Last year, I wrote a blog addressing some of the mistakes I’ve made and traps I’ve fallen into in my years of pastoring. The blog was written in response to the scandals at Hillsong Church, and the documentary The Kingdom screened on SBS.

Two pitfalls I succumbed to as a younger pastor were the frenetic pace of the contemporary church and unholy expectations. I have tackled these two irritants in my life and our church, and we are all happier and much more relaxed.

The Relentless Pursuit of More

The contemporary church has bought into a secular myth that constantly desires more. I’ve already seen it on social media at the beginning of this new year: “So much more in ’24” was the clichéd rhyming statement posted by a pastor who took most of last year off because he was burned out.

We do ourselves and the people we lead a disservice if we are constantly dangling a carrot of grander visions and dreams and striving for more because it ultimately leads to disappointment. It also buys into the original temptation in Eden. The first humans had everything. The snake came along and whispered, “There’s more. You’re missing out. What you have is not enough.” Adam and Eve embraced it, and we’re still paying the price.

A Better Way

I’m not saying that churches (or businesses) shouldn’t seek growth, but we need to be on our guard for the relentless pursuit of more. Not all growth is healthy. Cancer is growth, and we deal with it harshly.

There’s a better way which says, “What I have is more than enough!” It’s called contentment. 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.” I invite you to reflect on these Scriptures: Philippians 4:11-13, Hebrews 13:5, 1 Tim 6:6-10.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism of 1647 speaks of humanity’s primary goal as glorifying God and enjoying him forever. At the start of this new year, I encourage you to ponder questions like when is enough enough? And, what gives me the greatest contentment in life?

Set the Bar Lower

Practising contentment helps avoid disappointment. Another way is to have low expectations. There’s a message you won’t hear in most of today’s overactive churches, yet that’s a strong message in scripture. Consider the chapter on faith, Hebrews 11, in which the author writes about extraordinary men and women of faith who all died without receiving the things promised (13). Let that sink in.

Then, the author focuses on people called “the others.” These faith-filled people experienced great suffering that didn’t end until they passed from this life to the next—the world was not worthy of them. These were all commended for their faith, yet none received what had been promised.

They were still living by faith when they died.

They were all commended for their faith.

They hadn’t received the things promised.

They only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.

They were full of faith and vision but were realistic in their expectations. When we’re unrealistic, we get disappointed, so why not lower the bar?

I know many wonderful faith-filled people who suffer in life and, short of a miracle, will continue to suffer till death. Such people should not be made to feel like second-class Christians because they haven’t received an answer to prayer.

A Happy Life

In his book, “The Paradox of Choice,” psychologist Barry Schwartz wrote, “The secret to happiness is low expectations.” Lowering your expectations increases both your resilience and your happiness almost every time.

  • You’ll be frustrated when you have high expectations, and the outcome is worse.
  • You’ll be grateful when you have low expectations, and the result is better.

Jim Stockdale was an American Vice Admiral captured and imprisoned during the Vietnam War. He was held and tortured for seven years in what became known as the Hanoi Hilton. Stockdale said the first people to die in captivity were the optimists, who kept thinking things would get better quickly and they’d be released. He said, “They died of a broken heart.” Instead, Stockdale argued, the key to survival was to combine realism and hope. Stockdale wrote, “This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

Confront the facts, but always keep hope. Set Low Expectations. Practice contentment. And you’ll avoid disappointment.

I wonder if you’ve ever been told NOT to question God?

I have. It’s disrespectful, irreverent, and overly-familiar, apparently. Questioning God shows a lack of faith and fear of the Lord. I mean, God is GOD, and who are we, as mere mortals, to interrogate him?

Verses such as Romans 9:20 are quoted to support this argument: “But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?'”

In my early years as a Christian, I wouldn’t question God. Even questioning pastors was frowned upon. I mean, “touch not the Lord’s anointed,” right?

My Quest to Question

Because asking questions of God and faith has been frowned upon, those who have dared to have not been treated well. I have experienced this first-hand over the past two decades as I have started investigating aspects of my faith.

To be clear, I do not question the existence of God. Neither do I find difficulty believing in who Jesus is or what he achieved through his life, death, and resurrection. I believe Jesus is alive and reconciling people to God.

In the early 2000s, I began struggling with God ordering his chosen people to commit acts of genocide. That was followed by investigating if the Bible teaches that God deliberately tortures people forever in hell. I read widely on these subjects and published some blogs and podcasts detailing the various views Christians have held on these matters over the centuries. What became clear was that there has existed more than one perspective on each topic for hundreds of years.

How We Treat Questioners

The challenge is that most Christians are only taught one interpretation of the various themes in Scripture and are ignorant that alternative understandings exist. So, when they hear that someone believes that hell is NOT forever (for example), they brand that person a heretic or not a genuine Christian or liberal or woke.

In a recent post, a Facebook friend stated it this way: “We have also turned on our own, bullying those who wrestle sincerely with these hard questions. Are the questions themselves too dangerous? Does asking them warrant accusations of heresy? Why are we so afraid? What if Christ is up to the challenge?” Great questions.

I have been called all sorts of names by Jesus-loving people who don’t seem to be bothered by cursing another believer with unkind words (James 3:9-10). I’m a heretic, a cockroach who should hurry back to my dark places, and I’ll be sorry on the day of judgement. I think not.

The Bible and Questions

Hebraically speaking, much of the Tanakh was written to address people’s genuine questions. Consider the ageless stories in Genesis that were no doubt told and retold around campfires in the ancient worlds to answer questions like:

Why do we have to work for a living?

Why is giving birth painful?

Why do people die?

How did we get a free will or become self-aware?

Asking questions and inquiring about your faith is a healthy practice that should be encouraged rather than criticised. If you don’t believe me check out the Psalms, in which there are over fifty questions like:

Why, O Lord, do you stand far away?

Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? (Psalm 10:1).

Why have you forsaken me? (Psalm 22);

How long, Lord? Will you be angry forever? (Psalm 79).

How long will your wrath burn like fire? (Psalm 89)

The book of Job is full of questions. Jesus didn’t rebuke people for querying him, and Paul commended the Berean Synagogue Jews for investigating his claims against Scripture rather than gullibly accepting or rejecting his message.

It fascinates me that the Holy Spirit has inspired people to record hundreds of examples of people questioning their faith and their God in Scripture. Yet, we discourage people from doing the same and call them names when they have valid questions.

No Easy Answers

I encourage you to question God and your faith and resist trite or simplistic answers. Learn to wrestle with Scripture and live with the tension of sometimes just not knowing. The Bible and life are full of paradoxes, especially in the depth of suffering.

I believe it is helpful for all of us to move past sayings like, “pray about it, or just believe the Bible,” or my pet hate, “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it.” Some people quote that like it’s inspired Scripture, except it isn’t.

My faith has gone deeper during the times when I have grappled with doubts and difficulties. I look back over the past two decades and realise that my faith has deepened, I love God and Jesus more than ever, and I walk much more gently with people.

I’d encourage you to rest where you find yourself and be honest with yourself and God.

When I think of this blog’s title, it reminds me of the wicked witch’s words in Judy Garland’s Wizard of Oz. Remember her? She with the green face paint, pointy nose, and high-pitched voice? The scene is found towards the end of the film. The witch attempts to set fire to Scarecrow, and Dorothy gets a bucket of water to extinguish it. The water splashes over the witch at “which” point she starts to disintegrate. “You perfect brat. Look what you’ve done. I’m melting, melting.” Complete with hissing steam and shrieks, the wicked witch decomposes until she is no more. Ding dong …

I’ve felt like that, too, as some aspects of my faith have melted over the years. I’ve experienced the pain of being confronted with some long-held beliefs no longer ringing true. It took a while to realise that I’m not alone in this. Many followers of Jesus have felt the same, and I’m receiving an increasing number of emails from people telling me of their experiences.

Defining the Terms

What is deconstruction? A quick check of synonyms includes analyse, critique, review, and decompose. I love the last one, and it’s true, some of our tightly held beliefs probably do need to decompose and provide much-needed compost for healthy growth.

