We, humans, are fascinated by death and life beyond the grave. Before becoming a Christian, I frequently pondered these things and was riveted by discussions about reincarnation and communicating with the dead. One of the things that attracted me to the Christian faith was the assurance that this life is not all there is to life. So, let’s dive into some questions about heaven, resurrection, and immortality.

Do we go Straight to Heaven When we Die?

Christians differ on the answer to this question. Some believe as I do, that we go straight to heaven when we die. Others believe the Bible teaches Soul Sleep, that the righteous sleep until judgement day.

By heaven, I’m referring to the third heaven, which is God’s home and where Jesus is now. It is this third heaven that Paul said he visited either bodily or in a vision.

Jesus taught about the Kingdom of heaven, which is the impact of God’s nature on the earth. This is the emphasis of the New Testament and teachings of Jesus and is to be the focus of all followers of Jesus. In other words, our attention is on the here and now rather than the hereafter.

Searching the Scriptures

What does the Bible teach about going to heaven? Paul had much to say about this, particularly to the Corinthian church:

2 Cor 5:1, “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.” Notice that he refers to the body as a tent. A tent is a temporary dwelling place rather than a permanent home. It’s a beautiful comparison.

2 Cor 5:6-8, “Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” You can also read Philippians 1:23 and 2 Tim 4:18 to gain more of Paul’s insights.

Peter wrote about heaven as our imperishable inheritance (1 Peter 1:4). The author of Hebrews spoke of the Old Testament saints longing for a better, heavenly country (11:16) in which to dwell.

Jesus spoke of a time when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned. It appears that upon death, the soul of the faithful person goes to be with the Lord in his presence.

Soul Sleep

Some Christians believe that a person’s soul sleeps from death to the resurrection. Martin Luther believed this, as does Nicky Gumbel of Alpha Course fame. Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 4 are used in defence: “we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of humanity, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” (13-14).

I believe the sleep here is metaphorical, like Jesus spoke about Lazarus when he died, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”

Proponents of soul sleep believe people’s souls are awoken for the resurrection at Christ’s return. But resurrection ALWAYS refers to the body, not the soul.

Consider Jesus’ interactions with the thief on the cross, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Supporters of soul sleep move a comma, “Truly I tell you today, you will be with me in paradise.” There is no punctuation in the original manuscripts, so it is a matter of opinion.

I believe our spirit/soul goes straight to heaven when we die, but I understand why some Christians believe the soul sleeps until judgement day. Whatever the case, one thing is sure, “Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39).

When Does our Spirit Become Immortal?

Is the human spirit immortal, or is it made immortal when we’re born again or when we are resurrected? Once again, there are numerous views on this within the Christian church. In recent years I have come to lean more towards what is known as Christian mortalism, that the human soul is not inherently mortal and that one of the outcomes of Jesus’ death and resurrection is the gift of eternal life. In other words, people do not possess immortality. It is a gift from God.

Scripture says that [God] alone has immortality (1 Timothy 6:16; Cf. John 5:26). If he is the only immortal being that counts people out.

Consider God’s words in Genesis 3:22-23 after the man and woman had “become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and also take from the tree of life and eat and live forever.” So, the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden.” God acted kindly so that people would not live forever in poor conditions.

People do not live forever. The human soul is not immortal apart from an act of God by granting the gift of eternal life because “Our Saviour, Christ Jesus…has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” (2 Timothy 1:10; Cf. Romans 6:23; 2 Tim 1:10; 1 Peter 1:3-4; Romans 2:7; Matthew 10:28).

We are given the gift of eternal life when we are born again. I am still determining whether our spirit becomes immortal at that point or when we are resurrected.

Next week, I’ll examine what the Bible says about the resurrection body.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics recently released the details of the 2021 census, showing Australia’s population is larger, more diverse and less religious. The proportion of people choosing “No religion” increased to 38.4% in 2021 (up from 29.6% in 2016).

The number of Australians who align with Christianity is below 50 per cent for the first time (43.9%, down from 52% in 2016). I am not surprised by this, and I believe it’s a massive wake-up call for the church (and Christians) to do some solid introspection on how it has behaved and the message it communicates. And so, this blog seeks to explore some things that may have contributed to Christianity’s decline.

Child Abuse

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse investigated abuse against children in schools, sports and community groups, residential and religious institutions, and more. The commission “heard more allegations of child sexual abuse in relation to institutions managed by religious organisations than any other management type.” More than 4,000 survivors told the commission that they were sexually abused as children in religious institutions. The abuse occurred in 1,691 religious’ schools, orphanages and missions, churches, presbyteries and manses, and confessionals.

The sexual abuse took many forms, including rape. It was often accompanied by physical or emotional abuse. Most victims were aged between 10 and 14 years when the abuse began. The perpetrators included priests, religious brothers and sisters, ministers, church elders, teachers in religious schools, workers in residential institutions, youth group leaders and others. And here’s the kicker – many religious leaders knew of allegations of child sexual abuse yet failed to take effective action. We should hang our heads in shame. We would fool ourselves if we thought these revelations had nothing to do with the decline in the number of Australians identifying with the Christian church.

Lobbying Against Marriage Equality

The Royal Commission’s findings would have been an excellent time for the church to spend a season in humble repentance and sincere apology to the people of Australia. But no, the church used its voice to seek to deny a small number of people their wish to marry. When the Australian Government conducted the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey in 2017, the Sydney Anglican church donated one million dollars to the “No” campaign. Their charity arm, Anglicare, was furious.

Unsurprisingly, the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) continued to preach its anti-gay message by devoting an unprecedented proportion of its time and resources (maybe $4 million**) to the “NO” campaign. Why this fixation on a minority group, I ask? And how does this reflect Jesus’ interactions with minorities in his society? The lobbying of Christian organisations and churches against the LGBTIQ+ community was viewed as selfish and hypocritical, especially in light of the revelations of sexual abuse. Christians are seen as wanting their way at the expense of the rights of others. This has undoubtedly led to the decline in the number of people identifying with Christianity.

Treatment of Women

Here we are a century since women were granted the right to vote, and yet there are still churches where women aren’t allowed to preach or lead because of two verses wrenched from their Biblical, cultural, and historical context. A friend was invited to one such church last year and told that she could share stories but not teach from the Bible. Go figure.

The schedule for the Catholic church’s recent fifth plenary council was suspended after two motions affirming women’s role in the church failed to pass. The New Testament is jam-packed with examples of women holding all leadership roles, including an apostle, so why is it taking the church so long to change how it treats women? I’m reminded of the words of Meryl Streep’s character in The Devil Wears Prada, “By all means, move at a glacial pace.”

Catholic leaders acknowledged the failure to pass the motions had damaged the church’s reputation, creating the impression its leadership was indifferent to the concerns of female churchgoers. Ya reckon?

Preaching the Wrong Message

I suggest that the church has successfully communicated a moral message to Australians. Most people know the “Christian” stance on same-sex marriage, voluntary assisted dying, or abortion, for example. We’re notorious for what we’re against, how we judge, and who we exclude.

