Jesus & the Charlie Charlie Challenge

There’s a new game sweeping the internet; one that you’ve probably never heard of before. It’s called the Charlie Charlie Challenge. Search for it online and you’ll find countless videos of teens playing a game they probably believe is just harmless fun.

The Charlie Charlie Challenge, which works a lot like a ouija board, involves using a grid of yes/no answers on paper, and two pencils balanced on top as a dial. Then you say a special chant that is intended to summon a Mexican demon called Charlie to answer your questions, which he does by moving the pencils to indicate his answer.

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Reactions to the challenge vary from terrified scream, to youtube parodies, to scientist trying to explain the movement of pencils.

There’s nothing new about the fascination with the supernatural. It’s a search for something beyond the tangible world in front of us. Last week as we started looking at the book of Ecclesiastes, we saw Solomon fail to find meaning in the life “under the sun”. If this world doesn’t satisfy, turning to the supernatural, spiritual world seems logical.

As we read the New Testament there’s no denying the supernatural world is real. Jesus came face to face with demons, and he himself did things that can only be explained by supernatural forces.

In the synagogue there was a man possessed by a demon, an impure spirit. He cried out at the top of his voice, “Go away! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

“Be quiet!” Jesus said sternly. “Come out of him!” Then the demon threw the man down before them all and came out without injuring him.

All the people were amazed and said to each other, “What words these are! With authority and power he gives orders to impure spirits and they come out!” And the news about him spread throughout the surrounding area. Luke 4:33-37.

There’s a lot to say about the supernatural world and how we should respond, but I think this part of Luke’s gospel shows us 3 important things.

The demon’s response

This evil spirit immediately recognises Jesus for who he is; the Holy One of God. His question – Have you come to destroy us? – shows that he knows he and Jesus are on 2 different sides of a spiritual battle, and that Jesus is the one with the power to win. The question for us is if we know we are on the winning side, why would we team up with the losers?

Jesus’ response

Jesus is stern in his reply. He is completely in control and yet there’s no mucking around, or stopping to chit chat. Jesus has no fear of this evil spirit and yet he is quick to send it away. When our trust is in Jesus we have no need to fear the spiritual world, yet, like him, we should treat it seriously. In the case of the Charlie Charlie Challenge, this means we should walk away.

The people’s response

Far from being fascinated by the evil spirit, it’s Jesus’ power that amazed those watching, so much so that the news of his power spread around the area. The Charlie Charlie Challenge gives us an opportunity to speak to our kids, friends and others about the amazing power of Jesus, whose death and resurrection conquered evil once and for all.

Preschoolers, the Bible & the True Survival Guide

Each Tuesday morning I have the joy of visiting our local preschool to do a Bible talk with the kids. It’s short and sometimes chaotic but it’s one of my favourite things to do.

I arrive as the kids are finishing morning tea and occasionally while I’m waiting a parent comes in to drop off a child and get to say hi and introduce myself. This week a woman I’ve meet a few times before came in with her preschool daughter and school aged son. As I was chatting to them both the son asked if he could stay for the ‘survival talk’. I must have looked confused because mum immediately told me that’s what her daughter calls the Bible talk when she tells them about it at home. I’m sure that’s because to a 4-year-old the word survival and Bible sounds so similar. But it’s actually a good way to think about the Bible.

In fact I hope all of us will think of the Bible as a survival tool. It’s essential for our faith

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. Romans 10:17

… and for wisdom in this life

My son, if you accept my words
and store up my commands within you,
turning your ear to wisdom
and applying your heart to understanding –
indeed, if you call out for insight
and cry aloud for understanding,
and if you look for it as for silver
and search for it as for hidden treasure,
then you will understand the fear of the Lord
and find the knowledge of God.  Proverbs 2:1-5

… and for eternal life

Simon Peter answered [Jesus] “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” John 6:68

I’m sure my preschool friend doesn’t yet grasp all of this. But she knows that what she hears about God is important and so, naturally, she goes home and tells others about it. I wonder what would happen if all of us read the Bible like it was our survival guide, then told others about it too?