Blogger Mark Hackett defines deconstruction as “the systematic pulling apart of one’s belief system for examination”. Reconstruction means to rebuild, restore, and renovate. We mustn’t confuse this process with Christian Reconstructionism (an ultra-right-wing fundamentalist view of the Bible and society – like The Handmaid’s Tale).

Deconstruction is nothing new

Although this concept is seen as a current trend, we notice this process in the New Testament Scriptures. Consider how the early followers of Jesus had to deconstruct their attitude towards Gentiles (Acts 10, 11, & 15). God dragged them kicking and screaming away from pride in their nationality and religion and helped them reconstruct a healthier faith that made room for non-Jewish people.

I dare say every generation since has had to deconstruct something. Consider how the church has grappled with slavery, women’s rights, interracial marriage, and divorce and remarriage.

Today’s church needs to deconstruct a faith that excludes people who are “other than heterosexual”. LGBTI+ people have been ostracised and wronged by the church for centuries, but the Holy Spirit is now leading us to say, “enough is enough”. God loves everyone. Jesus lived, died, and rose again for all. Each person, whatever their sexual orientation, should be welcomed into Jesus’ church. It’s time for Christians to reconstruct a healthier, more inclusive faith.

Here are some tips I’ve found helpful during healthy deconstruction and reconstruction:

Don’t try to pull the whole building down in one hit.

Deconstruction is more like a renovation than a demolition. I’ve spoken to some people who’ve become disillusioned with their faith, destroyed the entire thing, and walked away from Church, God, and Jesus. That’s such an unnecessary tragedy. Consider this message I received yesterday, “Got to be honest, there’s a pervasive feeling of absolute devastation and betrayal at the loss of what I used to think and was taught to believe to be true. When I started to remove parts of the altar, started asking questions, started to get really honest and stand for myself and my family, the whole temple crumbled.”

Demolishing your faith will lead to a crisis of faith rather than a healthy process.

View the process as a healthy progression to maturity

Life begins with the simplicity of infancy. As we grow, life naturally becomes more complex. The same is true for Christians. When we first believe, we are encouraged, “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation” (1 Peter 2:2). There’s something wrong if when we’re older, we still only want just milk.

Some of God’s people are like adults in high chairs (Hebrews 5:12 and 1 Corinthians 3:1-3). I encourage you to see the process of deconstruction and reconstruction as a healthy progression to maturity.

Hold fast to the truth that never changes

When you renovate a house, you don’t remove the foundation. It’s the same with your faith. The foundational truth of the Bible needs to remain firmly in place.

The Christian Creeds summarise the great doctrines of Christianity. The first creed was a simple statement written by St. Paul, “Jesus is Lord” (Romans 10:9). That’s a good starting point.

The Nicaean Creed** is a marvellous summary of the basic tenets of the Christian faith.

And remember the things that Jesus called, “Most Important” ~ Love the Lord your God, love your neighbour as yourself, and “in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). In Jesus’ parable of the wise and foolish builders, the house that “had its foundation on the rock … did not fall” (Matt 7:24-27).

Don’t deconstruct everything before you reconstruct something

You don’t want to be left in a vacuum. I’ve found that deconstructing one thing at a time works well. My first experience of this was as a twenty-something in Bible College. I’d spent my first Christian years in a rather legalistic church. In my first year of Bible College, the Holy Spirit started hammering it out of me. It was painful and frustrating. At times I felt angry. But God is faithful.

Since then, I’ve deconstructed (and reconstructed) my view of the genocide passages in the Bible, hell as eternal conscious torment, and the futurist interpretation of Revelation, to name a few.

The process has required loads of thought and reading*, heaps of study, discussions with people who hold differing views, and wrestling through various (sometimes conflicting) Bible texts. I’m sure this process will continue for the rest of my life as my faith keeps growing.

I’ll finish with an encouraging message I received today on Facebook. It’s from a woman who, along with her husband, was a vibrant part of Bayside Church for years. They relocated to the USA a while ago, but we stay in touch, and they often watch Bayside Church Online and Tuesday Night Live (TNL).

She says of last night’s TNL, “WOW!! Just so much to dive into with this Ps Rob! You mentioned that you started your personal deconstruction a decade ago. My deconstruction started when we first came to Bayside and were under your leadership and teaching … 17+ years ago. I remember the moment sitting in church service thinking, uh-oh, hold on girl it’s about to get real! It was a true deconstruction that made my brain hurt, but, BUT, at the same time the Holy Spirit was speaking to my heart, ‘It’s ok. You can trust him as your pastor and teacher’. And praise God, Ps. Rob, I have never looked back, and the Lord continues to deconstruct and reconstruct. Keep on keeping it real!”

Useful Resources


** The Nicaean Creed

We believe in one God,

the Father almighty,

maker of heaven and earth,

of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ,

the only Son of God,

begotten from the Father before all ages,

God from God,

Light from Light,

true God from true God,

begotten, not made;

of the same essence as the Father.

Through him all things were made.

For us and for our salvation

he came down from heaven;

he became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary,

and was made human.

He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate;

he suffered and was buried.

The third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures.

He ascended to heaven

and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again with glory

to judge the living and the dead.

His kingdom will never end.

And we believe in the Holy Spirit,

the Lord, the giver of life.

He proceeds from the Father and the Son,

and with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified.

He spoke through the prophets.

We believe in one holy universal and apostolic church.

We affirm one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

We look forward to the resurrection of the dead,

and to life in the world to come. Amen.

I’ve always been fascinated by the supernatural.

When I was in my early teens, living in Perth, my parents developed a close friendship with a British couple. We’d catch up regularly, and invariably the conversation would move quickly to astrology and the occult. We’d talk for hours about astral walking, seances, and star signs. I read books on astrology and became quite an expert on the various star signs, the characteristics, cusps, and compatibilities.

One of my mates was a Christian. He and his family attended church weekly, and when I stayed with them, I would go too. It was a traditional church, and it struck me as dull and irrelevant. I certainly didn’t see or hear anything about supernatural things. I concluded that religion in general and Christianity in particular, held no interest for me. In any case, I was an atheist. My beliefs and practices with the supernatural world were separate from religion.

Things changed for me in my late teens. I graduated from high school, worked for a year, completed Radio Announcing School, and started my first job on a Top 40 commercial station in Western Australia. A good mate was hitchhiking around Australia, and he asked me to go with him. So, with a backpack and sleeping bag in place, off we set. You can watch the whole story here.

In Northern NSW, I hitched a ride in a truck heading to Sydney. The truck driver, Malcolm, told me he was a “born again Christian”. I had no idea what he meant, but I knew it wasn’t good! I was stuck in a truck for a day with a religious zealot! About two hours into the trip, we were involved in a head-on collision with another truck in which two guys died. Malcolm and I were rushed to the hospital, but remarkably neither of us was seriously injured. A few days later, Malcolm’s wife, Lynne, arrived to drive us to Sydney. I stayed with the family for a few weeks while I recovered.

Lynne and I hit it off big time, playing Scrabble, chatting, and drinking tea. Lynne was allergic to cigarette smoke, so I finally gave up smoking while I was staying with them. Invariably our conversations drifted into the realm of the supernatural. Lynne was a new Christian with all the zeal that one would expect from a recent convert. She spoke of the supernatural elements of Christianity. I was fascinated. I’d never heard of speaking in tongues. Lynne talked about God speaking to her, healing their marriage, and changing their lives. She said Jesus was a real person in the here and now – not just a historical figure. I was hooked.

After a few weeks, I asked if I could go to church with them. Of course, they said “yes”, so off we set. Bethel Foursquare Church was a small congregation with all the enthusiasm demonstrated by Malcolm, Lynne, and their sons. The service made a significant impact on me. When the invitation was given to commit my life to Jesus, I responded. When I was being prayed for, I felt like I was going to fall over. I thought, “I can’t fall over in church!” But later, I found out that it would have been okay. It was another manifestation of this supernatural God.