“Live a moral life, be a good person, and go to church” is NOT the gospel of Jesus. If it were, Jesus is irrelevant. People can live good, moral, upright lives without Jesus. The gospel is this: “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.” That’s it. God loves people and has moved heaven and earth to reunite every person with himself through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

The apostle Paul says God “has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” That’s the Christian message, but some sectors of the church have been singing from the wrong songbook for so long that they’ve forgotten the original song.  Instead, they convey “a different gospel which is really no gospel at all.” We Christians are known as sin counters but God is not counting people’s sins against them. Paul asked the Corinthian church, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Our unchristian message is turning people away.

But Look at all the Good

We (the church) must not excuse our bad behaviour by pointing to all the good we do, yet that’s the message we invariably hear. Recent scandals in megachurches in Australia and other nations have been minimised by statements like, “look at all the souls being saved.” Or, “see how many poor people we’re feeding.” I don’t deny that Christians and churches do a tremendous amount of good, but none of it is a defence for abuse and damage caused by Christians.

I wrote the following letter to the editor recently that was printed in The Age:

I respectfully disagree with Lorraine Bates (“Weighing pros and cons”, comment, 3/7), who states, “I realise terrible things have been done in the name of religion at times, but the good done should surely outweigh this.” We witness similar statements regularly from Christians and church leaders. “Yeah, sure, we’ve done some bad stuff but look at all the good.” I’m a Christian pastor, and I am horrified by this narrative. On our watch, people have been abused, bullied, and shamed. No amount of good work cancels out the pain inflicted on precious people. We need to own it and not minimise it by a sleight of hand trick suggesting people would be better to “look over there.” In his sermon on the mount, Jesus named a group of people who pointed out all the good they had done. He was unimpressed. We should be too.

The Pandemic

While most churches complied with common-sense health and government advice, there were a few outliers whose voices were amplified louder than necessary. More than one non-Christian has asked my opinion on why some Christians have a propensity to believe in conspiracy theories and anti-vax rhetoric. The selfishness and self-centeredness of some Christians who demanded their freedom at the cost of others’ safety were considered brazenly un-Christlike.

My answer to my non-Christian friends is to give them insight into how some Christians view the world. They live as conspirators, constantly looking for the antichrist and a one-world government. I know because that was me in the 80s and 90s. They read world events with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. It’s riveting but wrong. The world looks on, rolls its collective eyes, and walks away.

But There’s More!

Time and space don’t permit me to detail other reasons for the church’s decline. I could discuss:

  • The effect of the American religious world in bed with Donald Trump (think QAnon).
  • The departure of some from cultural or family religious affiliation.
  • Ignoring science including denial of climate change (note: The Bible is not a science book).
  • The anti-abortion stance with little or no regard for women who find themselves pregnant.
  • Being against Voluntary Assisted Dying because we’d sooner knock people out with morphine and starve them to death because that’s more, um, Christian! I know. I’ve seen it done, and it’s dreadful.

I have done my best to paint a realistic picture of the reasons I believe have led to a significant decline in the number of people identifying as Christian in Australia. You may think of others, and I invite you to interact in the comments section. Your input is wanted and welcomed.



** ACL’s revenue for the 2016-17 financial year was $4 million. The following financial year, the year of the Postal Survey, it was $8.9 million. The year after, the revenue was back to $5 million. Their revenue spiked again in 2021 to $8.9 million with the bonus of the $2.1 million raised for the Israel Folau Fund.

Whenever there is an election, I am reminded of the little some quarters of the church have learned about how detrimental to the Gospel it is for churches and church leaders to make polarising political statements.

While Christian people have as much right as anyone to engage with politics or stand for political office, the church MUST be above politics, non-partisan, and stick to its central message – the good news about God’s love and forgiveness through Jesus Christ. Anything that clouds that message is an enemy of the Gospel.

Too Political

Several years ago, the Barna Foundation commissioned research amongst young adults (16-29) to discover why they didn’t engage with a church. One of the six reasons was that the church was “too political.”

So, I find it gobsmacking that some Christians and church leaders are still making politically divisive statements and actions even though the evidence is that this harms the cause of Christ.

Christian Values?

A while ago, I saw a post on a pastor’s Facebook page encouraging their followers/congregation to “Let righteousness reign. Put Labor and the Greens last!” I realise this reflects many conservative Christians’ views, but what message does this send to people who may disagree? What about people who do vote Labor or The Greens and still love Jesus? What about people in the broader community who consider Jesus and Church, but are then put off by this statement? Isn’t the Gospel inclusive, or do you have to change how you vote when you become a Christian? Also, why is it “righteous” to vote for a conservative party?

This same leader posted the following chart compiled by the Australian Christian Values Institute.

The Christian Values Checklist informs voters of what each political party stands for on various issues. If you’re a genuine Christian, the report concludes that you’ll vote for Australian Federation, One Nation, or Christian Democrats. If you can’t stomach any of those parties, then United Australia, the Nationals or the Libs would be your choice. But whatever you do, “Let righteousness reign. Put Labor and the Greens last!”

A Closer Look

Let’s examine those Christian values. Predictably they’re what you’d expect from conservative Christianity in Australia, highly influenced by American Evangelicalism. In this tradition, the two main things Christians should focus on are anything to do with abortion or gay people (stop both as much as you can).

While the chart helps you understand what various parties advocate on these issues, I can’t help but notice the missing things. Are not refugees, the homeless, those living with a mental illness, and victims of domestic violence unworthy of the Christian vote? And which party/parties would have the best policies to help those on the margins of society? It also appears that poverty and the environment (points 18 and 19) were tacked on as an afterthought! Maybe I’m wrong, but are they less important than opening parliament with Christian prayer (point 5)? Didn’t Jesus warn people about standing up and repeating rote prayers publicly?

How Should I Vote?

So, with this in mind, here are four things to consider each time you vote:

  • Have the courage to look through fresh eyes. I was born and raised in a conservative British family. My parents voted conservative and Liberal all of their lives. For many years I followed their example. But I dared to look through fresh eyes.  In the famous words of Jim Wallis, sometimes “The Right gets it wrong, and the Left doesn’t get it.” Chat with people who see things differently from you. Ask questions. Listen. Learn. I’m a political moderate (centrist) and a swinging voter these days.
  • Exercise the privilege of a democratic choice. I’ve heard some well-intentioned (but misguided) Christians say that they don’t vote because they believe in leaving the selection of a government up to God Himself. It sounds spiritual but doesn’t consider that God isn’t registered with the Australian Electoral Commission, and neither is Australia a Theocracy! Exercise the privilege of a democratic choice. Express your voice through your vote.
  • Ask, “What is important to me?” But don’t stop there. What is important to us will invariably reflect our passions and life circumstances. But what about others, especially those on the margins, those in Scripture that Jesus showed the most concern?  Paul wrote, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others. Being like Jesus means we will be interested in the people he showed interest in ~ people who were homeless, sick, or in prison. The poor, orphans and widows. Those living with a disability or who are the victims of domestic violence.