Love and Injustice – Luke 23:39-42

Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise”.

You don’t have to look very hard to see the world we live in is one lacking justice. Pick up a paper and read about the royal commission, asylum seekers, political corruption, civil war, religious persecution … the list goes on and on. As we read the paper and watch the news, the natural and right response from us, the public and from the media is to demand justice. When we look at the evil acts perpetrated by those unknown to us, it’s easy to cry out for justice.

But what happens when that cry for justice turns on us? When we face the consequences of our actions would we still demand that justice be done?

This is a question faced by two men who hung on crosses beside Jesus. Both convicted criminals. Both being punished for their own actions. Both seemingly without hope. Yet they have two very different responses to their situation.

The first criminal doesn’t ask for justice. He does just the opposite. He joins in with the rulers and soldiers who have been mocking Jesus. He too hurls sarcasm at him – ‘if you’re really some kind of king, prove it. Save yourself!’ But he goes one step further. “Aren’t you God’s chosen king? Save yourself and us.” His cry isn’t for justice. His cry is for Jesus to save him from justice. He demands injustice.

The second criminal is different. He knows his crime and he knows he is getting exactly what he deserved. And he recognises Jesus’ innocence. He knows that on the cross next to him is no ordinary man. He is a man to be feared, because he is also God, and he is suffering innocently.

But then, he too cried for injustice. He turns to Jesus and says ‘remember me when you come into your kingdom’.

This request is outrageous. This man is a criminal. He’s been judged by human authorities and they’ve hung him on a cross to die. This man knows that he’ll be judged by God and that he doesn’t deserve any mercy. Yet he dares to ask Jesus to remember him.

When you stop and think about what he’s asking for it’s quite amazing. A criminal is talking to the king of God’s people, and asking him to keep a place for him in God’s kingdom.

Jesus’ response is even more amazing. “Today you will be with me in paradise”. Yes, I will remember you. Yes, you will have a place in my kingdom. How is it possible that in this 11th hour confession this criminal has found some kind of favour with Jesus?

The answer is found in the biggest injustice of all – the death of an innocent man. Jesus’ death was a huge injustice, but not an accidental one. It was intentional. It was willing. And it was motivated by love. God’s love for his people, his desire for them to be reconciled to him and his knowledge that reconciliation would be impossible without him stepping in to act. So he stepped into the world in the person of Jesus, and dies a death that he didn’t deserve, so that when someone cries out ‘Jesus, remember me’, he can answer ‘yes, you will be with me in paradise’.

This is a tremendous promise to the criminal on the cross. But it’s not just for him. All of us are in the same position as the criminal. We may not be judged by our peers, or be hung on a cross, but we will all stand before God and will all be found wanting. We will face the same choice the two criminals faced. Join in the mocking and demand temporary salvation, or recognise Jesus as the king who is able to provide eternal salvation.

The criminal’s words from the cross are more than a confession of his crimes. He has come to believe and declare that Jesus really is the King of the Jews. He confessed his need for forgiveness and turned to the only one who is able to meet that need.

Will you do the same?

Church: Don’t set up your “singles”

Here’s the problem with teh interwebz. For every great article/blog post/comment you read, there are a million not-great ones that you have to sift through to get there.

Sometimes you don’t even have to go looking for them. More often than not it appears in your Facebook feed. That’s what happened a few days ago. This article was shared by a fb friend, as despite knowing their good intentions in sharing it, this article is so wrong it’s not even funny.

Before I tell you why, let me be up front and say as soon as I saw the title of this article (Church: set up your singles) I knew I was going to hate it for 2 reasons – 1) a ‘single’ is an individually wrapped piece of cheese. I am a person. The whole Christian world should STOP. CALLING. ME. A. SINGLE. 2) The article wasn’t called “Church: encourage all people to follow Jesus, regardless of their marital status”.

