Woke is a word that has enjoyed a revival in recent times, along with a significant change of meaning. It’s a word I’ve used for years to mean the progression of arising from sleep, as in, “I woke up.” But these days, it’s become an insult that is particularly popular with conservatives, including conservative Christians. So, let’s explore the meaning of woke and find out if I really am a woke bloke.

How it started

Woke was first used by Blues singer Lead Belly in 1938. Lead Belly’s “stay woke” encouraged black people to be vigilant to physical danger. The word was then adopted into Black slang from the 1940s onwards.

The expression “stay woke” became popular on Twitter about a decade ago as a hashtag encouraging people to stand up for those on the margins of society, especially the victims of systemic racism. Woke was also adopted by white people who wanted to stand with their black brothers and sisters in their fight for justice.

Woke gets hijacked

But at the same time, woke was being co-opted by other white people as a derogatory replacement for political correctness. And that’s the way woke is mainly used and understood nowadays. I’ve had this sneer thrown at me a few times when I’ve stood up for marginalised people.

When I speak out for refugees or the LGBTIQA+ community (or any other victims of discrimination), I’m woke.

When I wrote blogs to counter some bizarre conspiracies at the height of the recent pandemic, I was denounced as woke. One Christian leader dubbed me “that woke pastor from Melbourne.” The word has become a condescending insult to dismiss anyone perceived as being a politically correct lefty.

But I like Merriam-Webster’s definition the best, that woke people are “aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice).” That meaning describes my worldview and how I live and should define any genuine Jesus follower. So yes, I truly am a woke bloke!

McCrindle Research’s Faith and Belief in Australia Report was published in May this year and gave some excellent insights into the spiritual state of the nation.  A part of the paper that particularly interested me was the things that attracted and repelled people from religion or spirituality.

Attraction To Faith

The main thing that draws people to a religion, or to investigate spiritual things, is observing someone who has a genuine faith. Other attracting factors include experiencing personal trauma or a significant life change, or by hearing stories or testimonies from people who have changed due to their belief.  One the biggest turn offs is the telling of miraculous stories of healings or supernatural occurrences.  In other words, Australians are interested in hearing about someone’s life that has changed because of their faith, but they are not interested in everything working out miraculously.  Why?  It doesn’t reflect what life is like; it’s not genuine faith.

The Honesty of the Bible

The good news is that the Bible is full of stories where not everything works out well, and the book of Psalms is a particularly valuable resource of stories just like that.  The 150 Psalms can be divided into three main groups:

  1. Everything is wonderful, praise the Lord, hallelujah!
  2. Everything is not wonderful, I’m struggling like crazy, but the Lord is going to rescue me.
  3. Everything is not so good, I’m trying like mad, I’m praying hard, but God’s not listening, in fact, I think He’s gone missing.

A Psalm that fits into the last category is Psalm 88 – a contemplative song or poem set to a familiar tune from 645 B.C. titled “The suffering of affliction”.  Take some time to read Psalm 88, and you’ll be surprised at how honest the author (Heman) is.  He’s overcome with troubles, is feeling weak and overwhelmed, his friends and neighbours have deserted him, and he’s grieving as a result.  He’s praying to God every day, but he feels like God is hiding from him or just not listening.

You’ve probably read this Psalm but underlined little.  You may have wondered why it’s in the Bible, but I’m so glad it is because it reminds us that life is not always fair, and God seems to be completely comfortable with the author’s expressions of injustice.  Think about it, the Holy Spirit inspired Heman to write this Psalm, and the Israelites kept it for hundreds of years so that it’s in the Bible.  God wasn’t ashamed to have this Psalm included in His Holy Scriptures.  He wasn’t yelling out, “Oh, you can’t say that about me; I’m God!”

In the Bible, God challenges people over many things including idolatry and their failure to show justice towards the poor and marginalised.  He gets in the face of the hypocrites and the tightwads, but not once does he correct those who vent their frustration at him when they feel he’s disinterested, far away or has abandoned them, or when life is just not fair.

Jesus’ Struggle

Jesus could relate to Heman in that he too felt abandoned by God while he was on the Cross.  As he was dying, Jesus quoted a Psalm that he would have memorised when he was younger.  He thus used someone else’s experiences to express his own; that’s why Psalm 22 is “The Psalm of the Cross.”  It begins with, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  Why are You so far from helping me, and from the words of my groaning?”  It’s encouraging for us to know that Jesus fully experienced the human condition including what it is like to feel abandoned by God and for things not to work out the way he wanted them to – that life is not always fair.

