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Kindergarten Apologetics

By Ben Swift

‘Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.’ (Proverbs 22:6)

For those of us who have grown up playing Monopoly, having the patience and competitive willpower to see the game through to the end, the concept of monopolization becomes clear. The player with the greatest real estate portfolio dominates, eventually bringing the other consumers to their knees with the words, “I own this space, so pay up!”

In recent years, following extensive research in the area of neuroplasticity, it has become widely accepted that the human brain works in a similar way to a game of Monopoly. It turns out that our brains are much like parcels of land that have been prepared for subdivision, either into large estates or multiple, smaller residences and just like the property market, monopolization is the name of the game. Interestingly, Merzenich -an expert in the field of neuroplasticity- suggests that whenever we learn a bad habit, it takes over a brain map and each time we repeat it, it claims more dominance over grey matter real estate, preventing the use of that space for mapping good habits. For this reason unlearning is far more difficult than learning, highlighting the importance of early-childhood education. (Norman Doidge, MD, 2010)

From a Christian perspective this raises important questions. How can we best help children to subdivide their grey matter for Christ? As the children of today are bombarded with more information than any previous generation, will their minds be mapping the truth of Christ or building neural pathways to secular wisdom?

Many years ago, Disney released the film, ‘The Fox and the Hound’. This film may have been produced for children but no doubt it was written to pull at the heart strings of anyone with strings to be pulled. Two playful animals, brought to life with human-like emotions, the young fox and hound are the best of friends before the hound is eventually reprogrammed to hunt and kill his old, one-time best mate. But doesn’t this film ring true for so many human stories of conflict and hate?

What brings a human being to strap a bomb to themselves with enough hatred towards strangers that they are willing to sacrifice themselves for the kill? How is it that young children become actively engaged in white supremacist rallies, following in their parents’ footsteps until they are old enough to implant their hate into the hearts and minds of the next generation?

‘The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.’ (2 Corinthians 4:4)

Surely, the discoveries made in neuroscience associated with mind mapping have much to say when it comes to these questions. If children, having sponge-like minds just waiting to be mapped, are constantly fed with messages of hate, their neuropathways will eventually solidify, entrenching these feelings deep within the psyche of the individual, enabling them to act accordingly when the time comes. Perhaps it could be said that neuroplasticity leads to cardioplasticity as the head infects the heart; a heart no longer consisting of flesh but of stone.

While it’s true that the juvenile brain can be mapped with evil in mind, the reverse is also true. The idea of Kindergarten Apologetics is not one of ivory tower debates between Christians and atheists but rather one that aims to immerse the minds of children in God’s Word; the mind of Christ. Surely there is a link between the time spent in God’s Word, reading, discussing and reflecting on it, letting the Holy Spirit work through it, and the mapping of our brains, especially in their most plastic years.

In the footsteps of students of the Tanakh who sat at the feet of their teachers, memorizing and contemplating Scriptures centuries ago, Kindergarten Apologetics means helping the youngest in our Christian families to know their Bible and the truth about who they are in Christ. It involves equipping them with answers to the questions they have about life, the blessings, the hardships and the comfort they can have in being held ever so tightly in the hands of their loving God. It involves helping them to set up real estate within their minds that is built on foundations of rock and not the shifting sands of emotion and popular opinion.

Whitney Houston once famously suggested, the children are the future but it’s mature Christians who need to lead the way, teaching them where to find the beauty they can possess inside; the love that they have been created to experience and reflect back into the world. This is the heart of Kindergarten Apologetics.

‘Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the spirit desires.’ (Romans 8:5)

Intolerant Tolerance

By Ben Swift

‘So justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey.’ (Isaiah 59:14-15)

While these verses taken from Isaiah 59 are thought to have been written about 681 B.C. they are certainly not irrelevant to those who stand for Christ today. As the religion of tolerance leans its hefty weight on the social influencers of our day, Isaiah’s words can once again be seen to be clothed in truth. It seems that freedom of speech and freedom to believe in Christ, freedoms once held so dear, are fading from the pages of western life, particularly when moralistic view-points held by Christians cross paths with alternative views held within pluralistic societies. Those who continue to hold tightly to their Judeo-Christian values are once again being led by their accusers as prey to be made examples of; silenced before the courts of the media; publicly shamed and devoured by those who would seek to dictate the truths we must all swallow and the worldviews we must all embrace.