Malcolm passed away in 2000, and three years ago, Lynne was diagnosed with cancer. I went and visited her in Port Kembla on the NSW south coast. We spent three amazing days together talking about the past 40 years since that fateful truck accident. I recorded a brief video chat with Lynne that you can watch here.

So, it was the supernatural elements of Christianity that first attracted me to Jesus. And it’s been those things that have kept me on this journey for over four decades. Now I can hear some people saying, “your faith has to be built on the Word, not on experience.” I partly agree. The Word (Christian-speak for the Bible) is essential for growing in maturity, understanding God’s nature, and how to live a God-pleasing life. But the Word is also full of peoples’ experiences of God – his power, his presence, his prevailing on their behalf.

I thank God that we get to feel his presence. That our faith doesn’t just rest on facts and head knowledge but heart experience. In Romans 10:2, Paul described his own people this way: “For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge.” In other words, they were people that had a great passion for God. Their minds were excited about God, but this zeal was not based on knowledge (Greek. “epignosis”).

“Gnosis” in Greek refers to head knowledge. “Epignosis” is heart knowledge or deep inner experience of God as a supernatural bring. I don’t doubt that many people sincerely believe in God and Jesus. They may know a lot about God, but the knowledge is head-bound. What’s needed is a theological landslide from head to heart, from facts to experience.

Since my Christian conversion 43 years ago, I have continued to develop a supernatural faith. And it’s this faith that led me to pioneer Bayside Church 28 years ago. Out of one of the most challenging seasons in my life, God called. Prophetic words flowed from five different people. God was letting me know that what he’d spoken to me about in 1988 was about to be fulfilled.

In my observations of the Christian church as a young man, I often questioned why some churches were strong on the Word but didn’t give room to the Spirit, which the Word taught about. Other churches were strong in the Spirit but weak in the Word. Why I asked God, can’t a church be strong in the Word AND the Spirit? God told me, “Go and start one.” So, I did, and the rest is history.

Today, two of our Bayside Church Core Values are:

“Living and loving the Word of God,” and

“Contending for the supernatural.”

Sure, there are seasons when one has been emphasised more than the other. But we have stayed true to the initial calling to be a church of the Word and the Spirit.

I am grateful to God for leading me to Malcolm and Lynne and the legacy they left in my life. I am thankful to be introduced to a supernatural faith through a little church in Sydney’s western suburbs. I am humbled to be guided by God these past 43 years and continue to see his supernatural presence transform, heal, intercede, and provide.


*timeframes mentioned in this blog are based on original published date

These are not the best of times, nor are they the worst of times.

Some people are faring better than others in this pandemic altered world. Others are finding the isolation and particularly the uncertainty of the future difficult to deal with.

That’s why, certainly in Christian circles, the metaphor of ‘wandering in the desert’ is particularly popular at the moment.

We have, many of us, an indelible image of the ancient Jewish nation, newly freed from slavery in Egypt, wandering around in the desert for forty long years.

It’s an amazing story of hope and hardship, doubt and division. Does that sound familiar?

One of my spiritual hobbies is reading Bible stories and then trying to find parallels in my own life. It gives the stories relevance in my world, which is so different from the biblical world.

I have a modern-day story that might shed some light on handling the anxiety you may be feeling at this difficult time.

It’s about a desert wandering I did, but this was a wet desert – not hot, but icy cold.

The experience is helping me face another desert crossing I’ve been forced into which has lasted eleven years so far.


Adult Themes Nudity 

Course Language 

Up until ten years ago, I was a keen swimmer. Not talented, but dedicated. Four days a week I swam about two kilometres in the local public pool. Occasional on a weekend this distance might double.

As well as pool swims, I was talked into entering a number of bay swims. The famous Pier To Pub, the Portsea Classic and several others became fixtures in my life.

Winning for me did not mean reaching the end first. Finishing was my goal.

To achieve this I developed a simple routine. Two weeks before a race I made sure that, in a single session, I swam one and a half times the distance of the upcoming event.

I did this more for mental reassurance than for fitness. If I’d already done it in the pool I was confident I’d manage the race itself.

Then some of my swimming buddies, all at least twenty years younger than me, let slip that they had entered an event I’d never heard of.

‘The Big Bay Swim’ was a race from Beacon Cove to Williamstown – across the shipping lanes of Port Phillip Bay.

The entry form said it was four point five kilometres, which was more than double the longest distance I had attempted outside of a pool.

In spite of my slight trepidation, I filled in the form.

On the day, in the cold predawn darkness, I drank some extra water and ate my final food before the race – a banana. I wondered whether my preparation had been adequate.

About three hundred of us waited on the shoreline. Nothing happened for what felt like an eternity.

This sent my carefully calculated routine into disarray.

I’m not a control freak, but in those days I hadn’t learned to loosen my grip on things and let my confidence rest with a higher power. I was the skipper of my boat, and did my own navigation too. Graham the Great! Not outwardly arrogant, but inwardly unprepared to submit to God’s guidance.

I was very much like many of those people in that ancient desert.

Eventually, a voice from above, speaking over a loud hailer, informed us that the event officials had been waiting for clearance from the Port Authority to ensure all shipping was clear before sending us off.

Then I heard some course language that shocked me as I stood there in my tracksuit.

‘Oh. By the way, we’ve had to adjust the course slightly, so it’s now five point two kilometres, not four point five.’

My confidence, normally buoyant, sank into my slippers, which I wore to keep my feet warm before entering the dark water.

This swim was testing me even before I was wet.

A few minutes later, stripped to my skimpy Speedos, and Gaynor departed with my clothes and towels to meet me on the other side, I was as ready as the circumstances allowed. Naked in body and spirit.

The first wave of swimmers was set off. These were the under thirties. Ten minutes later the megaphone voice had the Seniors step up.

We were not athletic looking, so the low light was a blessing. There were a few skinny bodies and many more that were distinctly aquatic in shape. Most wore wetsuits, but not this little black duck.

I could say I was old school and tough, but the truth is I was not prepared to spend money on something I might only use a handful of times.

I stood and looked across the sparkling water to orientate myself. Way off in the distance I could make out the giant cranes in the naval dockyard. They were lit up like Christmas trees and seemed much closer than five point two kilometres away.

‘Take your marks … GO!

Off we waddled into Port Phillip Bay, goggles protecting our eyes and swim caps making us more visible in the dark water.

It was from this moment that I became focused solely on myself.

When the water was up to my knees I lunged forward in a shallow dive. There were bodies all around me threshing away in the darkness, but I was oblivious.

With my legs kicking and my arms stroking through the water, I was off.

It was great to be in action at last, and I surged ahead. My body was performing, but my mind was somehow still computing my compromised preparation.

It took a short time to get into my stride, and even less time to shudder to a stop.

I looked ahead to the cranes way over there in Williamstown, then turned to look at where I’d come from.

About five hundred metres was all I’d managed before succumbing to utter exhaustion.

I couldn’t believe it! What was going on? Surely I could swim further than this! But my arms and shoulders were aching.

‘I’d better not go further. Thank goodness I’m only this far from the shore.’

That was my first thought. Relief of sorts. My next was almost panic inducing.

‘If I swim back to shore I’ll be wet, almost completely naked, and there’s no way of contacting Gaynor.’

My mind raced as my legs treaded water and I weighed up my limited options.

‘I can’t go forward, but I can’t go back either.’

That was the emotional voice in my head focusing on all the negatives.

‘Take us back to Egypt, Moses. Slavery was better than this. At least we knew what to expect. It’s all your fault we’re in this mess.’

But then another voice in my head became audible.

‘Get a grip, Graham. You’ve swum much further before, so what’s the problem now?’

A dialogue started to unfold as more swimmers passed me. They sparked a reaction.

‘If they can do it, so can I. Can’t I?’

After what seemed like ten minutes, but was probably only ten seconds, I struck a deal with myself. It was hard bargaining, I can tell you.

‘I WILL do one hundred strokes towards the finish before I allow myself to stop again.’

I shook hands with myself and off I went, in the wake of several aquatic shapes, who were becoming more visible in the dawn light.