Our vote must not just reflect selfish concerns of personal comfort but should support those who will show love and care towards the most vulnerable, the least powerful, in our community. Beyond that, Christians believe God created this world and gave it to people to look after. And so, we will consider policies that care for the environment when we vote.

  • You vote for your LOCAL member. We don’t vote for the person who will become Prime Minister or Premier. We vote for our local members.

Finally, be realistic. No ONE political party or candidate will tick every box, so don’t expect them to, or you will be constantly disappointed. Democracy is not a perfect political system, but it is better than some alternatives.



There’s a fascinating verse smack dab in the middle of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. For the most part, Jesus taught in koine Greek, the everyday language of his time. But, at the end of this verse, he switched to Aramaic, his native tongue.

How Do You Say … ?

I imagine we’ve all spent time with people for whom English is their second language. They get stuck for an English word at times and revert to their mother tongue. Sometimes there is no English equivalent. That’s what Jesus experiences in Matthew 6. He says, “No one can serve two masters…You cannot serve God and mammon.” The whole verse is Greek until he gets to the last word, for which there was no Greek equivalent. So, he plucks out the Aramaic word, mammon.

Modern translations render mammon as money, riches, wealth, or gold. Some leave the word untranslated, like King James, while one translation gets it right. I’ll tell you which one in a moment.

The problem with translating mammon is that it takes a whole sentence as there is not one equivalent word in English.


Initially, the word mammon came from the ancient Chaldeans (The people group from which Abraham came) and has its roots in the terms, ‘confidence’ or ‘trust.’ The Aramaic word, mammōnás, means “to trust in treasure or to have our confidence in material wealth.” It’s the praise of possessions, the worship of stuff! The one Bible translation that gets the full meaning of this word is the Amplified Bible, “You cannot serve God and mammon [money, possessions, fame, status, or whatever is valued more than the Lord].”

A person who serves Master Mammon will live their life to progress in the accumulation of material wealth as more important than living to worship and serve God. Hence Jesus’ statement, “No one can serve two masters!” Jesus is not against us having material things he simply warns us that they should not have us!

Jesus personifies mammon by contrasting it with God. You cannot be devoted to the True God and be devoted to the god of riches. It’s that god who deceived the first humans in Eden. The slippery serpent suggested, “what you have is not enough,” even though they had a perfect relationship with God in paradise. The schemer insinuated God was denying them some gift. The humans were missing out, and God was to blame.

The Snakebite

The first humans believed this and snake bit. The poison has infected and affected people ever since. We witness this seduction even in the youngest children who have to be taught and coaxed to share. It’s challenging work.

We observe the same behaviour in adults. Consider the rise and rise of the self-storage industry. Australia and New Zealand are home to around 2,000 self-storage facilities with up to 52,000 of them in the USA. The self-storage industry is worth well over $1 billion in Australia and growing. What we have is never enough. We’ve suffered the snakebite and desperately need an anti-venom. So, here’s the good news.

The Anti-venom

The antivenom to counteract the poison of Mammon comprises two primary ingredients that are both emphasised by John the Baptiser. Luke tells the story of people flocking to John at the Jordan River to be baptised. John began his sermon with, “You brood of vipers!” Interesting choice of words there, brother! I can honestly say that in almost 40 years of preaching that I have never begun a sermon that way. But John called out the snakebite and was about to reveal its cure.

Three groups of people asked what they should do to be right with God – the crowd, tax collectors, and soldiers. Here’s what John says to each group:

The crowd:                  Share your stuff.

The Tax Collectors:     Don’t collect any more than you must.

The Soldiers:               Don’t extort money; be content with your pay.

John told the snake-bitten people to be content and generous, the two vital ingredients in the anti-venom.


Contentment says, “What I have is enough!” Jesus said, “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are — no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.”

Remember, you are a spiritual being who has material possessions. We are to love people and use things, not the other way around.


The other ingredient in the anti-venom is generosity. Contentment says, what I have is enough while generosity cries, “What I have is more than enough!”

Paul instructed the young pastor Timothy to command the wealthy people in his church “to do good, be rich in good deeds, and be generous and willing to share. In this way, they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.”

Exercising and growing in contentment and generosity breaks our bondage to mammon and frees us from the snakebite. I encourage you to develop contentment and look for opportunities to be generous, declaring that your trust, confidence and devotion are securely in God and NOT in material wealth. When we do this, we break the spirit of mammon that so easily entangles us.

Warning: This blog explores the rise and fall of “conversion” therapy and some of the failed techniques used to change a person’s gender identity from transgender to cisgender and/or to rid people of “unwanted same-sex attraction” (SSA) and as a result may be triggering for some people. Please proceed with caution, and reach out if you need help; either to the pastoral care team or Rainbow Door (1800 729 367)


For much of my time as a Pastor, the accepted position of most churches was that being homosexual or anything other than cisgender was a curable condition through prayer, counselling, and deeper dedication to Jesus. Churches worldwide told people that they could only be accepted into the Christian fold and please God by becoming heterosexual. They (we) were wrong.

Our Journey

Over the last ten plus years, Christie and I have been on a deep learning journey that has involved listening to the stories of LGBTIQA+ people who have attempted to change their sexuality or sexual identity. We know people who have been to counselling with psychologists, pastors, lay leaders, had accountability partners, attended confession groups and retreats, and engaged in visualisation, social skills training, prayer, and fasting to change their sexuality.

Some have deliberately or unwittingly participated in exorcisms and electric shock treatment. In times past, people had lobotomies, received nausea-inducing drugs or hormones, had hypnotism or castration (chemical or otherwise). The movie, The Imitation Game, tells the story of Alan Turing, a gay man who was subjected to chemical castration. He died by suicide in 1954.

I also highly recommend the movie (or book) “Boy Erased“. It tells of Garrard Conley’s shocking conversion therapy experiences at Desert Streams (Living Waters) Ministries. Garrard is one of some 700,000 Americans subjected to this so-called “Christian” ministry.

The Exodus from Exodus

Until 2013, Alan Chambers was President of Exodus International, the world’s largest gay conversion organisation. He said, “I would say the majority, meaning 99.9% of them, have not experienced a change in their orientation or have gotten to a place where they could say that they could never be tempted, or are not tempted in some way or experience some level of same-sex attraction.” Exodus had been operating since 1976 with a 99.9% failure rate!

Although some have continued under different names and umbrellas, Exodus shut down its support groups and counselling programs in 2013. Chambers also stated, “for someone to put out a shingle and say, ‘I can cure homosexuality’—that to me is as bizarre as someone saying they can cure any other common temptation or struggle that anyone faces on Planet Earth.” He apologised for the claims they had made that change was possible. Another provider, Living Waters, noted that almost all people experienced no change whatsoever.

As a young pastor in the 1980s and 90s, I believed the testimonies of “healing and change” spread by ministries like Exodus. I referred people to such ministries. I have since apologised, and I state here I am very sorry. I was wrong. We were wrong.