Our Struggles

The Bible tells of many great men and women of faith who experienced life’s unfairness.  For example, in Hebrews 11, the author takes the first 35 verses to tell great stories that all had miracle endings.  If you stopped there you’d feel that your own life was completely inadequate because you just don’t match up to these amazing people.  But life is not always fair, so he goes on to tell about “the others” “who were tortured … faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised.”  All these people faced gross unfairness, significant difficulties and challenges in life.  They died without receiving the answer to their prayers, but they are all referred to as people with strong faith.

The people’s lives mentioned in Hebrews 11 didn’t finish well, and neither does Psalm 88, “You have taken from me friend and neighbour—darkness is my closest friend.”  The end!  Ever felt like that?  Ever blamed God?  Ever felt guilty about feeling like that and blaming God?  I have and I imagine I’m in good company.

Genuine Faith is Honest Faith

The fact that life is not always fair enables us to be honest and realistic about our faith and remember that people in Australia are looking for people of genuine faith, not a faith where everything works out miraculously.  One of the most honest conversations I’ve ever had was with Myuran Sukumaran in January 2015.  I was in Kerobokan prison, visiting Andrew Chan for his 31st birthday, when I found out that Myu’s appeal had been denied.  I asked him if he’d like to talk about it, and the next morning we spent about three hours talking this through.  During our conversation, I asked him how his faith in God was going, and he told me he was angry with God.  I said that I didn’t think that was a problem and that God was big enough to handle his anger.  I encouraged him to read the Psalms in which so many of the authors express their anger towards God.  Myu took me at my word, read the Psalms and started his journey back to faith in God over the next few months before his execution.

As Peter Enns states: “Expressions of abandonment aren’t godless moments, evidence that something is wrong and needing to be fixed.  They relay the experiences of ancient men and women of faith, and were kept because those experiences were common  … for us they signal not only what can happen in the life of faith, but also what does happen.” [1]

People are looking for a genuine faith that is honest and realistic, not one that always has to have a Disney ending.  I encourage you to be authentic in your faith and, if you’re considering finding out more about Christianity, realise that you’ll be coming to God who loves you just the way you are and that you can be completely honest with him.

For more on this topic listen to my message When Life Is Not Fair.


[1] The Sin of Certainty, Peter Enns (P. 60)

In this blog, I’m continuing from last week’s discussion on the issues that are most important to you.  A survey of my Facebook friends revealed that matters of justice, particularly for asylum seekers and the homeless, ranked at the very top of their concerns. [i]

The third concern was equality – or at least the lack of justice we often see in the world around us.  Inequality features highly for asylum seekers and the homeless, but it also ranks as a big issue for Australia’s indigenous people, along with victims of abuse, trafficking and domestic violence.  There is high inequality between those who have access to clean water and those who don’t; and the poor and weak are frequently oppressed by the rich and powerful.

Right now 844 million people in the world – one in ten – do not have clean water. 2.3 billion people in the world – one in three – do not have a decent toilet. There are 289,000 children under 5 die each year due to diarrheal diseases caused by poor water and sanitation. [ii]   Inequality for Australia’s indigenous people is massive compared to the rest of Australians,[iii] and there are over 30 million trafficked people in the world; half are children, and 80% are female.

Equality, or the lack thereof, is a constant theme throughout the Bible even though some of the earlier comments made in books like Leviticus look like anything but equality.  It’s of vital importance that we understand the progressive and changing nature of God’s revelation through Scripture. Reading through the book of Leviticus from a 2017 western perspective can be quite daunting. There are instructions on how much to pay for slaves and how to treat women. Some of these commands boggle our minds and we can easily wonder at the inequality reflected in what we read.

But when you understand that these things were written 3,500 years ago to an ancient Middle Eastern culture that had very few, if any, written rules, we get a different perspective.  In some instances, this was the first time written regulations gave slaves and women any sense of equal treatment. Until then, they were considered a man’s goods and chattel.  Leviticus was quite revolutionary in its day. It upheld human rights for disabled people (19:14), refugees (19:33-34) and the elderly (19:32).

Many of the prophets spoke out with a great condemnation against the wealthy and powerful that oppressed the poor and weak.  Consider Isaiah 1:17, “Learn to do right; seek justice.  Defend the oppressed (correct the oppressor). Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.”  The prophet Micah summarised the importance of equality and justice like this: “what does the Lord require of you except to be just, and to love and to diligently practice kindness and compassion” (6:8).