What began as a one, two, three, four count each time a hand hit the water, soon progressed to a twenty, and a twenty one, and a twenty two, count each time my right hand went in.

When I got to around eighty strokes I renegotiated with myself because I was feeling quite good. The goal became one hundred and fifty strokes before I’d allow myself to stop.

I kept moving the goal further out and never stopped again until I arrived on the other side, in Williamstown, underneath the cranes.

The lesson for me was understanding that focus is important, but even more important is what you focus on.

Looking back now at the race, I realise that when I was at my weakest, in the darkness and feeling at my most vulnerable, I was being gifted my greatest strength. And that was where I won my personal race.

So look at adversity as an opportunity to grow.

I came so close to giving up and turning back to the safety of the shore, not knowing what I would have lost.

An attitude of ‘Are we there yet’ only makes the journey seem longer.

The wise among us start each morning by saying to themselves, in spite of the circumstances facing them: ‘This is the day that the Lord has made. What’s the best I can do with it?’

Looking toward the week and the month and beyond brings with it dangers to our endeavour.

Adult Themes

Here’s the Adult Theme. The situation all of us are facing with the pandemic still around, is that it, like the journey of life itself, is full of changing courses, unforeseen obstacles and moments when we will feel uncomfortably exposed.

How you handle it is a matter of which internal voice you choose to listen to. That is why it’s such a blessing to have the Scriptures downloaded onto your mental hard drive for easy access in critical moments.

That way you can drown out the arguments that go on in your head each time you hit a hurdle.

Gaynor read from James 1 some words that are relevant to any desert wandering.

‘Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.’

A few weeks ago, I received an email from a guy who calls himself an Evangelist. He wanted to challenge me about Bayside Church, and other churches, closing down services during the Global Pandemic. He wrote:

What about God’s word “do not forsake the gathering together of the saints and do so more as the day draws nearer”!! We have already obeyed man over God and now discovered it’s all a lie to take. [sic.] Freedom from the people and increase fear and the control of the government to usher in one world order. Please challenge people to fight injustice and choose God Over man including church. Pastors should not have closed their church’s. So many people look to you ??? Don’t be a coward brother !! Set example Expose injustice and ungodly anti christ agenda

I get quite a few kooky messages, most of which I ignore, but I thought I’d address this one as it contains so many fallacies that are being spread around at present. Fortunately, in Australia “there appears to be little or no appetite to go against the various Public Health Orders in each state. Our largest churches such as Hillsong are meeting online, and church leaders have committed their networks to understand and follow the rules, seeking advice from Health Authorities where something is unclear.” (Quoted from Eternity Newspaper).   I believe the Australian church has got it right.

Meanwhile, in the USA

In the USA, there’s been a slightly different approach. Even though most churches have abided by government guidelines, a small, vocal group of pastors has “begun to bristle at government-imposed restrictions on their worship.” (Quoted from The Atlantic). 

Some have reopened; others have sued for their right to gather, claiming the restrictions are unconstitutional and a threat to religious freedom. A few others refused to shut down at all.

History Repeats

Sadly, much of this is history repeating itself. During the 1918-19 Spanish Flu Pandemic, many of the same measures were put into place that we’ve seen during COVID-19. Face masks, social distancing, personal hygiene, and closing of places of public gathering. While most people complied, some saw this as some sort of insidious agenda of State control and bucked the system. It was the second wave of the Spanish Flu that killed the most people. One thing we learn from history is that we rarely learn from history!

Churches that sue for their rights and their religious freedom do nothing to advance the good news of Jesus. The Gospel calls Jesus’ followers to “not [look] to your own interests, but each of you to the interests of the others” (Phil 2:4).

The Spanish Flu wasn’t a threat to religious freedom, it was a threat to public health. COVID-19 is the same. After 1919, churches and other public gathering places were reopened once again, and the world moved into The Roaring Twenties. Closures, wearing masks, and social distancing were temporary measures aimed at bringing communities through a health crisis with as few casualties as possible. Same today!

Some churches bristle because they are not deemed “an essential service” like liquor stores! As a Christian and a pastor, I think the church is essential, but I know I stand with the minority. The closure of church gatherings is not about being essential. It’s about restricting the congregating of people and the spreading of a very contagious virus. Whatever you think of liquor stores, people don’t congregate there.

Church at Walmart

In the US, a church group recently decided to resist the trend and have a service at a Walmart pharmacy to protest that pharmacies were open but churches were closed:

The singing of my African American brothers and sisters is stunning, and I hope no one was infected with COVID-19. Only time will tell. It should be remembered, though, that when people sing (or talk loudly like preaching), they spray out a shower of secretions. According to fluid physics expert Professor Con Doolan, these aerosol particles remain suspended in the air, potentially spreading coronavirus. If you’re standing too close to an infected person when they cough or sing, you could breathe in the particles they have projected into the air (see article). 

And so, while I see so many people cheering on this church, if their actions cause sickness and death are they really singing God’s praises? Would God be pleased or saddened by the behaviour of his children?

Other churches who defied the US Government faced significant backlash from neighbours. One woman stood outside a church and held up a sign that read, “you killed my grandma.” Is this the testimony of the Gospel the church wants to communicate to a world that God loves and for whom Jesus died?

Listening to God not Man

The most well-known church to defy the government is John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church in California. 

Their statement is convincing on the first read with lots of scripture verses to enforce their argument.

Itt’s important to remember that the church is not being restricted by Government unnecessarily. For example, no one is telling churches and Christians not to preach the Gospel as the authorities did to Peter and John: “So they called the apostles back in and commanded them never again to speak or teach in the name of Jesus.”

If the Government ever banned us from speaking and teaching about Jesus, I would respond in the same way the apostles did: “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than God.”

This not the case today even though Grace Community Church says it is. All churches can preach about Jesus and teach God’s Word. There are no restrictions placed on us in this regard.

So, that’s what we’re doing at Bayside Church, and we’re seeing people come to Jesus and grow in their faith. We’re helping the underprivileged with groceries and cooked food. Church members are keeping in touch with one another and serving one another. The church is alive, healthy, and vibrant.

It’s my opinion that the “evangelist” who wrote to me recently is missing the point. It appears he’s bought into fear and conspiracies about a one-world government and an antichrist agenda. While these beliefs are widely held by many Christians today, they are based more on the Left Behind novels than on God’s Word. I’ll explore that in next week’s blog!

The Near Future

Once this current crisis is over, restrictions will be eased, and small gatherings will once again be safe. Before the resurgence of COVID-19 in Melbourne, Bayside Church was about to restart gatherings of up to 50 people. Many of our Connect Groups were already meeting in-person, and we were looking at doing some meetings outdoors with more significant numbers. If the current restrictions work, we should get back to that in a few weeks.

While church buildings are an incredible asset, we need to remember that the church is people, not buildings. I appreciate the excellent facility that Bayside Church works from and gathers in, but it’s important to remember that the church did very well for the first three centuries with no building at all.

During this pandemic, Christians are blessed with technology that helps us stay in touch with one another. While this ultimately is no substitute for in-person meetings, it’s better than nothing.

During the Spanish Flu pandemic, some pastors wrote letters and Bible studies for their congregations and posted them in letterboxes. Today we meet on Facebook, YouTube, and Zoom. I’ve had Bayside Church people tell me they have never felt so connected with Christie and me and with their church.

The building may be closed, but the church is open!

Why bother to pray? I mean, God knows everything, right? He knows what we need and want and don’t need. So, I ask again as many people do, why bother to pray?

I understand the intent behind the question, but it comes from a misunderstanding of the purpose of prayer. When I was a young Christian, I tried to pray for an hour a day. It became a pretty boring ritual as every day I sat with my shopping list to beg and plead with God to answer. After all, Jesus said, “I will do whatever you ask in my name so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” If Jesus said it, I believe it, and that settles it. Not so fast.