So Much Pain

Sadly, much damage has occurred. Many people have died by suicide over their anguish about being non-heterosexual and unacceptable to their faith community. Every Christian LGBTIQA+ person I have spoken to can tell me of someone they know who has attempted suicide because their church did not accept them. Thousands walked away from churches, taking their extended families with them in many cases.

Multiple medical, psychiatric, and psychological organisations have made it clear that people of diverse sexuality cannot be “cured” and that coercing people to try and change is harmful psychologically and spiritually. These include the American Psychiatric Association (APA), which describes attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation by practitioners as unethical. They’re confirmed by the British medical association, The Australian Psychological Association, and the Australian Medical Association.

And so, same-sex conversion therapy does not work in the best cases and has caused significant damage and suicides in the worst. Understandably, medical practitioners and LGBTIQA+ advocacy organisations have begun working together to see these practices outlawed.

In Victoria

The Victorian parliamentary process passed the Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill last year. It became law on February 17, 2022.

This legislation prohibits change or suppression or “conversion practices that seek to change or suppress an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity.”

I think it’s an indictment on the broader church that the government even needs to introduce such a law. But when the church fails to regulate itself, it is left to governments to intervene. That’s the experience with the Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. And it’s the same here with so-called “conversion” therapy.

What Does This Mean for the Church?

In terms of our day to day work of loving people, nothing changes. We can share our belief about God, salvation through Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit. We can worship, preach, publicly and privately read the Bible, feed the poor, visit prisoners and feed and clothe the poor. Nothing will change.

Christians can freely read any passage from the Bible, including the six contentious verses that appear to condemn homosexuality. A preacher can preach on those verses, believing that the Bible denounces loving same-sex relationships or that they are silent on such relationships (as I think). We can encourage people to live lives of purity and be faithful in marriage. The legislation does not dictate what we teach from the Bible.

But, churches can no longer promote or provide any programs that purport to change LGBTIQA+ persons. Furthermore, we cannot refer people to anyone inside or outside of Victoria whose modus operandi attempts to change that person’s sexuality. That will now be illegal, and rightly so. Why would we desire to participate in something so ineffective and dangerous? We would be dishonest to claim that the church has a successful track record in “healing” same-sex attracted people or trans-people when all evidence shows this is just not true.

The Bill will mean that if church leaders have a person who shares that they are dealing with same-sex attraction or gender identity, we can support them, just as we should support people at any stage of their life journey. My focus is to assist people in loving God more deeply, not dictate with whom they can or cannot fall in love.

Leaders can pray for the individual to know and experience the love of God but cannot pray that the individual will be changed to being heterosexual. Nor can we play amateur psychologists. It is not our job to “treat” such people. Victorian church leaders and members should encourage people to speak to counsellors, medical practitioners, and psychologists to talk through their sexuality if they so desire.

Our primary call is to help people be followers of Jesus, not decide that people must conform to some image we think they should have. Bayside Church’s pastoral team supports many people with a whole range of concerns, but we never seek to “treat” people with anything other than kindness!

In 2021, Bayside Church released an Inclusion Statement, our promise to treat all people equally regardless of gender, sexuality, age, ability, race, or ethnicity.


Further Reading: Lucas Mendos, a senior research officer at the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, or ILGA World, has written an exhaustive account of so-called “Conversion Therapies.”

Australia’s largest collection of information, articles, and research on this topic: https://www.abbi.org.au/conversion-therapy/

I investigated some pitfalls in last week’s blog when reading the Bible. And I promised that in this week’s blog, I would share some practical ways to enjoy the Bible on your own, as well as, with other people. So, here goes.

I choose to bring a humble spirit to the Lord and his Word in my devotional life. The more I learn, the more I know that I don’t know! God “guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way” (Ps 25:9). Humility is at the very heart of God, revealing truth through his word. And then, trust God to speak to you from the Scriptures.

Ways to Read the Bible

I chose to read the Bible from cover to cover every year in my early Christian years. Four chapters a day is all it takes. I am grateful for this foundation as it has given me a good overview of the Scriptures and an understanding of how the various books interact with and complement each other. As I’ve matured in my faith, I’ve found that a quality over quantity approach works best.

When gold was first discovered in Victoria in 1851, nuggets were found in waterways with no digging required. However, miners had to dig a little deeper once these were all gone. After some time, shafts were built, and seams of gold were discovered and mined. The Bible is similar. As a young Christian, I found nuggets of truth daily with little effort. Over time I’ve had to dig deeper and deeper to find rich deposits of truth.

Today, I use the You Version Bible App, which has a verse of the day and thousands of reading plans. I also enjoy picking a book or letter or just a section of the Bible. For example, I might choose to read 1 & 2 Thessalonians; maybe a chapter or just a few verses a day. I lookout for a verse or a line that speaks to me. A few weeks ago, it was 1 Thess. 5:16-18, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” There’s a wealth of truth in those words.

Christian Meditation

Don’t be scared of meditation. It was God’s idea, and the Bible mentions it over twenty times, mainly in Psalms. The Hebrew word for meditate means to ponder by muttering. Meditation is literally talking to yourself. Last week, I spent time meditating on Psalm 121:2, “My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” I walked and talked with God and repeated this line emphasising different words.

My help comes from the Lord ~ it’s what I need personally.

My help comes from the Lord ~ God is coming to my aid.

My help comes from the Lord ~ It’s on its way from God now.

My help comes from the Lord ~ The support is not just from anywhere. It’s from God.

The second line of the verse provides the proof of God’s ability to help me ~ “the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” God created all things, so what is my problem in the light of such power? The prophet Jeremiah said it this way, “O Sovereign LORD! You made the heavens and earth by your strong hand and powerful arm. Nothing is too hard for you!

My time of walking and talking with God and muttering the scriptures was powerful, encouraging, refreshing and enjoyable.

Respond to God

Enjoying the Bible is not just about learning facts. Facts are the lowest form of truth unless applied to our lives. I find asking four simple questions of the verse or line I’m meditating on can be very helpful.

1. What is God saying to me through His Word?

2. How will I respond to God’s Word?

3. How does this cause me to love God?

4. How does this encourage me to love my neighbour?

Enjoying the Bible Together

The Bible is not just something we appreciate on our own. God’s word should be read aloud, discussed, and enjoyed with other believers either in Connect Groups or with one or two friends.

One compelling way to enjoy the Bible in a community is the ancient Christian meditation practice of Lectio Divina, or “sacred reading.” The four basic steps are straightforward to learn:

  1. Lectio (reading)—Slow, contemplative reading of a text aloud. Don’t spend much time rationally analysing the text, and do not try to work through it quickly; instead, let your mind linger on the individual words and phrases. Read the text several times. Each person is listening for a word, phrase, or sentence that speaks to them.
  2. Meditatio (meditation)—At some point during the process of Lectio, one passage/verse/sentence should speak to you more than others. Spend time repeating that, silently or aloud, letting it sink in. Write it down if that helps. Everyone can share their insights at this point.
  3. Oratio (prayer)—Use the truth that you’ve gained from meditating in forming a prayer. You can write this (crafted prayer) or say it, draw a picture, paint something, or write a poem.
  4. Contemplatio (contemplation)—If you feel yourself being enveloped by the presence of God, let go of all words and silently settle into the experience.

