38 to defend their beliefs. Jesus told his disciples, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.” “That’s enough!” he replied. There you go. Jesus told his followers to buy weapons to defend themselves, so we should own guns. But is that what Jesus is teaching here?

Jesus is speaking to Peter and John just before his arrest. When Judas betrayed Jesus, his followers saw what would happen and said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” And one of them struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. Jesus said, No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him. (Luke 22:49-51).

Why did Jesus tell Peter and John to ensure they had weapons if they weren’t supposed to use them? Because those arresting Jesus came fully armed with swords and clubs (Luke 22:52-53), but Jesus didn’t want his disciples to behave that way. Impetuous Peter misses the moment and the message and gets it wrong again.

Jesus wanted to show that they weren’t leading an armed rebellion, so Luke 22:36 is not teaching American Christians that they should own guns. Jesus teaches the opposite by telling Peter, “Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” That could be a prophetic word for the United States, a nation living by and dying by the gun.

I invite you to pray for the US and the American church. I wonder what will need to happen before the nation and some sections of the church come to their senses and act in unity to stem the shedding of innocent blood. How many more people will need to die before a change is made?

We find the most in-depth insights into the resurrection body in 1 Corinthians chapter 15, the resurrection chapter. Please read and ponder verses 35 to 50, in which Paul states his case and then illustrates it with several mini parables. He begins with two questions asking how the dead are raised and what kind of body they will have.

Question one is answered in the first part of the chapter. The dead are raised because Jesus has defeated death through his resurrection. Because Jesus has conquered death, we can, too, as we place our trust in him. Paul then turns his attention to question 2: With what kind of body will they come?

The Example of the Seed

What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed, he gives its own body.

The seed is a body that first must die. In John 12:24, Jesus said unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. No doubt, Jesus was speaking about his impending death. He died as just one man, but his resurrection has cultivated many “seeds” – the billions of people following him.

That body (seed) dies, and God gives it a new body different from the one that perishes. That’s excellent news. Your resurrection body won’t have the same limitations of tiredness, hunger, and sickness endured by the human body.

As Kenneth E. Bailey says, “the new plant that arises from the soil is not created out of the vegetable matter found in the seed. Paul is not telling his readers that in the resurrection the (flesh) will magically reform and arise using the same bone and flesh with which it died.”

This is important because sometimes Christians are unsure about organ donation and cremation because they fear it may affect the resurrection. But your new body will be made of different stuff, so have no fear.

Flesh and Sun

Paul continues this thought in the following parable. The resurrected body will be different from the natural body we possess now. Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another.

He then speaks about Heavenly bodies. Paul isn’t referring to Hollywood actors here; he has the sun, moon, and stars in mind. The sun has one kind of splendour, the moon and the stars another, and each star differs in brilliance. So will it be with the resurrection of the dead.

From our point of view, the sun dies each night and is resurrected in the morning. Even though the sun doesn’t move, we speak of it rising and setting. The moon and stars die each morning and get resurrected each evening. In the same way, death and resurrection are part of each day’s cycle.

Adam and Jesus

So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable; it is raised imperishable it is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.

Paul continues by using the example of the first man, Adam, and the last Adam (Jesus). The first Adam inaugurated the long chain of perishable human bodies. According to Bailey, “the last Adam, Jesus, launched a new age where the incorruptible will inherit the eternal kingdom in the new creation. Paul is referring to the coming of the kingdom of God in its fullness at the end of the age.”[1]

In this present life, all people are like The First Man, having a natural body of the “dust of the earth.” (Genesis 3:19). Almost 99% of the human body’s mass is made up of six elements: oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus. Almost all of the remaining 1% comprises another five elements: potassium, sulphur, sodium, chlorine, and magnesium. Our natural body, says Paul, is perishable, sown in dishonour and weakness as typified by the first Adam who disobeyed, lied to cover it up, blamed his wife, and then blamed God.

As was the earthly man, so are those of the earth. In other words, we can all relate to Adam’s story because it is our story too. We blame others and God rather than take personal responsibility. We are sinners, but that is NOT the end of the story. Like a seed precedes a plant, the natural body precedes the spiritual body.

Paul writes, “just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man.” Paul refers to Jesus as the last Adam, the second man, and the heavenly man, and makes several statements about the resurrection body which is:

Raised imperishable. The resurrected body will not decay or perish (John 3:16). It will be immortal.

Raised in glory. Possessing qualities of integrity, reliability, and wisdom.

Raised in power. The ability to express the life-giving power of love like Jesus demonstrated through the cross.

Raised a spiritual body. The natural (physical) body is sown into death, and, just like a grain of wheat, it springs up as a spiritual body. This body is constituted and directed by the Holy Spirit, thus one that cannot sin, as was God’s original plan.