Our ‘Shopping’ List

I call this “shopping list prayer” because it is merely a list of things we want. Now that may work at a supermarket, but it’s a poor thing to use in a relationship. Imagine if that was how I treated Christie. Do you manage your meaningful relationships in that way? If so, they won’t be meaningful for long. And that’s what I found as a brand-new Christian. My prayers seemed to hit the ceiling and bounce back down to me. There was no sense of God’s presence or assurance in my heart that God was listening and would answer.

Forty years later, my prayer life looks very different. It’s more spontaneous and less controlled. I no longer have a shopping (prayer) list. I talk a lot less, in fact, sometimes I don’t speak at all. My prayers are relational and not transactional. In other words, my prayer life reflects what you would expect to find in any healthy relationship. And that’s the point. “Why bother to pray” is a question that reflects an unhealthy relationship with God. God knows what I need, so why do I have to ask? Why doesn’t he give me what I need and want and save us both a lot of time? Why waste time pleading when he already knows?

Be Spontaneous

Spontaneity is a sign of a healthy relationship. After all, the only difference between a rut and a grave is the depth! Rather than having a fixed time, I find myself praying throughout the day. I don’t pray for a long time, but I never go for long without prayer. Prayer is a lifestyle. The apostle Paul put it this way, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

It’s Okay to Have Silence

Prayer is consistent two-way communication with God, and sometimes that connection is silent. Have you had the experience of being with someone you don’t know very well and felt pressured to keep the conversation going? It’s tough work, especially if the other person gives one-word answers to your questions. After an exhausting few minutes, you fall into an uncomfortable silence during which you rack your brain to think of something else to say. Contrast that with the comfortable silence of being with a close friend. Conversation flows but, if it ends, it’s not a problem. You’re happy to sit, walk, or drive without anyone saying anything. The relationship is mature. I’ve found comfortable silence is terrific with God. We’re enjoying each other’s presence without uttering a word or making a demand.

Jesus’ Teaching on Prayer

Sometimes Jesus prayed all night. Based on his teaching on short prayers, this means that Jesus must have included a lot of comfortable silence with his Father. Kenneth E. Bailey, in his stunning book Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, says, “Prayer for Jesus include(d) long periods of Spirit-filled silent communion with God that was beyond the need for words” (P. 92). He goes on to quote Isaac the Syrian (seventh century) who wrote about “stillness” as “a deliberate denial of the gift of words for the sake of achieving inner silence, in the midst of which a person can hear the presence of God. It is standing unceasingly, silent, and prayerfully before God.” God is as close to you as the air you breathe.

When Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them how to pray, he gave them some sound advice: “do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them.” Let your words be few. Not only did Pagan prayers take a long time to get to the point, they were also contractual. They would remind the deity of favours done or sacrifices offered: I’ve done this for you, and now you do this for me. Sound familiar? God, if you’ll answer my prayer, I promise I will : go to church more, start tithing, read the Bible every day. Or maybe your prayers have slipped into resentment of “all the things I’ve done for you, God,” and now “you owe me.” If that’s the case, you’re sounding like the older brother in the prodigal son story.

Prayers like this are built on the wrong assumption that I need to get God to do what I want Him to do. And I’m going to do that by talking more, talking louder, shouting, talking in tongues, talking more in tongues. I’m going to twist God’s arm or MOVE God (which is pretty hard). Real prayer is more about Him moving me in line with God’s will and purpose than moving God to align with my will. We pray, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Real prayer is about relationship, communication & intimacy. It’s not a business partnership.

Diversity of Prayer

There are over 650 prayers in the Bible, and most of them are very short (the longest is Jesus’ prayer in John 17, which takes about 3 minutes to read). The shortest prayer in the Bible was uttered by Peter, “Lord, save me” – not an unsuitable prayer from a drowning man! Jesus gave his followers a 15-second prayer. We call it The Lord’s Prayer. The Lord’s Prayer teaches us to come to God out of the relationship between Father and child. Jesus has given his Father to be our Father. Whether you’re praying on your own or with others, relax and enjoy the relationship you have as one adopted into God’s family.

Have you ever felt like a second-class Christian because you hear people talk about how God speaks to them, but don’t hear God speak to you? Well, read on dear first-class Christian because God is speaking to you; you might not recognise it as God.

Not recognising the voice of God is nothing new. Consider the crowd who were with Jesus one day when the Father spoke to him, “I have glorified [my name] and will glorify it again.” The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him (John 12:28-29).

God Speaks Through Jesus

God speaks in many and varied ways, but the primary way he communicates is through Jesus. Jesus is God’s final word to humanity, “in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Hebrews 1:2). Studying the life of Jesus, how he interacted with people, how he conducted himself, what he did, and said, is God speaking to you. In Jesus, we see what God is like: “The Son is…the exact expression of His nature” (Hebrews 1:3). Jesus is God’s Word (John 1:1). Jesus is the Father speaking to you and saying, “Be like my Son.” Bayside’s vision, “to courageously love and empower people to become like Jesus,” embraces this truth.

Jesus is the living word, and the Bible is the written word. God will never speak to you something that goes against or contradicts His Word! God’s Word is “a lamp to my feet [Immediate direction] and a light for my path [Future direction] (Ps 119:105). So, I encourage you to be consistent & organised with your Bible reading & study. Be open to the Holy Spirit, guiding you to a book, chapter, or verse that speaks to you.

Dreams & Visions

God also speaks through dreams & Visions. The Bible is full of accounts of God speaking to people this way. Visions are pictures you see when you’re awake, while dreams are images you see while you’re asleep. Apparently, “young men will see visions and old men dream dreams” (Acts 2:17). I’m happily still seeing visions.

In the first year of Bayside Church, I had a vision of a map of Bayside Melbourne. While I looked, spot fires sprang up all around the Bay. God spoke to me about Bayside Church springing up all around Bayside Melbourne. Over the past 28 years, we’ve seen that happening with connect groups multiplying. Today this is still the case, and, in the current crisis, this is happening even more as we reach into people’s homes online.

A vision or dream from God will have a profound effect on you and you will remember the details of it for years to come. It is so much more than a natural dream, during which your mind is merely processing recent events.

Knowing the Voice of Whom Speaks

Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice.” There is something very distinct about a voice. When you hear the sound of a friend or loved one, you know immediately who it is. I’ve heard the audible voice of Jesus twice in my 40 years of following him. One time was in the early 90s when I was praying for a wife. The words, “it won’t be long” were audible to me. I’ll never forget the kindness, encouragement, and understanding in his voice. It wasn’t long after this that a certain Christine McClay came into my life, and the rest is history. The other time was when God spoke to me about getting Bayside Church into its own building.

The voice of God isn’t always loud. It’s invariably a gentle whisper (1 Kings 19:12) into your mind or spirit. Amid our fast-paced, noisy world we must find times to be calm to hear the still, small voice of God (Ps 37:7, 46:10).

How Events Speak

God also speaks through events and opportunities (Rev. 3:8). It was many years ago when I was driving to church on New Year’s Eve. On the way, every traffic light turned green as I approached it. It had never happened like that before, and I heard the gentle whisper of God in my heart: “this is a new season Bayside Church is entering where all the lights will be green.” It was an incredible time in our church as opportunities came, and we embraced them.

God Even Speaks Through People

God will also speak to you through his appointed leaders that he has placed over you in the church you’re part of. There are two aspects of Australian culture that we must be careful not to emulate. It inhibits our ability to hear God speak through his appointed leaders ~ Individualism and Egalitarianism.

Individualism is all about “me and Jesus,” and it’s sad when God’s people acquire this attitude. The New Testament never entertains the concept of a Christian who doesn’t connect with other Christians. Over the years, I’ve heard people say, “God told me,” way too many times. This language sounds so spiritual but is, in fact, quite the opposite. It is also impossible to argue with. Who am I to disagree with God? I believe it’s better to say, “I think God may be saying such and such to me. What do you think?” “Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counsellors, there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14).

Egalitarianism is all about equality. It’s one of our greatest strengths in Australia but also one of our most significant weaknesses. Now, everyone is equal, but there needs to be a functional authority for the orderly operation of any society, community, business, or church. Repeatedly, the Bible teaches us to have respect and regard for those who are in authority. Peter is very blunt about this (no surprises), “This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the sinful nature and despise authority (2 Peter 2:10). The opposite of despise is appreciate (Hebrews 13:7, 17). Be open to God speaking to you through His appointed leaders.