Remember, as a result of an encounter with God in Scripture, we are always called to action. The Bible calls this godliness ~ devotion in action!

You’ll find some more devotional resources on the Bayside Church website. I hope this blog and these resources lead you into a richer experience of enjoying the Bible and, more importantly, enjoying the God of the Bible.

When I first picked up a Bible, I was nine years old. I’d been given a family Bible by my dad. It was his mother’s Bible, and she’d signed it on January 18 1915. My dad signed it on 6-10-1941 when he was eleven. When he gave it to me, I signed it too ~ April 1 1967. My plan was to read the Bible from start to finish. From memory, I got through the first couple of chapters of Genesis and then got bored. I didn’t pick the Bible up again for a decade. I was nineteen and had just accepted Jesus as my Saviour. I must say, the Bible had improved dramatically in ten years.

I’ve now been reading and studying the Bible for over four decades and have learned a few things that have helped me enjoy this wonderful book. I’ve also fallen into the trap of reading and understanding the Bible the wrong way at various times, reaping the not-so-good consequences. So, let’s explore how NOT to read the Bible!

Out of Obligation

It goes something like this: “God says to read the Bible, so I better do it, even though I don’t want to.” Obligation takes all the joy out of reading the Bible. It comes from legalistic teaching that says, “you just gotta read the Bible; otherwise, God won’t be pleased with you.”

As a young Christian, I attended the seminar, “The hour that changes the world.” It taught people how to pray for an hour, breaking 60 minutes into 12 five-minute segments. You’d spend the first five minutes in praise and worship, the following five in waiting on the Lord. Then confession, praying Scripture, watching and intercession all the way through to praise at the end.

I’m sure Dick Eastman, the author of this course, had good intentions. But this seminar killed my prayer life. It changed it from a spontaneous and enjoyable time with God into a legalistic chore. Imagine me treating my relationship with Christie in this way. “Right-o honey, we’ve got an hour to spend with each other. Let’s take the first five minutes to praise each other, then we’ll wait in silence for five minutes, then….” I can just hear Christie’s response already, and it’s not good. That would be a perfect way to ruin any relationship.

It’s the same with reading the Bible. Legalism ruins our enjoyment of God’s excellent Word. “We don’t read the Bible because we have to. We read it because it’s good for us, our relationship with God, other people, and the world.”

An Instruction Manual

Instruction manual Christians view the B.I.B.L.E. as Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. It’s clever but inaccurate.

Seeing the Bible as merely an instruction manual, a handbook takes away from its status as God’s inspired Word, a holy communication from deity to humanity. The Bible is so much more than just a list of dos and don’ts. Indeed, there are dos and don’ts in the Bible, but if you spend all your time doing the dos, you won’t have time to do the don’ts.

Remember, The Law didn’t work. If it had been sufficient to restore the relationship between God and people, God wouldn’t have needed to enter the human race as one of us. God’s instructions would have been enough. Except they weren’t. God’s interested in a relationship with you. A real relationship that is not based on a to-do list!

Again, imagine bringing the “instruction manual” attitude into a relationship. Your primary communication method to your partner becomes a “To-Do List” posted to the fridge each day. Such a relationship will not endure.

God’s Answer Book

The Bible has lots of wisdom, but it doesn’t answer all questions or life situations. People who view the Bible as merely an answer book treat it like a daily horoscope. In my years in radio, I often had to play the daily stars. I’d get phone calls from listeners who’d missed hearing them and asked me to tell them what their horoscope was. One listener told me they couldn’t get out of bed until they knew what their day would be like. How sad.

I’ve come across many Christians who “read” the Bible by randomly opening it with their eyes closed and then pointing their finger at a verse. It’s a practice called bibliomancy and is basically fortune telling for Christians.

The process of bibliomancy involves:

  • Asking God a straightforward question
  • Opening the Bible to a random page
  • Trailing a finger in slow circles until “the spirit” says to stop.
  • The verse where the questioner’s finger points supposedly contains the answer.

Don’t get me wrong. God can and does lead us to specific Bible verses that speak to us in a time of need. God sometimes causes us to stumble on a verse precisely when we need the message it contains. But the Bible is so much more than just an answer book.

To Win Arguments

We all know THAT person who is ALWAYS right about the Bible and more than willing to tell you why! On EVERY occasion! People like this lack humility and grace and invariably come across as harsh, legalistic, and dogmatic.

I encourage you to spend some time this week reading and meditating on Psalm 25:4-21. The theme of this song is “How to have a teachable spirit.” The bottom line is this, “He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.” (9)

To have a teachable spirit, we must be humble. The humble heart says to God, “I don’t know it all; I haven’t arrived yet. Please teach me; I want to learn.” The humble heart also listens to others. That is the person whom God will teach. We need to bring that heart and mind to our time in God’s Word.

Next week, I’ll share some practical ways to enjoy the Bible on your own as well as with other people.

We Christians can sometimes be a little too preoccupied with sin, especially other people’s sin. We tend to give ourselves a lot of grace. When I sin, it’s because I’m human. When others sin, well, God needs to sort them out, and they need to repent. We want mercy for ourselves and judgement for everyone else!

We also have favourite sins and others that we ignore. For example, the sin of gluttony is repeatedly mentioned in the Bible but rarely mentioned in church. I’ve been in countless green rooms at Christian’s conferences over the years, where lots of XXL evangelists fill their huge frames before preaching about the sins of others.

But one sin we rarely hear about is the sin of discrimination. It’s something I’ve studied as we’ve formed Bayside Church’s Inclusion Statement. I confess I was surprised at the multitude of Bible verses that address this sin.

First-Century Discrimination

First-century Jews considered non-Jews (gentiles) as unclean. A Jew would not enter a gentile’s home or eat with them as either act would lead to ceremonial uncleanness. Imagine Peter’s horror when he was praying on the roof of the house one day and experienced a vision from God. In the dream, he saw a sheet suspended by the corners and crammed with all kinds of unclean animals that a Jew would never eat. A voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” Peter’s response dripped with spiritual pride, “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”

What’s fascinating in this story is that Peter was staying in the home of Simon, the tanner. Simon was in the business of treating animal hides to produce leather, a trade that was considered unclean by the Jews. Through this vision, God dealt with Peter’s hypocrisy and discrimination, two things that made Peter’s heart impure.

The Divine Reply

God’s response is stunning, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” (Acts 10:15). The Spirit was moving, and the newly-formed church would need to welcome “unclean” gentiles into their communities. It took decades for the Jewish church to wrap its heart around this truth. Much of Paul’s letter-writing ministry was aimed at the pushback by Jewish Christian leaders against the acceptance of gentiles in the church.