There’s too many things wrong with the theology of this article to possibly mention all of them, but let me tell the 3 most discouraging and dangerous errors.

1. Is singleness good?

A friend asked me recently, “If God said it is not good for man to be alone, but all he does is good, is my singleness actually good?” Sometimes the best answer to difficult questions is to just say, “I don’t know but he is good,” and so I did.

If someone asks you if their singleness is good the correct answer is yes! I know this because God has told us it is good.

1 Corinthians 7:7 says

I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.

The 2 gifts Paul is talking about are marriage and singleness. (see the comments on this post for more detail on the Greek of this verse). Singleness is a gift. The Greek word used is charisma (literally ‘grace gift’) and is the same word used in chapter 12 about spiritual gifts. Singleness is a good gift from a good God. Of course, sometimes it feels like the kind of gift you get and give a fake smile in response, while inwardly thinking ‘what do I want this for? Can I exchange it for what she has, please?”

That’s exactly the reason I need to be reminded it’s good. When I’m finding it hard, and sad, and bitter I need my Christian family to remind me that God is good and he wants good things for me, and that even when I hate it, yes, my singleness is good.

(For those who are single, this what I want you to know about your gift.)

2. Is marriage a glimpse of the eternal marriage?

Help your unmarried brothers and sisters taste a glimpse of the eternal marriage by helping them get married.

Yes, it is. But in the same way singleness is itself a glimpse into eternity.

Andrew Cameron says it best

Jesus’ new teaching arises from the new future. It turns out that human marriages are not reinstated in the new future, because they point to the ultimate ‘marriage’ – a final union between Christ and his people (Eph 5:29-32; Rev 19:6-8; 21:2, 9-11; cf 22:17). But we need a little more theological detective work to determine how chaste singleness points to the new future.

In the new future, John looks and sees ‘a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the lamb’ (Rev 7:9). The significance of normal social identity markers (nation, tribe, people and language) has melted away. The markers remain visible – but people now gather on a new basis other than ties of culture genes or kinship. These structure social life now, but not then. As theologian Oliver O’Donovan puts it ‘Humanity in the presence of God will know a community in which the fidelity of love which marriage makes possibly will be extended beyond the limits of marriage.’

Single people offer a glimpse of this kind of society. They’re harbingers of an aspect of heavenly community, because they’re not constrained by family boundaries of genetics and kinship. They know how care and intimacy can go beyond family boundaries. They nudge members of families out of the introverted obsession with family life that becomes its dark side. They remind families that God calls everyone into the ‘great multitude’, and they call couples and families to attend to the wider community, and t0 point to heaven. (Joined-up Life, 234-235)

If I was to rewrite this sentence in the article it would say ‘Help your unmarried brothers and sisters taste a glimpse of the eternal marriage by sharing your life with them. Likewise, you too can taste a glimpse of eternal community by sharing in their life.’

3. What’s missing from a single person’s life?

It is not good for a man to be alone and he who finds a wife finds goodness, but it takes the beauty of a family to see the goodness far below the surface and in the crevices of these clay jars. Church, be that family, be the mothers and father, the sisters and brothers. Guide them, protect them, show them what is true and good and honorable in marriage, and then, please, help them get there.

It is true, it’s not good for anyone to be alone but as Christians we must recognise that our loneliness is only fully met in Jesus. Earthly marriage is but a shadow of this, and it’s a shadow that, no matter how good, will never completely satisfy our need. Jesus is the one who does that. The answer to the lonely single person is not simple ‘get married’ (though of course they may) but to enjoy Jesus and his people.

This paragraph should say “It is not good for anyone to be lonely. Church, to those who are lonely, be their family. Be their mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers. Guide them, protect them, show them what is true and good and honourable in following Jesus and run the race beside them.”

(Here’s more stuff I’ve written about singleness)

Really, it’s okay to be single

It’s also ok to read articles on singleness and disagree with them. Which happens often.

But this week I’ve read 2 excellent articles on singleness.