But That’s Not All

There are many other ways God speaks to us:

  • The gifts of the spirit (2 Timothy 1:1-7)
  • Repetition – i.e., when you keep getting the same message over and over from different sources (Phil 3:1)
  • Angels (Hebrews 1:14, 13:2)
  • Nature (Romans 1:19-20)
  • Circumstances ~ What is it God that you want to teach me in this situation? (Numbers 22-24)
  • Conscience – the moral monitor, inner voice of the human spirit (Romans 2:15)
  • Other People – have you ever had the experience of someone talking to you, and you become aware that God is speaking?
  • Songs, music, poetry, stories

Many years ago, when I was working at Light FM as Music Director, one of the songs I programmed was “Can we still be friends” by Todd Rundgren. It was a hit in 1978 and speaks about the end of a relationship. One day, after the song was played, we received an email from a woman who wanted to let us know how God had spoken to her through this song. She and her husband were going through an acrimonious divorce, but after listening to this song, they decided to take the bitterness out of their communication with each other. The relationship was beyond repair, but God used a secular song to speak kindness and grace into two people’s hearts and change things for the better.

I encourage you to listen to how God is speaking to you.

I was interested in reading today about an increase in people praying during the current pandemic as well as people buying and reading the Bible. Times of crisis often compel us to turn to God, and that’s a good thing. The Bible has much to encourage us in life and is a rich source of comfort and strength in times of need.

In light of this, I’ve heard some people link the COVID-19 pandemic with the story of Job, so I thought it would be timely to revisit this ancient book.

Delving Into Job

Job is probably the oldest book in the Bible dating back to the first part of the 2nd millennium BC. Moses likely discovered the book while he was in Midian (NW Arabia near the land of Uz where Job is said to come from) and sent it to the enslaved Hebrews in Egypt to bring them hope and encouragement in their suffering.

There are two interpretations we need to be wary of when it comes to understanding Job. First is the view that Job addresses the question, “why do people suffer?” Ultimately those who hold this belief will tell you we don’t know why, that God is sovereign and we shouldn’t question God. Mere mortals need to do the best they can in dealing with life’s suffering.

The second view is taught by the Word of Faith preachers. The key verse for this interpretation is Job 3:25, “What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me.” Job, they say, was in fear not in faith and so he left the door open for Satan to kill his kids, ruin his businesses and take his health. If that’s the case, we’re all in trouble – who doesn’t fear something from time to time? If fear leads to God giving permission to Satan to destroy our property, family, and health, then none of us would fare well.

Where Views Lead

It’s this belief that has led to much condemnation and unkindness amongst Christians. You’re sick, it’s your fault. You must have sin in your life. If you just had enough faith, you’d be healed. It’s interesting to note that these statements are a summary of the words from Job’s miserable comforters. At the end of the story, God censures Job’s friends “because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has.”

Conservative theologian, John Piper, proclaims this view in his latest book, Coronavirus and Christ, when he writes, “some people will be infected with the coronavirus as a specific judgment from God because of their sinful attitudes and actions.”

Neither of these views of the story of Job is satisfying or accurate, as we’ll see as we delve into this marvellous story. The ultimate question posed in Job is, “Do you worship God because God is God, or do you worship God because God is good?”

Delving Into Chapter One

Job chapter one sets the scene. There’s a heavenly board meeting, and the sons of God ha Elohim bane (not angels) came “to present themselves before the Lord, and has satan also came with them.” Has satan (pronounced huss sa-tarn) is not Satan, but rather one of the lesser gods. Satan didn’t come onto the scene until much later in Judaism and Christianity.

Monotheism, belief in one God, didn’t originate until the 14th century BC in Egypt. It didn’t become a lasting fixture in the world until the adoption of monotheism by Hebrews in Babylon. The Bible’s older documents reflect a belief in many gods. The first commandment is an attempt by God to nudge people away from polytheism: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:3). Elohim was to be the preeminent deity among the many gods.

The Lord asks, has satan, “where have you come from?” At this time, I must point out that the Book of Job is a poetic play. It may have been based on a true story, but much poetic license and metaphor are used. Of course, the Lord wouldn’t need to ask has satan where he’s been because the Lord is all-knowing. Now back to the story.

God is the one who brings Job into the discussion by asking, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”

Has satan contends that Job only worships God because God has blessed and protected him and his family. But God, “stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.” God agrees to the bet but sets a limit on has satan, “everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.” The rest of chapter one tells of the destruction of Job’s children, his animals, and servants. Job’s response is to worship God.

Delving Into Chapter Two

Chapter two is almost a carbon copy of the first chapter, it just happened “on another day.” God once again brings up the matter of Job like he’s just itching to have another bet with has satan. Job “still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.” Really? Does God really lack self-control? See why it’s crucial to interpret Job as a dramatic play?

“Skin for skin!” has satan replies. “A man will give all he has for his own life. But now stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.” God agrees, take his health, but don’t kill him. Nice!

Job was afflicted with “painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head.” Job maintained his integrity. He didn’t worship God this time, but neither did he curse God, even though his wife suggested he did. Mrs. Job often cops a bad rap, but consider what these poor women has just gone through. She would have been in deep grief over losing all her children in one day. We need to cut her some slack.

The three “friends” arrive, and a bad day turned much worse. No one said a word for a week, and then “Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth.” And who can blame him?

Delving Further

The next chapters record the discourse between Job and his three miserable comforters. After a while, a fourth guy arrives, Elihu, who contradicts the other three and then opposes Job. This is the Bible answer man, you know, that annoying person who knows everything? He sounds so spiritual, and yet …

Finally, in chapter 38, the Lord re-enters the picture sounding a bit like the parent who asked their child to do something. The kid asks for a reason, and dad replies, “because I said so, because I’m the parent” or something equally as unsatisfying.

It’s not until we get to the final chapter that things begin to become evident. Job’s been right all along, the four friends who’ve been saying things like “some people will be infected with the coronavirus as a specific judgment from God because of their sinful attitudes and actions,” are told they are wrong.

One of my favourite Bibles is The Jewish Study Bible. It gives a terrific understanding of the Hebrew language, culture, and knowledge of Scripture, and some interesting insights into Job. In the Hebrew language, Job’s speech to God (42:1-6) is considered satire rather than submission. Job is disappointed and disgusted with what has happened to him and is annoyed with God.

Modern Day Interpretation

If I were to write this out in plain English, the interaction between God and Job would go something like this …

Job – Why did I suffer? Where were you when I was experiencing all this, God?

God – You can’t question me, I’m God.

Job – That won’t cut it with me. I am not satisfied with that excuse.

God – You’re right.

I know that our modern Christian mindset finds it very difficult to imagine God in this way. But that’s the climax of this incredible poetic play:

  • God can handle human anger with suffering, even when it’s directed at him.
  • God can handle our scrutiny about suffering. It’s perfectly fine to question God.

Job is rewarded for holding his ground, and God vindicates him. The moral of the story is this: keep worshiping God no matter what. “Do you worship God because God is God, or do you worship God because God is good?” A timely reminder in this or any other crisis.

If you’ve been on social media during the rise of Covid-19, you will no doubt have seen several references to Psalm 91. One verse, in particular, has been quoted repeatedly, “no evil will conquer you; no plague will come near your dwelling”(verse 10).

Psalm 91 is an amazing song that has brought comfort to believers for centuries. But to quote a verse in isolation and make out that all will be well is unwise and unbiblical. It’s not a statement of faith but instead of foolishness. And we’ve seen plenty of that recently.

Mega Statements & Mega Risks

Consider the megachurch that assured members their faith in the Lord means “no evil shall befall you, nor shall any plague come near your dwelling.” And the Church in Perth which released a statement telling followers they need not worry because they are ‘protected by the Blood of Jesus.’ The church’s leadership is “in agreement that this COVID-19 will not come near our dwelling or our church family.”