Over the centuries, the Holy Spirit has placed a finger on various other aspects of “Christian” discrimination. Jesus’ people have been guilty of racial bias in supporting slavery and treating people of colour as second-class citizens. We have shown prejudice towards women, single parents, illegitimate children, mixed-race couples, the separated, divorced, and remarried. For decades the church has discriminated against LGBTIQ+ people.

Sin of Discrimination

All this discrimination has been justified by quoting Bible verses, but rarely has the sin of discrimination been called out. And yet, the Bible has so much to say about it. James names it bluntly, as he does so well, “My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favouritism(James 2:1).

Favouritism is “the fault of one who when called on to requite or to give judgment has respect to the outward circumstances of men and not to their intrinsic merits.” It’s forming an opinion of someone based on externals like skin colour, clothing, mannerisms, wealth or lack thereof, and either accepting or rejecting that person. Note what James says, “believers in … Jesus Christ must not show favouritism.” A few verses later, he asks, “have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” And then verse nine, “But if you show favouritism, you sin ….” (James 2:4).  The sin of discrimination!

Be Like God!

God doesn’t discriminate, and neither should his people (Romans 2:11, 10:12). “To show partiality in judging is not good” (Proverbs 24:23). Christians are required to follow God’s Word “without partiality, and to do nothing out of favouritism.” (1 Tim 5:21). We should treat everyone the same because “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).

The apostle Paul said that the Royal Law, “Love your neighbour as yourself”, is the fulfilment of the law because “Love does not harm a neighbour.” Jesus taught what is now referred to as the golden rule, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Notice that the Royal Law AND the Golden Rule both fulfil AND summarise the entire Bible. That’s how Christians should live, behave, and interact with others. There is no room for discrimination.

Ready to Change?

The church has not always treated others in the way we would like to be treated. I have not always got this right either. I apologise for my missteps. I aim to do better. So does our church.

With that in mind, we have crafted an Inclusion Statement as a public declaration that all people will be treated equally by our church community:

At Bayside Church, we believe that every person is created in God’s image. All are equally worthy of respect, dignity, and love, regardless of gender, sexuality, age, ability, race, or ethnicity.

Everyone is invited, welcomed, and supported to grow in their relationship with God and each other. Everyone is encouraged to use their gifts and abilities to serve God and others.

At Bayside Church, we are committed to creating a safe space for all – we do this through clear policies and pathways so that everyone can feel safe and nurtured.

At Bayside Church, we courageously love and empower people to become like Jesus.

Of course, it’s easy to write and read this. The challenge comes as together we seek to live it out as a reality and no longer commit the sin of discrimination.


One of the good things about a crisis is it often provokes people to read the Bible and pray. The global pandemic certainly has achieved this. It’s been a motivator for people to read Revelation. But as one of the Bible’s more mysterious books, it is often misunderstood and mishandled.

My Early Christian Years

I’ve watched Revelation being mishandled for decades. I had my first encounter with Christianity in the late 70s. Hal Lindsey’s book, The Late Great Planet Earth, was all the rage. The planets would align in 1982, starting the Great Tribulation. Cataclysmic events would unfold upon the earth, and Jesus would return in 1988. Oh, and the Pope was the antichrist because he had 666 written under his cap. I kid you not, someone told me this in all seriousness, and I believed them!

None of it was true. None of it happened, just like all the other predictions over the centuries from mishandling Revelation.

I now know better.

A Little History

The book of Revelation was (reluctantly) admitted into the Canon of Scripture in 395 CE. It was the last book to be incorporated into the New Testament.

The Western Church wanted Revelation included but didn’t appreciate Hebrews. The Eastern church didn’t like Revelation (and still don’t use it in their services), but they wanted Hebrews included in the Canon. So, the compromise was to have both books in the Bible.

The Nicene Creed

By 395 CE, the church’s doctrine was well and truly completed and stated in the Nicene Creed (325). The Nicene Creed contains everything the early church believed about the future:

[Jesus] will come again with glory

to judge the living and the dead.

His kingdom will never end.

We look forward to the resurrection of the dead,

and to life in the world to come. Amen.

These statements form a summary of eschatology (doctrine of last things) and comprise everything Christians have ever believed about the end of this age:

Nothing to Fear

Notice the line “We look forward to the resurrection of the dead.” In other words, the future is not something to fear. The apostle John put it this way, “This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world, we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:17-18).

And so, according to the church’s greatest creed, the future is not something to fear. It’s something to look forward to. Contrast that to an interpretation of Revelation that does nothing but inject fear:

  • Fear of antichrist and one-world government
  • Fear of the Mark of the Beast
  • Fear of the great tribulation
  • Fear of the most dreadful afflictions rained upon the earth
  • Fear of beasts, dragons, harlots, & birds feasting on human flesh
  • Fear of Armageddon
  • Fear of a lake of burning sulphur
  • Fear of a sneaky rapture where you could be left behind

Left Behind

One of the most popular Christian songs of the 1970s was Larry Norman’s “I wish we’d all been ready.” The song included the line, “There’s no time to change your mind, the son has come, and you’ve been left behind.” It was a great song, but the theology was awful.

Some particularly full-on (read, obnoxious) Christians at the time would ask other Christians, “are you rapture saved?” It was a weird question that basically asked if you, as a Jesus follower, were saved enough to be taken up in the air when Jesus returned. Again, awful theology!

One Saturday, I finished my shift on the radio and headed back home to the farmhouse I was living in at the time. I walked into the house. There were pots of food bubbling away on the stove, and two chairs were pulled out from the table and facing each other. It was as if two people had been removed (raptured) from the room. I was terrified. I’d been left behind.

Shortly afterwards, my housemate walked back into the room with another friend. I was so relieved.

Left Behind was the title of a series of novels in the 1990s and early 2000s. Some of these were made into movies starring Kirk Cameron and Nicholas Cage. They are terrible films, having attracted the lowest audience score of all time on Rotten Tomatoes (3%). Sadly, many Christians base their understanding of Revelation on the Left Behind series. These books are novels, not Bible commentaries!

A Solid Foundation

Fearmongering might be a good money-spinner, but we must not base our beliefs on these fads. Our faith must rest solid and secure on the truth as it is stated by the great creeds of the church:

[Jesus] will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead. His kingdom will never end. We look forward to the resurrection of the dead, and to life in the world to come. Amen.

And so, when the book of Revelation was finally included in the Bible, it could not add to the doctrine as stated by the Nicene Creed. The church’s essential beliefs had been fully expressed by 325 CE, seventy years before Revelation was accepted into the New Testament (395).

Revelation was not to be used to add anything to eschatology. In fact, it was expressly stated that Revelation was not to be used to foretell the future (how ironic!)

Handle with Care

Revelation’s two main uses were/are as:

(1) A call to Worship (the Lamb upon the throne) and,

(2) A call to faithfulness (in the face of persecution and hardship).

The book of Revelation is jam-packed full of marvellous truth that applies to today. When we remove our fixation with the so-called “end times” and cease to use Revelation to predict the future or read interpretations into it from the daily newspaper, we free Revelation up to be the inspiration it was designed to be.