But what lies behind the motives of such pressures to conform? Some will claim it’s the only way to ensure justice and peace in a world where truth must be recognised as subjective and malleable to the choices we all have the right to make. You can have your truth, but it must not offend mine!

Surely this way of living -this philosophical idea that we can achieve peace through tolerance and the freedom to live for ourselves- is what humanists have claimed all along? Peace however, can never be achieved through this way of thinking. The pages of history are lined with evidence highlighting humanity’s inability to live in harmony with each other while simultaneously living for themselves.

God has given us the freedom and means to worship him, follow his way of living and in faith lean on him for all our needs. It’s when peace with God is rejected however, that we see peace with each other take a back seat as we strive with all our might to save ourselves at any cost.

Take a moment to look through the lens of an atheist outlook on life. When God becomes irrelevant in the eyes of a human being, all that’s left is survival of the fittest. Human beings, like all animals and plant life, are tragically recognised as mere random by-products of evolutionary processes; meaningless vapors in the wind so to speak. When society becomes dominated by this way of thinking, how can there possibly be peace? Every person must serve their own needs before others, taking what they can at every available opportunity.

When God is no longer recognised as God, people tend to assume his place, reducing him to something less challenging to their own intellect. Stephen Hawking, a leading scientific mind of our time, is a case in point. He suggests, ‘I use the word ‘God’ in an impersonal sense, like Einstein did, for the laws of nature, so knowing the mind of God is knowing the laws of nature. My prediction is that we will know the mind of God by the end of this century.’ Surely to minimize God in this way is to not know God at all but rather to use his name to worship your own limited intellect.

But not every non-believer in modern society desires to fully abandon the idea of living a spiritual life beyond that of a cold and calculated atheist. After all, communist history paints a pretty bleak picture.

There are many in the west who are attracted to following a modified, westernized Buddhist spirituality, one that appears peaceful from the outside looking in, but also one that, like atheism, continues to deny God as ruler over his creation. A short delve into the teachings of the Buddha soon highlight this point. Consider the following thoughts:

‘Be a light unto yourself. Be your own confidence. Hold to the truth within. No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.’

Surely this path is a bypass to inner and outer peace as once again humanity is placed in the position of becoming its own saviour. If we have learned anything about ourselves over recorded history, it’s that we can’t save ourselves and we can’t live in peace with each other while we continue to assume God’s position in our lives. Serving the self over serving others is never going to pave the road to peace in any society.

So what is the answer?

Let us return once again to Isaiah 59:16.

‘His [God’s] own arm worked salvation for him and his own righteousness sustained him.’

There is no way humanity can bring about justice, salvation and peace without God. God, in Christ, had to work it out for us. That is, Jesus Christ the Messiah is God come to us. There is no other manmade philosophy or religious construct capable of offering the peace that rests on this truth. God came to us in Christ alone bringing the only real hope for true freedom and peace. Theologian Karl Barth puts it like this:

‘He [Christ] inaugurates the new covenant of God himself, of God alone. He turns away, clears out, quenches, demolishes, annihilates, both sins and sin. He restores to men the union with God which they have lost.’

Peace may be the goal of many people in our society but attempting to close the mouth of God in the name of tolerance will never lead to peace and will never prevail. When the only alternative to a life of serving God and others is sacrificed to serve the self, the only things that will be tolerated are those in support of people seeking to live apart from God; individuals living to save themselves.

Ironically, but not surprisingly, freedom in Christ will never equate to freedom from intolerance, particularly from those who preach tolerance for their own purposes. It is however, the only place we will find true rest and an assurance that salvation is not something we can or must earn. The price has already been paid in full; a price worth the intolerances we may face.

‘For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.’ (Matthew 16:25)

Who Do You Say that I AM?

By Ben Swift

All rise. Do you the reader, solemnly swear to seek the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Then please be seated and consider the case put before you.