But Covid-19 is no joke, and the outbreak of this pandemic is not a time for spiritual bravado. It is a genuine threat as a church in Sydney’s north has found out after seven of its parishioners tested positive to COVID-19 following a service on March 8th. NSW Health asked the other 300 attendees to monitor themselves for symptoms. Why didn’t Psalm 91:10 work for them?

An evangelist speaking recently at a Christian gathering stated, “I promise you, the blood of Jesus will protect you from this!” Others have suggested that Covid-19 is a demonic spirit or a conspiracy. But, “Because you have made the Lord, who is my refuge, even the Most High, your dwelling place, no evil shall befall you, nor shall any plague come near your dwelling.”

It’s such a beautiful promise, except something bothers me, and that’s the elephant in the room. That elephant is the millions of believers who have died from a plague over the last 3,300+ years since Moses wrote Psalm 91.

Consider the impact of the Spanish Flu, which broke out in the US just over a century ago. Churches closed their services, but some kept their buildings open to be used as emergency hospitals by the Red Cross because the hospitals were full. Some Christians gave their time and energy to care for the sick. Some of them died from the Spanish Flu and Pneumonia.

And this has been the case for all time. As stated by Christianity Today last week, “If you interacted with someone with plague in 1350, or with Spanish Flu in 1918, there was a real possibility you would get it and die. The prayer, “and if I die before I wake, I beg the Lord my soul to take” was a real plea, not a night-time trope.”

Understanding Psalm 91

So, did Psalm 91 fail these followers of Jesus? Is it a false promise? Or was it because they had unconfessed sin or a lack of faith?

Remember, these were the accusations that Job’s miserable comforters expressed to Job. One of them, Eliphaz, was convinced Job had sinned and was being punished by God. That if he repented, “From six calamities he will rescue you; in seven no harm will touch you” (Job 5:19). But he was wrong. In fact, at the end of the story, God said to Eliphaz, “I am angry with you and your two friends because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has” (Job 42:7). Job hadn’t sinned and didn’t lack faith, but harm still came to him and his family. One of the many amazing truths expressed by this story is that Job remained strong and righteous in his faith throughout his suffering, and, by God’s grace, so will we.

Understanding The Bible

So, how should we understand Psalm 91? I gave you a hint earlier in the blog. Hebrew tradition ascribes the authorship of Psalms 90 and 91 to Moses. These are the first two Psalms in Book IV of the Psalms*,  the section that relates to the Book of Numbers. Remember, Numbers revolves around the Israelites, heading to the promised land under Moses’ leadership. The Nation was fresh out of Egypt, where God used Ten Plagues, so “the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord” (Ex. 7:5).

The Israelites were settled in Goshen in the Northern part of Egypt, where the Nile flowed into the Mediterranean. While some of the plagues did effect Goshen (the plagues of blood, frogs, and gnats), the Israelites were supernaturally protected from the others: “But on that day I will deal differently with the land of Goshen, where my people live; no swarms of flies will be there, so that you will know that I, the Lord, am in this land. I will make a distinction between my people and your people” (Ex. 8:22-23). In light of this, think back to Psalm 91, “nor shall any plague come near your dwelling.”

But, you may ask, some of the plagues did come near the Israelites, but Psalm 91 says, “nor shall any plague.” What do we make of this apparent contradiction?

Understanding Literary Styles

A couple of years ago, I taught a message at Bayside Church titled, Is the Bible Really True? In the sermon, I outlined three kinds of truth: truth as Fact; truth as meaning; and truth as life. I encourage you to watch this sermon when you want to give Netflix a rest during this season. 

As we read and study the Bible, we need to ask ourselves, “Is this passage stating facts about physical reality? Is this “truth as fact” or am I reading something else?”

The Bible is full of various kinds of literature. There’s poetry, history, promises, commands, stories, songs, rhetoric, logic, proverbs, hyperbole, wisdom, irony, parables, figures of speech, apocalyptic and metaphorical language. When we’re reading the Bible, we need to ask what the meaning is behind what we’ve read. That is, we ask ourselves how this should be understood. What type of literature am I reading?

The Psalms are songs and poems which use poetic license just as our songs do today. Poetic license is the freedom to depart from facts when speaking or writing creatively. That’s what Moses does all the way through Psalm 91. Consider verse 4. “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge.” Is God a cosmic chicken, or is Moses conveying a more profound truth? What do those words mean to you?

Be Smart

Finally, I would do well to point out that Jesus was tempted by Satan, who quoted Psalm 91:11-12: “If you are the Son of God throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'”

In other words, come on Jesus, take this Psalm literally, do something brave and spectacular, then people will believe that you are who you say you are. Jesus response? “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” We would do well to heed Jesus’ words!

Responding To Psalm 91 Today

What encouragement can we take from Psalm 91 at such a time as this? I’ll answer that question by telling you of an experience I had two decades ago.

In the year 2000, I made my first trip to Africa to visit a couple from Bayside Church who’d gone to Mozambique to establish a medical clinic. While I stayed with them, I was in a bedroom that was a distance from the main house. Each evening I walked to the bedroom using a torch to light my way. One evening we had dinner with a missionary couple who took delight in telling me stories of encounters with snakes. Apparently, there were people who had stayed in the room where I was sleeping who had black mambas dropping from the ceiling rafters onto the bed at night. Everyone thought this was hilarious. I joined in the laughter, but deep down, I knew I wouldn’t be getting much sleep that night. The fear I sensed was palpable.

The next morning, while I was reading and praying, I mentioned my fear to God. He led me to read Psalm 91, a psalm that has comforted me greatly on many occasions. Verse 13 stood out to me, “You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.” The fear I had experienced disappeared and, in its place, the most beautiful sense of peace. I did see some snakes while I was in Mozambique but fortunately not in my bedroom. But I didn’t take the Psalm literally. I didn’t go out looking for snakes and lions to step on and squash. If I did that, I wouldn’t be writing this blog!

And this is how Psalm 91 can comfort and encourage us during the Covid-19 pandemic. Don’t put yourself in harm’s way, use wisdom, follow instructions, don’t test the Lord, but do trust God. Spend time meditating in Scripture and praying. Allow the Holy Spirit to remove fear from your heart and replace it with his marvelous peace.



* The 150 Psalms are divided into five books that relate to the first five books of the Bible (Pentateuch) as follows:

  • Psalms 1–41 Genesis
  • Psalms 42–72 Exodus
  • Psalms 73–89 Leviticus
  • Psalms 90–106 Numbers
  • Psalms 107–150) Deuteronomy

The first four books are marked off by concluding doxologies.

Psalm 150 serves as a doxology for the entire collection of Psalms.




I have enormous respect for Stephen Hawking. He was one of the greatest minds of the last century, a genius with an IQ of 160. His contribution to science and our understanding of the Universe and our place in it has been immense.

In 1962 Hawking was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease and given two years to live. He passed away two years ago at the age of 76! His quirky humour and cheeky attitude were beautifully captured by Eddie Redmayne in the movie, The Theory of Everything. His humour is displayed in his comments about computer viruses, “I think computer viruses should count as life. Maybe it says something about human nature that the only form of life we have created so far is purely destructive. Talk about creating life in our own image.”

Although Hawking’s body may have weakened, his intellect stayed sharp. He said, “I don’t have much positive to say about motor neuron disease. But it taught me not to pity myself, because others were worse off and to get on with what I still could do. I’m happier now than before I developed the condition. I am lucky to be working in theoretical physics, one of the few areas in which disability is not a serious handicap.” He advised that other people suffering from serious illnesses to not “be disabled in spirit.”

I’ve recently read Hawking’s final book, Brief Answers to the Big Questions. I like to read widely, and some of the topics in this book intrigued me. I wanted to find out what Stephen Hawking thought about time travel, black holes, artificial intelligence, and life on other planets. I was particularly interested in what he had to say about the existence of God and how the Universe began.

The Universe Coming into Being

Stephen Hawking believes “the universe was spontaneously created out of nothing, according to the laws of science.” No argument there. In times past, many scientists would ask the question, “what was before the Big Bang?” Hawking finally concluded that there was nothing. That’s where we part ways.