Revelation was written initially to seven churches that existed in the first century. But as part of inspired scripture, this book is written to every church and every disciple of Jesus. I hope you will handle it with care and not give in to the wild speculation and conspiracies that I fell for in my early Christian years.

For further study, listen to two podcast discussions between Shane Willard and myself (Rob):

Understanding Revelation 1

Understanding Revelation 2

I was recently asked if I thought the world would be a better place if everyone were a Christian. My immediate response was yes. But the answer did not sit well with me and, upon further reflection, I said, “actually, I’m not sure. I would hope so, but maybe it wouldn’t.” Here are the reasons I changed my mind.

Extreme Examples

The answer to the question depends on what kind of Christian you have in mind. If it is any of the following, the answer is no. No, the world would not be a better place if everyone was a Christian. Consider:

  • Christian snipers in Beirut.
  • Catholics and Protestants blew each other up in the Northern Irish Troubles.
  • The Lord’s Resistance Army that wanted to create a Ugandan state based on the Ten Commandments.
  • Plus, the Spanish Inquisition, Salem Witch Trials, and forced conversions to Christ during the Crusades.

Those “Christians” certainly did not make the world a better place.

Modern Examples

On social media, I am frequently exposed to Christians acting in anything like a Christian manner. Unkind, judgemental, accusatory, argumentative, aggressive, you name it. There is a definite lack of the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:23-24). I try and reason with such people but often to no avail. I wonder how they treat people in their workplaces and families.

And yet, they all say they are Christian, but there is a disconnect between their faith and actions.

Christians at War

The disconnect invariably comes from what is taught in their local church. Spiritual warfare is consistently aimed at personalities like politicians even though “our struggle is not against flesh and blood.” And so, they are constantly “at war” with the world rather than “in love” with it like God is (think, John 3:16).

I know where they are coming from because that used to be me. When I became a Christian in the late 70s, we thought the antichrist and Illuminati were about to launch the Great Tribulation and a One-World Government. Communism was taking over the world, and non-Christians (and lukewarm Christians) would be left behind after the rapture. Of course, none of this happened.

It is sad to see history repeat itself and a whole new generation of conspiratorial Christians waging war on nothing! The enemy has changed, but the mindset remains the same. The world is NOT a better place by the attitudes and behaviour of these Christians.

History Repeats

The Moral majority and religious right were born out of a movement protesting against desegregation in the 1960s USA. Around this time, Christian schools opened because white Christians didn’t want to have mixed-race classes, which were perceived as unholy. The home-schooling movement followed in the 1970s.

Later, the religious right added abortion and LGBTIQA+ people as enemies to fight because this religious brand constantly needs an enemy to survive. It keeps people in fear and leverages this fear to generate commitment and cash. People will donate time and money to a cause they perceive will help win the war against … (fill in the blank of whatever the current enemy is).

Inventing an Enemy

For many years, communism was the target of the religious right’s attention. When the Berlin Wall fell, it was time to identify a new social enemy against which the religious right could mobilise. Enter cultural Marxism, “the perfect post-communist adversary located specifically in the cultural realm – academics, Hollywood, journalists, civil rights activists and feminists. It has been a mainstay of conservative activism and rhetoric ever since.”

The global pandemic has provided fertile ground for Christians who love to play the victim. It is a new Cold War waged against the so-called elites. But Cultural Marxism is a conspiracy theory just like all the other “alternative facts” spread by Christians at war. The world would not be a better place if everyone were like this.


In the early 2000s, the Barna Foundation commissioned David Kinnaman to conduct “groundbreaking research into the perceptions … sixteen to twenty-nine-year-olds” have of Christians. What they discovered should shock and challenge all Jesus’ followers. These young adults perceived Christians to be hypocritical, anti-gay, judgmental, and insensitive. The research published in UnChristian is one of the most challenging books I have ever read.

It is a sad indictment upon the church that produces disciples of Jesus that are nothing like Jesus. Jesus, the man who hung out with the poor and side-lined and who ate with the unclean. He was scathing towards those who were religious but lacked mercy, who “shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces” (Matthew 23:13). The world would certainly NOT be a better place if all the Christians were unchristian.

The Genuine Article

The world needs to see authentic Christianity – people who are honest about their failures and mistakes. We owe it to people to apologise for our missteps. To open our lives to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit to make us like Jesus. We read the gospels to investigate what Jesus was like, who he spent time with, how he spoke, and interacted with people. We pray that we will progressively become more like him. Not people locked away in church buildings or protesting against this world, but people who get their hands dirty in helping the poor. We welcome the excluded even though we know that other Christians will criticise us and leave the church because “those people are here.” I know because I have experienced this firsthand.

On October 23 1915, Albert Einstein published an astonishing 3-page critique of the growing “Christian nationalism” in the country of his birth. He argued that the problem with hateful Christians is their departure from Christianity. Written in his native German, the little essay is titled “Meine Meinung über den Krieg” or “My Opinion of the War.” It ends with the beautiful words (translated from his German): “Yet, why so many words, when I can say it all in a single sentence, and indeed in a sentence that is most apt for me as a Jew: Honour your master, Jesus Christ, not only with words and songs but, rather, foremost through your deeds.” Apparently, the antidote to violent, nationalist Christians is … Christianity!

I think it would be helpful to rephrase the question. “Would the world be a better place if everyone were like Jesus?” It’s a massive YES from me!

I received an email a while back asking, “How do you think we should respond as Christians to Diwali? This is a typical work dilemma for me. It’s politically correct to attend an event, but I don’t celebrate Diwali, of course. I think Jesus may have attended, but He certainly would have spoken up whereas I feel I can’t.”

It’s a great question and one I’ll do my best to answer in this blog.

What is Diwali?

Diwali is a Hindu celebration (Monday 24 October this year) and part of the 5-day festival of lights. Hindus follow a lunar calendar, like the ancient Hebrews, and so the date changes each year, much like Easter.

Diwali is a festival that celebrates the beginning of the Hindu New Year. Also called the Festival of Lights or Deepavali, it takes place on the 15th day of the Hindu month of Kartika. The festival lasts five days and is most commonly celebrated in India and other locations with Hindu communities. With Melbourne’s growing Hindu community, Diwali is something that we are increasingly aware of, especially in the workplace.

A Christian Response

Christians will respond in different ways, usually in line with the teaching and attitudes displayed by their church community. Some will tend to be dogmatic, while others are more flexible and inclusive.

I believe this is a time for followers of Jesus to take the narrow road that Jesus taught, carefully walking a line between compromise and respect.

On the one hand, Christians do not worship idols or foreign gods (Ex. 20:4). On the other, we must not disrespect others’ faith or act like a wet blanket. The Golden Rule springs to mind, “Treat others the way you’d want them to treat you.” People will remember how you treated them, far more than what you told them. Selah!