Sex and the Single Woman. I love everything about this article. This is particularly helpful

There are pieces of my testimony that I hate; that I might wish to rewrite. But even in my failure, God has written my life with his divine grace. Perhaps this struggle more than any other has made me more like Christ by forcing me to bank on his resume instead of my own.

Today, in order to worship God, my body needs to be hungry. Today, he is giving me the blessed pain of hunger, because it’s the only way I’m going to make it home. He has promised to do whatever it takes to get me home to him.

If you are ashamed, if you have failed, rest your heart in the fact that the gospel was made for just such a time. We don’t have a great high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses. Praise God that we have Jesus, who has walked in singleness; he was tempted in every way, yet he never succumbed. So draw near to im in repentance and faith, and receive mercy and find grace to help in your time of trouble.

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Really, It’s Okay To Be Single. Usually I wouldn’t read, let alone recommend, an article on singleness written by a married man. But this one is too good not to read. He ends by saying this

And so on the occasion of my 10 year wedding anniversary, I’d like to say this: it’s okay to not be married, really. God is not mad at you because you are single, and you have my permission to scoff at anyone who says otherwise, that marriage is God’s universal will for all people. There are plenty of passages in Scripture that talk about singleness and celibacy with deep honor and respect.

Moreover, marriage is good, even great, but it’s not perfect. There are things that you can do as a single person that I cannot. As Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians, as a married person with kids, my attention and energy is inherently divided among many concerns, but yours need not be. You can live fully for the Kingdom in a way that I simply cannot. Not to mention that you can also stay up late, making a ruckus while drinking beer with your friends, while I tiptoe around my house like a ninja and struggle to stay awake past 9 pm.

But on a more sober note, I know that you worry about being alone. But frankly, so do I, because marriage will not bulletproof your life from pain or loneliness or tragedy. People can be married and still feel desperately alone, or misunderstood, or even hated/hateful, all at the same time. Marriage can be like living with your best friend, but at times, it also can be like living with your worst enemy. In fact, fear, loss, and mourning take on terrifying new dimensions when you are married, because you will be faced with the prospect of losing part of yourself.

No, the antidote to loneliness is not found in marriage, at least not by itself. It is found in our relationship to a God who is always with us, the true Lover of our soul. If is found in friends and family. And it is found in the family of faith, the eternal community of the church.

So tomorrow I’m going to have a wonderful ten year anniversary with my wife, but that doesn’t mean you have to as well. Because REALLY…it’s okay to be single.

Both great articles, worth reading no matter what your marital status.

Reflections upon Reflections: General Synod and all the Sydney Women

AdelaideI realise this is a few months old, but someone pointed this out to me today. Some reflections on General Synod from the Newcastle Diocese. Here’s some of what Bishop Peter Stuart had to say.

The General Synod did not talk about human sexuality as part of its business. There were behind the scenes conversations and a mood that suggested avoiding further tension and division. In some ways the building blocks for that discussion were being put in place at this General Synod recognising that actions in other parts of the Anglican Communion and the mood in the broader community will require our national engagement.

It is also impossible to come back from the General Synod without sensing that we have become a more conservative church and will in the foreseeable future become more so. The election for clergy members of Standing Committee saw nominations equally split between two dominant groups for which how-to-vote tickets then circulated. The result was likely to go one of two directions and it went conservatively. It was good to note that our Archdeacon Arthur Copeman was elected with wide support! The makeup of
the General Synod is changing from those that made it possible for the ordination of women and supported A Prayer Book for Australia.

It’s an interesting read, and pretty fair report from someone who, no doubt, is not happy about the moves towards becoming a more conservative church.

But here’s the stuff that really caught my attention.

It is impossible to come back from the General Synod and say that women in Sydney are not involved in ministry.

While I’m very pleased about this, it really does show how much egalitarians misunderstand complementarianism. The suggestion that in a complementarian diocese women would not be involved in ministry is, quite frankly, ridiculous. So I’m really pleased that it was clear at Synod that this is not the case.