He writes, “You can’t get to a time before the Big Bang because there was no time before the Big Bang. We have finally found something that doesn’t have a cause, because there was no time for a cause to exist in. For me this means that there is no possibility of a creator, because there is no time for a creator to have existed in.”

While I affirm that time, space and matter began with the start of the Universe, I don’t agree that “there is no possibility of a creator because there is no time for a creator to have existed in.” If God is truly as remarkable as many people believe God to be, then dwelling outside of time would be no problem. Hawking stated elsewhere, “One can’t prove that there wasn’t a creator.” So, like Richard Dawkins and other atheists, Stephen Hawking was probably more agnostic than atheist.

Big Creator, Small Creatures

I don’t believe the human mind can fully grasp the concept of an eternal God. We are limited by time, space, and matter. It’s our frame of reference. To consider a being that has no beginning and no end, who chooses to dwell in the eternal now, but is outside of time itself, is totally beyond our comprehension. Outside of time, there is no duration, no beginning, no end, no space, and no matter. The finite human mind cannot begin to grasp this concept

When I was young, my dad and I discussed the Universe. I was fascinated by the fact that the Universe had no end. I asked him what if there was a brick wall at the edge of the Universe. He answered by asking me how wide the brick wall was and what was on the other side. Try and meditate on that for any length of time, and your head will do a double backflip!

For many years I taught Religious Education to Grade 6 primary kids. Every year one bright spark would ask me, “who made God?” I loved answering that question. I’d say, well, if God had a maker, then God’s maker is God, but who made God’s maker? And if God’s maker had a maker, then who created God’s maker’s maker? I’d keep going for a while until all the kids were laughing.

Case in point, either the Universe, galaxies, solar system, and Earth are all the product of a spontaneous explosion 13 plus billion years ago, or they are the result of an incredibly intelligent divine mind with an IQ far higher than 160.

Creating Out of Nothing

I believe God “spontaneously created out of nothing” and that the creation works according to the laws humans have discovered ever since and chronicled in the discipline known as science.

In his final book, Stephen Hawking writes, “We do not know how DNA molecules first appeared. As the chances against a DNA molecule arising by random fluctuations are very small, some people have suggested that life came to Earth from elsewhere – for instance, brought here on rocks breaking off from Mars while the planets were still unstable – and that there are seeds of life floating round in the galaxy. However, it seems unlikely that DNA could survive for long in the radiation in space.” And so, we still don’t know how the most basic structure of life came into being unless we attribute it to divine intelligence.

While I understand people being agonistic, I have come to strongly believe that we are here on this planet for a purpose. We are not some random chance mishaps floating around in the Universe on a planet called Earth. We are not the product of a monkey who got lucky.

I am grateful that, at the age of 19, this God, who I wasn’t looking for, looked for me. I have progressively come to know and love this God who is expressed so beautifully in the man, Jesus. God is not an impersonal divine force but rather a profoundly personal being who knows, loves, and cares for all, for you.



Someone asked me a few days ago, “Where is God in the midst of all the suffering from the bushfires currently ravaging Australia?” It’s a good question and reflects the most frequently asked question about the Christian faith, which goes something like this: “If God is real, why do we see so much suffering and evil in the world?” I mean, if God is really that powerful, really sovereign, really in control, then why doesn’t He do something about the pain and suffering of people? There are several things to be said in answer to this question.

Suffering Caused by Humans

Firstly, it needs to be realised that people cause the vast majority of suffering on planet Earth. We have the free will to make choices. Some people choose well, others don’t. The poor decisions some people make invariably impact others, causing pain and suffering. So far this bushfire season, 24 people have been charged for arson although most of the fires were not deliberately started.

In past studies, criminologists have estimated that 85% of wildfires are caused by humans, with the remaining 15% of fires usually the result of lightning strikes. Human causes of bushfires include arson, along with non-malicious activities. Negligent behaviour of leaving a campfire smouldering, dropped cigarettes and matches, arcing from overhead powerlines, accidental ignition in the course of agricultural clearing, grinding and welding activities, sparks from machinery, and controlled burn escapes are all causes of bushfires.

Climate change is also a contributing factor. Australia’s climate has warmed by more than one degree Celsius over the past century, causing an increase in the frequency and intensity of heatwaves and droughts which dry out the undergrowth and create conditions that increase the risk of bushfires. In turn, the bushfires release a massive amount of carbon dioxide, which raise Australia’s contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions, exacerbating the problems associated with global warming.

At the beginning of time, God gave the responsibility of governing and controlling creation to human beings (Genesis 1:28). So, are we doing a good job? Sometimes “yes” and sometimes “no.”

Bono writes, “Extreme poverty has been cut in half in the last 20 years, and the facts show that we can get it to virtually zero within a generation – but only if we act.” That’s right, good people taking charge can end poverty in the next few decades. So instead of blaming God for suffering, we can all make this world a better place.

The same can be said about other significant issues of caring for the Earth and its people. Reducing pollution, caring for the environment, conservation, praying, and work for peace and justice amongst people and nations, economic justice and equality between rich and poor, male and female; racial equality for people of marginalised races; protection for refugees and asylum seekers and so on.

These are not merely political issues; they are significant matters that should concern all of us who pray for God’s kingdom to come, his will to be done on Earth as it is in heaven.

Suffering Caused by Natural Elements

But this still doesn’t account for the suffering that is NOT caused by people. What about natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, volcanoes, tsunamis, avalanches, extreme weather events, and 15% of bushfires that are not the fault of humans. While I don’t pretend to have all the answers to these complex scientific occurrences, it should be noted that the very things we enjoy on this planet can also harm us.

I love the trees. I appreciate their colour against a blue sky; I love their shade on warm days, and I breathe the oxygen they create. Trees play a role in the formation of rain and wind. Strong winds can cause large tree limbs to break. Sometimes these fall on people and cause injury and death.

Earthquakes are caused when tectonic plates move. If the Earth were solid, rather than being made up of plates that move, life, as we know it could never have survived. Earthquakes and volcanoes have been responsible for creating countries (such as Japan) and the stunning mountain ranges we enjoy. People can ski on many of these mountains. Sometimes avalanches happen, causing injury and death. Some people love climbing mountains. Occasionally they die trying.

Volcanoes occur when magma erupts through a weakness in the Earth’s crust (invariably as a result of an earthquake). Eruptions wouldn’t happen if the Earth were colder. But if this were the case, the cooling would remove the magnetic shield around Earth that protects the planet from cosmic radiation. The result would be out of control global warming, an increase in cancer-causing solar rays, and extensive solar winds that would dry out rivers, lakes, and seas. There goes your fishing, boating and surfing.

Floods cause havoc. They destroy homes, livestock, and people’s lives. They also create an explosion of new plant and animal life. Floods rejuvenate river systems, fill dams, soak agricultural land to prepare it for bumper crops, recharge groundwater systems, fill wetlands, and increase fish production because of nutrients supplied by the land during flooding. The gravity that keeps us on the planet also enables fatal falls; the fire that warms also burns; the water in which we swim can even drown.

Bushfires, as devastating as they are to human and animal life, are also necessary for the rejuvenation of vegetation. In fact, some plants actually need heat and smoke to release their seeds.

So, where is God in the bushfire’s crisis? God is actually right in the midst of suffering, hurting people. There’s a video doing the rounds on social media at present highlighting people who are praying. One lady said, “I don’t pray to the Lord very often but yesterday I never prayed so hard in all my life.” A guy said, “The sirens started up and at that point I was praying – and I was an atheist for 25 years.” Where was God? Right there!

Tragedies happen, and the suffering of people should never be downplayed. During this current crisis, we have an incredible opportunity to come together, to help one another, to be our best selves. Now is not the time for criticism and protests. We’ll have plenty of time to review what could have and should have been done once this crisis is over. Right now, let’s help those in need.

If you’d like to help, you can give a Tax-Deductible donation to the Bayside Foundation. Please specify your gift for “Bushfire Relief”.