Jesus’ teaching and actions continued this revelation.  He reached out to people that others (particularly the religious) would have nothing to do with –  such as lepers, the unclean, the sexually immoral and the mentally ill. The New Testament Scriptures also break down walls that divided people and communities – racial, gender and economic barriers are non-existent in Christ, says Paul (Galatians 3:28).

There is no place in the Christian faith for expressions of inequality because of differences in gender, race, creed or money.

On one occasion the Apostle Paul met with the other apostles in Jerusalem.  The outcome of the discussion was agreement that Paul and his team would continue to reach out to non-Jews with the gospel message.  Paul writes, “All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along.”  The apostle took this seriously and, everywhere he went, he received offerings to relieve poverty.  His stated goal was equality (see 2 Corinthians 8:13-14).

It’s interesting that amongst all the things the Jerusalem church leaders could have highlighted as the one most important thing that should accompany the gospel message, it was equality for the poor.

And equality for all people should still accompany the gospel of Jesus.  It saddens me when I hear a non-equal message preached by people who identify as Christian.  Their lack of equality contradicts all that Jesus stands for and, in the process, repels people from Him.  Justice and fairness for all must always be part of the real gospel of Jesus.  That’s why it’s such good news!

”Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream” – Amos 5:24.


[i] Blog: Is justice an optional extra

[ii] http://www.wateraid.org/au/what-we-do/the-crisis/statistics

[iii] http://www.australianstogether.org.au/stories/detail/the-gap-indigenous-disadvantage-in-australia

This week on my Facebook page I asked my friends and followers to give me their opinion.  My request went like this, “I’d like to get your feedback for a blog I’m writing this week. This afternoon the Federal Liberal Party Room will be discussing the issue of same sex marriage. Without minimising the importance of this discussion, I’d like to hear from you about what issue you (whether you are Christian or not) believe is the most important one that we should be focusing on right now. Is it same sex marriage or something else? What is ONE thing that concerns you at the moment particularly from a justice point of view?”  What followed was a mainly respectful thread (I only had to remove one “friend” this time!)

It’s important to note that my Facebook friends come from a variety of backgrounds – Christian people as well as those of other faiths or no faith, various political persuasions and diverse nationalities.  With that in mind, I thought it interesting that the number one issue that concerned people was Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers, followed closely by homelessness.  The third was equality, which covers quite a few issues that I’ll discuss in next week’s blog.  Other concerns that received more than one mention were safe schools, domestic violence & child abuse, energy costs, human trafficking, mental health, substance abuse and climate change.

There were no surprises here.  I’d presume that those who engage with me on social media would have a high awareness of the importance of justice and equality, as these are things I regularly write about and on which I work.

My Christian faith is the primary incentive for my justice focus as I see it as inseparable from the gospel message rather than an optional extra.

The gospel is not just about saving souls and getting people into heaven in the future, but also about bringing heaven to earth in the present.   That’s the heart of Jesus’ teaching in The Lord’s Prayer, “Your kingdom come; your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

God’s will is the expression of his goodness that is fundamental to His character. In fact, Jesus revealed that God’s goodness is the number one attribute He wants to show all people (Matthew 7:9-11).  Jesus taught that God had delegated the responsibility of demonstrating His goodness to His followers (Matthew 5:43-48).  That’s right; Christians are to practically spread God’s goodness to all people and all creation.  Sometimes the church has done (and still does) a brilliant job at this; at other times we have failed (and continue to fail) dismally.

The focus of the entire Lord’s Prayer is what happens on earth.  God cares for all people and His creation, and He wants his people to care as well.  Many of the concerns raised on my Facebook page this week demonstrate this caring attitude.  The problem is that most of these important issues get politicised and people are then polarised around the issue.

For example: when you read the words “asylum seekers and refugees” most people will think of them through a political filter that then restricts or encourages action.  Some will lean to the Right where the primary emphasis is on border security and national safety. Others will lean left where there is often more compassion but less thought on the impact of increased immigration on our social problems, infrastructure, and security.  Rather than thinking politically we need to think Christianly, because one day God is going judge us on our treatment of people in need (read Matthew 25:31-46).

Refugees are people – people who are loved by God and people who need love, kindness, protection and their basic needs met. 