Then there’s this.

There were a good number of Women Ministers present each of whom is engaged in creative ministry yet none will be ordained as priest or considered for the episcopate as would happen in this Diocese. At the heart of this position is 1 Timothy 2:12 which those in the tradition of Gore might see as a household rule limited to the time and context whereas those in the tradition of Ryle would see as an enduring command. I was moved by the ministries I learnt about but deeply saddened by the position that means that the insights and learning of these women are not available to men through teaching ministries. I came away with the view that the inclusive God witnessed to by the breadth of scriptures calls us beyond boundaries of race, gender and economic status in discerning leaders in his mission through the Church.

While I’m sure the intention of what’s written here is to point out the value of the ministry of the women he met, when I read this I hear the exact opposite. Let’s look at the first sentence for staters. Notice the word ‘yet’?

There were a good number of Women Ministers present each of whom is engaged in creative ministry yet none will be ordained as priest or considered for the episcopate as would happen in this Diocese. [emphasis added]

The implication being that there is something about the ‘creative ministry’ of these Women Ministers that is somehow lacking because they won’t be ordained as priest or considered for the episcopate. Far from valuing the ministry of women, this values the position one holds.

And again,

I was moved by the ministries I learnt about but deeply saddened by the position that means that the insights and learning of these women are not available to men through teaching ministries.

In this case it’s not the position someone holds but who they teach that provides the value of their ministry. I didn’t get to meet Bishop Peter at Synod and it’s not the ministry I do he heard about, but as one of the ‘Women Ministers’ to whom he is generally referring, I’m insulted at the thought that anyone would be saddened by hearing about what I do. While Egalitarianism claims to be about gender equality, it’s actually about gender uniformity. There is no room for any kind of difference between men and women. So, as a woman, if I don’t do what a man does, I’m not equal to him.

This is a doctrine that at it’s core places value on anyone, not based on who they are – people made in the image of God and saved by the death & resurrection of Jesus – but based on what they do. Whether or not I’m a rector, or whether or not I teach men, shouldn’t factor into the discussion about the value of the ministry I do. But for Bishop Peter, anything less then women being rectors or teaching men, just leaves him ‘deeply saddened’.

I came away with the view that the inclusive God witnessed to by the breadth of scriptures calls us beyond boundaries of race, gender and economic status in discerning leaders in his mission through the Church.

I actually completely agree with this. And I love to ask the Bishop why he doesn’t consider the women he met to be leaders in Jesus’ mission through the Church? They are.

Traditional Sexuality, Radical Community

From the Gospel Coalition 

I looked nervously across the table, fidgeting with my coffee cup. Do you realize what you’re asking of me? he questioned. We’d been meeting for more than an hour, talking about his struggle with same-sex attraction and his decision about whether to enter into a more intentional relationship with his boyfriend. He’d been part of our church and community group for a couple of years, always intelligent and effervescent, exhibiting many marks of a mature Christian. Yet my friend’s dark internal struggle had finally reached its culmination, and here we were together in a coffee shop, grappling with the reality of his decision.

Do you realize what you’re asking of me? I did. I was asking him not to act on his same-sex desires, to commit to a celibate lifestyle, and to turn away from an important romantic relationship. Yet as I reflect on that discussion, I now realize I didn’t fully understand what I was asking of him. I was asking him to do something our church community wasn’t prepared to support. I was asking him to make some astonishing and countercultural decisions that would put him out of step with those around him. In many ways, I was asking him to live as a misfit in a community that couldn’t yet provide the social support to make such a decision tenable, much less desirable. No wonder he walked away.

Several years have passed since that conversation, but it’s convinced me of the vital relationship between sexuality and ecclesiology. There are many churches like ours that believe there are two possible paths for followers of Jesus to live obedient sexual lives: heterosexual marriage and sexual abstinence. But among churches that are committed to a biblical sexual ethic, there are few, I’m afraid, that make living out that ethic possible for the average person dealing with same-sex attraction.