Paul’s Pattern

The apostle Paul gives us an excellent pattern to follow. While he was awaiting Silas and Timothy to arrive in Athens, “he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols” (Acts 17:16). To make a short story even shorter, let’s read verses 22 and 23 of that chapter, “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So, you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.”

I find his choice of words fascinating. Remember that he was troubled by their idolatry, but he didn’t communicate that to them. He was highly considerate in addressing the people, complimenting them on their spiritual devotion and referring to idols as “objects of worship” rather than their images! There’s a lesson here for all Christians. Are we courteous or judgmental when interacting with others, whether it’s Diwali or Halloween or Ramadan? Paul had learned to place a filter between his feelings and his words. We would do well to emulate his example.

Filling in the Blanks

As well as being respectful, Paul was also wise. As he walked around Athens, he spotted an altar with this inscription: “to an unknown god.” He realised that his audience was unaware of what this meant, so he filled in the blanks. In Acts 17, Paul twice quotes the Greek philosopher and poet, Epimenides, and for a good reason.

In the 6th century BCE, there was a plague that went throughout all of Greece. The Greeks thought that they must have offended one of their gods, so they began offering sacrifices on altars to all their various gods. When nothing worked, they figured there must be a God who they didn’t know about whom they must somehow appease.

So Epimenides came up with a plan. He released hungry sheep into the countryside and instructed men to follow them to see where they would lie down. He believed that since hungry sheep would not naturally lie down but continue to graze; if they were to lie down, it would be a sign from the god that this place was sacred. The Athenians built an altar and sacrificed a lamb on each spot where the sheep were tired and laid down. Afterwards, the plague stopped, which they attributed to this unknown god accepting the sacrifice.

Common Ground

Note that Paul didn’t just “read his Bible”. He also read philosophy, history, and poetry and used these to communicate the gospel. By finding common ground with his audience, he connected the dots and introduced them to Jesus.

The Bible is replete with examples like this. Consider what God used to lead the Magi (astronomers) to Jesus. Jesus’ parables revolved around the interests and industries of first-century people. God established common ground with people by becoming one of us.

Diwali is a festival of new beginnings, the triumph of good over evil, and light over darkness. You don’t need me to point out the apparent common ground between the Christian message and those themes.


I’ll finish by addressing the last line of the question I was asked, “I think Jesus may have attended, but He certainly would have spoken up whereas I feel I can’t.” I agree that Jesus would attend a Diwali celebration. The Jesus we read of in the gospels frequented weddings, dinners, and other celebrations. He ate food with tax collectors and sinners and got into trouble with the religious elite.

But would he have spoken up? I don’t know what Jesus would have said, but I do know it would have been words of love and life rather than judgement and rebuke. He saved that for the people who pretended to be holy. He seemed totally at home with people celebrating and even turned water into wine to ensure the party was successful. And so, courageously love and be like Jesus!

It’s a question I’m asked regularly. Should I read the Apocrypha, and should it be included in the Bible?

Apocrypha is the name protestant Christians give to the seven additional books Roman Catholics include in the Bible. They also have certain additions to Esther and Daniel. Roman Catholics refer to these as deuterocanonical books.

The Catholic Case (1)

The Roman Catholic Church maintains that it has the authority to determine the limits of Scripture. It also asserts that there was no fixed canon of Scripture at the time of Jesus and His apostles. Some argue that there were competing canons, while others say that the Old Testament canon had not been entirely accepted in Jesus’ day. Whatever the case may be, the canon of Scripture was not fixed or established. This is quite true.

135 CE was the date the written Tanakh (Old Testament) was sealed. In other words, those who made decisions about sacred text decided it was complete by then. That’s a century after Jesus’ resurrection! Jewish scholars did not include the Apocrypha as a holy text.

The Bible Jesus Used

The Septuagint was the most widely read Scriptures of Jesus’ day and was likely the Bible he read, studied, and taught. The Septuagint (LXX) is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures completed by 72 Jewish scholars in the 3rd century BCE. The Septuagint did include the Apocrypha, and so Jesus and the early church would have been well acquainted with it.

The church, from the beginning, did not accept the shorter Jewish canon but instead included the deuterocanonical books or the Books of the Old Testament Apocrypha as Scripture.

The church fathers quoted from the Apocrypha but disagreed on its status. Augustine, for example, considered the Apocrypha as canonical (official Scripture). On the other hand, Jerome viewed it as ecclesiastical, to be read in church for edification but not on par with inspired Scripture.

Protestant Reformation

Martin Luther supported Jerome’s view. He wrote, “These are books that, though not esteemed like the Holy Scriptures, are still both useful and good to read.” Luther included the deuterocanonical books in his translation of the German Bible, but he did relocate them to after the Old Testament, calling them “Apocrypha” or “Hidden books.”

Incidentally, Luther attempted to take Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation out of the Bible because they didn’t fit with his teaching of being saved by faith alone without works. He placed these four books at the end of his German Bible translation as a kind of New Testament Apocrypha.

The Apocrypha was included in the 1611 publication of the King James Bible. It was officially removed from the English printings of the King James Version by the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1885, leaving only 66 books. In other words, these books have only been absent from non-Roman Catholic Bibles for the last 136 years.

The Catholic case (2)

The Roman Catholic church claims that when the books of the Old Testament Apocrypha are rightly studied and understood, they fit into a consistent pattern of teaching with the rest of the Bible and the teachings of the church. Therefore, they consider that we have every good reason to receive these works as canonical Scripture and to believe and obey the things taught therein.

But the New Testament Doesn’t Quote It!

Some state that Jesus and the New Testament authors do not quote from these books. But that’s not correct. While the New Testament doesn’t state, “It is written…” before quoting from the Apocrypha, there are dozens of instances where Jesus and the New Testament draw on Apocrypha. The golden rule (Matthew 7:12; cf. Tobit 4:15). Warnings against storing up riches (Matthew 6:19-20; James 5:3; cf. Sirach 29:10-11). The New Testament continues the strong theme of almsgiving (giving to help the poor) that we find in the Apocrypha. Consider Acts 3:3; 9:36; 10:2-4, 31; 24:17; 1 John 3:17 and Tobit 1:16; 2:14; 4:7-8, 10-11, 16; 12:8.

One of the clearest quotations is found in Jude’s little letter. Jude 14-15, “It was also about these that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, “See, the Lord is coming with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all, and to convict everyone of all the deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”

The Apocryphal book of 1 Enoch states, “Behold, he comes with the myriads of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all, and to destroy all the wicked, and to convict all flesh for all the wicked deeds that they have done, and the proud and hard words that wicked sinners spoke against him” (1:9).

Concluding Thoughts

I haven’t read all of the apocryphal books, but maybe I should. I find myself agreeing with Jerome and Luther that “These are books that, though not esteemed like the Holy Scriptures, are still both useful and good to read.”

While part of me thinks we already have enough to read and study with the 66 books of the Bible, the fact that they were included in the Christian Bible for the first 1,855 years of the church’s existence seems to lend weight to the Apocrypha.

So, read them if you want to, but make up your mind to never fall out or argue about this with anyone!