While I can advocate for the rights of refugees on a general scale, the most important thing is what I can do to make a difference on a small scale.  Christie and I and Bayside Church are currently helping a small number of refugees and we’ve been able to make a huge difference for them.  Just because we can’t solve the whole problem doesn’t mean we do nothing.  The same goes for helping the homeless.  I’d love to help every homeless person in Australia, but I can’t.  We have, however, given out well over 100,000 hot meals to homeless and disadvantaged people in bayside Melbourne over the past decade.

We can apply this same principle to every issue, thinking Christianly instead of politically, and asking the question “how can I show God’s goodness in this particular situation?”  For example, climate change is hugely polarising, but surely we can agree that pumping less pollution into the earth’s atmosphere is a worthy goal?  The ethical use and protection of valuable resources, such as trees, minerals, wildlife & water and to protect the sources of resources is a responsibility we must all bear.  I realise some Christians have the view that one day God will make a new earth, so why bother looking after this one?  This faulty logic is like saying “one day I’m going to get a new car, so I’ll just trash the one I’m currently driving.”

Praying “your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” means that Christian people will pray and work for peace and justice amongst individuals and nations wherever possible.  We strive for economic fairness and equality between rich and poor and seek justice for all despite gender, race, sexual orientation or creed, but more on equality next week.

Recently, a well-known Australian passed away.  He was a good man most of the time – a man who grew an amazing business to become one of Australia’s wealthiest people.  A man who gave generously to many worthy causes and made an incredible difference as a result.

But this good man, like the rest of us, also did some bad things – he cheated on his wife and was embroiled in some dodgy business practices.

After his death there were the usual tributes. One family friend’s comments particularly interested me. The comments were along the line of, “He did some bad things but the good he did canceled out the bad.”

Many people I’ve spoken to over the years have this viewpoint of the justice of God. We all do “bad stuff” but we’re basically good people and as long as you do more good stuff than bad, then God will let you into heaven. I find it fascinating that our fuzzy view of a loving God distorts our view of justice.

Imagine the public outcry if our judicial system worked that way. Picture this: someone is convicted of a serious crime. In sentencing the judge says, “I’ve looked at your life and you’ve done a lot of good so I’m letting you go without punishment. Try and be better from now on, there’s a good chap!” There would be media frenzy. The victim’s family and friends would be sobbing, angry, bitter – “why this lack of justice?”

If on a human level we expect justice then why not on a divine level? If good deeds don’t cancel out bad in society why would God operate any differently? God is love and He is also just – and you can’t have one without the other.

Every human being has goodness because we are made in God’s image; but every human being is also imperfect – we have all broken God’s laws and deserve to be punished. That’s the bad news. The good news is that Jesus came and took our punishment for us – the judgment of God placed on Jesus so that all those who accept His sacrifice can go free. That’s the heart of the Christian message – not a message of fuzzy love but a message of love and justice – and an offer that’s really too good to refuse. So why would you?

The radio talk-back waves have been crackling with strong debate this week over a Sydney art gallery’s display of photographs by controversial Melbourne artist Bill Henson.  The 20 photographs are of a naked girl and boy believed to be around the ages of 12 or 13.  These photos have been seized by Sydney police and charges are expected to be laid.

The comments on the radio have been many and varied and this issue has obviously polarized the community.  There are a number of things that I find fascinating from this debate but I will focus this blog on two of them:

First is the call by Cate Blanchett, and dozens of other 2020 Summit delegates, for the Prime Minister to retract his criticisms of Bill Henson as they “damage Australia’s cultural reputation.”  And showing naked pictures of adolescents doesn’t do damage?  There is something even more sinister here when the so-called cultural elite want to gag free speech from those who disagree with them.  I applaud Kevin Rudd for his courage in taking a stand on this issue.  Political, church and other community leaders have a right and a responsibility to exercise a prophetic voice that speaks out for truth and righteousness.

The other issue is the justification of these photos by some people.  If a pedophile is found to have such images in their possession they are arrested and jailed – and rightly so!  In one interview these photos were described as “High Art” and that was used as justification for their legitimacy.  So the man or woman found in possession of photos of naked minors in various poses in alright as long as it’s in the name of high art?  The problem here is that we have a society where black and white are viewed by many as merely shades of grey!  That’s why I love the Bible and my Christian faith.  Some things are right – other things are wrong!  Thank you Mr Rudd for speaking out on this – please don’t let people silence you even if they do happen to be famous!