I’m now convinced any church that holds a traditional view of sexuality must also foster a radical practice of Christian community in which living out a biblical sexual ethic becomes possible and even attractive.

This is a great article on the need for Christian community to a place where living a godly, counter-cultural life plausible, practical and attractive. While it focuses on Christians who have same-sex attraction, there’s lots in here that is true of all single Christians. Though this is an important distinction to remember

Those of us who are heterosexual must realize, however, that even though God is calling us to the same thing (chastity), our LGBTQ friends will experience this calling differently. When heterosexuals commit to chastity, they do so knowing they may meet someone, get married, and be able to have sex. When those tempted by same-sex attraction commit to chastity, though, they’re doing so knowing that unless God changes their sexual desires, they may never know the intimacy of a sexual relationship.

Of course for those of us who are still single in our mid-thirties, the possibility that we may never marry is very real. And, speaking on behalf of women, we live every day with the unforgettable sadness that every day that passes brings us closer to the possibility of never having kids. It does often feel like I have to bear this burden on my own. But Christian community should provide a better way.

Now picture the other scenario. Bob’s been introduced to Jesus by a community group at the invitation of a colleague. The group shares deeply and vulnerably, confessing sin and praying for one another. As Bob struggles with the prospect of chastity, he looks around the group and sees ways others in the group have embraced hard things because of the gospel. At least two other singles in the group are straight and have also embraced chastity. There’s a married couple who are honest about their struggles and failings but committed to not leaving each other despite the immense pain. Another person wasn’t willing to participate in the fraudulent activities of her company, and lost her job because of it.

In this scenario the demands of Jesus don’t lessen for Bob, but he does look around and see he’s not the only one being asked to lose certain things for the gospel. He sees a mixed community of married and single, same-sex attracted and straight, all bearing their crosses together and helping one another bear those heavy burdens. Our gay friends must see a church community in which all of us—not just those who battle same-sex attraction—are facing the demands of the gospel and the struggle against sin.

This is so important. I’m thankful for my married friends who are honest enough to share their struggles with me. Because it reminds me that the grass on their side of the fence has just as many muddy puddles as the grass I’m standing on. When I see the hardships that come with marriage, I’m much more likely to see the goodness of singleness. This is how I persevere.

But here is the most important challenge for churches.  Honour singleness & demystify marriage.

Another way we can create healthy countercultural plausibility structures is by removing marriage from the idolatrous pedestal on which it’s often placed. At times marriage, and the presumed sexual joy therein, is cast as such an objective for Christians that it starts sounding like the supreme goal, surpassing Jesus himself. Talk about “family values” cements this idea, suggesting God’s basic desire for human flourishing is for you to be married and start a family and, if you’re not experiencing that, then hurry up and try.

But the great chapter on love, 1 Corinthians 13, isn’t describing love between husbands and wives or parents and kids but love between Christians in a church community. The Bible sees the church, not the nuclear family, as the primary level of relationships in our new kingdom life.

Further, we must return the New Testament’s high honoring of the single life. Whenever we treat singleness as a “second tier” calling or minor league to marriage we’re communicating to our single brothers and sisters that they’re experiencing less of the full human experience. This is obviously not the case. Jesus was single, and he was the perfect human. Paul advocated for singleness and even dubbed it a “higher calling” than marriage: “He who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better” (1 Cor. 7:38).

Imagine a community in which many celibate singles, both same-sex attracted and straight, are taking full advantage of their singleness as they live the life of the kingdom together. Imagine a community in which sex and marriage are seen as good gifts but not ultimate gifts—indeed, things a follower of Jesus can live without. In such a community, the possibility of a single life of chastity wouldn’t be the fate worse than death it’s sometimes portrayed to be.

In short, we should not call our single friends to sexual abstinence until we create the social environments (plausibility structures) that make such a life meaningful and viable.

Spot on. Read the whole article here.