A Body Like Jesus’

In the resurrection, we will acquire a body that is like Jesus’ resurrection body – tangible, physical. We will not be disembodied spirits floating around on clouds playing the harp. Thank goodness! After his resurrection, Jesus walked, talked, and ate food with people. He was seen by them but also vanished and reappeared in different places. He moved with ease between physical and spiritual dimensions.

Kenneth E. Bailey writes, “In the resurrection, the believer will have a Spirit-constituted physical body. The brokenness and decay of the old body will be gone. The new body will be a physical body like the resurrected body of Christ. Such a glorious vision and promise calls for an exuberant hymn of victory,” which is how Paul ends this chapter:

“Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”


[1] Bailey, Kenneth E. Paul through Mediterranean eyes, p. 460.

Many people in the Bayside Church community are engaging with the New Year Restart, an opportunity to develop or strengthen a spiritual discipline that becomes a part of your life. One such practice is prayer, so it would be helpful to explore what Scripture reveals about this sacred exercise that promotes spiritual growth.

In his epistles, Paul puts tremendous value on prayer. He must have thought it worked! Of the 667 prayers in Bible, 454 traceable answers are found! Have you ever had a prayer answered? If so, tell us about it in the comments section to encourage the faith of others. Prayer works, so prayer has worth!

In his letter to the Ephesian Christians, the apostle urges them to “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.” So, let’s explore these kinds of prayers.


In Ephesians 6:18, Paul employs the most commonly used Greek word for prayer, proseuche. It’s made up of two words. Pros means face-to-face. For example, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with (pros) God…” (John 1:1). The idea conveyed by this word is one of intimacy. The Holy Spirit tells us that the Father and the Son have always had an intimate, face-to-face relationship.

Euche refers to a wish, desire, or vow. It was initially used to depict a person who made a vow to God because of some need or want. They would promise to give something to God of great value in exchange for a favourable answer to prayer.

Proseuche shows us two important things about prayer. It tells us that prayer is the vehicle to bring us into a close and intimate relationship with God. Secondly, the idea of sacrifice is also involved when we surrender to God’s will, purpose and sovereignty. It’s a cosy relationship with God in which we enjoy His presence and align our will with His.


Requests (Gk. deesis) is translated as petitions (NASB) and supplication (KJV). It refers to a need or plea and denotes a cry for God’s help that exposes our inability to meet our own needs.

James employs deesis in his letter when speaking about Elijah, “(The) prayer of a righteous (man) is powerful and effective.” Powerful (Gk. energeo [energy] = the power to get things done). I’m so glad that James uses Elijah as an example. He was a mighty man of God, but he was also an ordinary human being who did great exploits and experienced dismal failures. Consider when Jezebel threatened him. Elijah ran for his life and prayed, “I have had enough, Lord. Take my life.” (1 Kings 19:3-5). Ever felt like that? I certainly have!

Elijah recognised his inability to change the situation apart from God’s intervention. He prayed earnestly (deesis) out of his deep sense of need, asking God to intervene. His prayers were powerful and effective – just like yours are! When we cry out to God with our requests, acknowledging our inability to meet our needs, God will hear and answer!


Jesus reassures his followers that they are welcome to ask (Lit. demand) whatever they wish as long as they remain as one with him (abide, continue, or dwell). Prayer is an enduring relationship rather than a transaction where we only log in when we want something.

The picture in the original language is of a family home in which people live together in safety, comfort, and warmth. If we’re at home with Jesus, and his love and word are at home in us, our prayers will be effective.

New Testament Professor William Klein  stated this: “When a person is asking the Father in prayer, while under the influence of the Spirit of Christ, and is praying according to the Word of God, the Lord guarantees that what the person asks will happen.”

If Jesus’ love and words take up proper residence within us, we will only ask for something in sync with His will and purposes. His word and love transform us, so our prayers always follow his will. This is a recurring theme in the epistles:

“When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (James 4:3)

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us” (1 John 5:14)


The final kind of prayer is intercession (Gk. entynchanō = “to fall in”). The “falling in” occurs when one party meets with another, primarily to mediate on the other’s behalf. But the meaning is more profound than this. It infers intervention or interference, just like the Canaanite woman did when she pleaded with Jesus to heal her daughter (Matthew 15:22-28). She wouldn’t allow Jesus to dismiss her quickly, and because of her wisdom, persistence, and faith, Jesus intervened and healed her daughter.

Jesus and the Holy Spirit are interceding for us, especially in times of difficulty, suffering, and weakness. Encourage yourself with the truth that when you don’t know how to pray, the Spirit throws himself into your case, taking part in it and interfering (in a good way). As Jesus intercedes for you, he is perpetually meeting you at every point and intervening in all your affairs for your benefit. It infers He goes the second mile every time. Be encouraged!