The accuser (A): Would you please state your name for the record?

The defendant (D): I tell you the truth, before Abraham was born, I AM. (John 8:58)

A: That doesn’t make any sense. How is this relevant?

D: Moses once asked this question of my Father. His response was, “I AM WHO I AM”. (Exodus 3:14)

A: Are you then claiming the name and therefore the divinity of the God of Moses; the God of Israel?

D: I and the Father are one. (John 10:30)

A: You do understand that to make such a claim is outrageous. Ladies and gentlemen of the court, I want to make this perfectly clear, the man sitting before us, Jesus of Nazareth, clearly a human being of flesh and blood, is claiming to be God! Not to have become God, but to have been God from eternity.

By whose authority do you make such a claim?

D: You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins. (John 8:23-24)

A: Make no mistake folks, this man standing before us is not only claiming to be God, but also has the audacity to claim an exclusive ability to save us from our sins.

Now, I don’t want to jump the gun here so let me provide you with another chance to clarify what it is you’re saying. Are you in fact claiming to be the only way in which we can be saved; the only source of ultimate life and hope?

D: I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. (John 8:12)

A: Yes but there are many who claim to hold the truth about such things. There are a vast number of suggested roads to life. Are you suggesting that you are the only way? I want to be crystal clear about this!

D: I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him. (John 14:6-7)

A: These are very exclusive claims. I’m not sure I like what you’re implying here. Is there anything else you would like to add to drive your point home any further?

D: Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only few find it. (Matthew 7:13-14)

A: Surely you do realize that by saying these things you are offending vast arrays of people who have chosen alternative paths to follow? I mean, it’s no secret that your followers claim that God is a God of love. Surely this God whom you claim to be one with would not deny people the freedom to choose their own paths and truths to live by? Just how narrow is your road?

D: If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth. (John 14:15-16)

A: Here you go again, claiming to hold the keys to truth, not a truth but ‘the truth’. Ladies and gentlemen, people of the jury, let’s be clear about this. The claims being made here carry with them far reaching consequences. We need to ask ourselves, “What is truth?”

Surely, we are free to decide that for ourselves?

Why should we believe you? Why should we listen to you?

D: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. (John 3:16-18)

A: Well this all sounds interesting but where is the proof? This is a trial after all. Surely such extravagant claims need to be supported with solid evidence. If you really are the Son of God, show us your power, show us that you are able to overcome death.

D: If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead. (Luke 16:31)

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. (John 20:29)

A: People of the jury, consider these words. This man, through his claims of ultimate truth and hope leaves no room for subjectivity when it comes to belief and faith in him. You are either for him or against him. He is either who he claims to be or guilty of the greatest delusion known to human history. It is our duty to carefully consider the evidence as we weigh up these claims put before us. This task is not one to take lightly.

This case is a matter of life and death; the verdict remains eternally significant.

The Humble Sponge

By Ben Swift

Though I am an old doctor of divinity, to this day I have not got beyond the children’s learning – Martin Luther’s Tabletalk.

For most of us in our adult years, memories of our childhood become fragmented snapshots from a time that once existed in vivid reality. While some serve as useless photographs that carry no real importance, others can continue to teach us about ourselves and life as we come to see their significance in later years.

As a child I attended the same church as well-respected theologian, Leon Morris. Without really knowing it, I had the privilege of hearing him preach from time to time. Although I didn’t know much about this man, being so young as I was, I have come to appreciate a lesson learned from him many years down the track.

If you were to ever walk through Morris’ house, as I recall doing with my father many years ago, you could not help but be struck by the piles of books that lay around the room. It was as though the shelves had for quite some time, run out of residential space and the librarian no longer worked there. But this was certainly a reflection of a great mind at work, seeking to be continually filled; a sponge always ready to soak up the things of God. This scene completely aligned with the stories my father used to tell me about Morris working all hours to complete his doctorate, often in the seat of his car as he travelled in his ministry. Leon Morris, like many great minds throughout history, did not see knowledge as a certificate to be framed and hung, but rather a life-long pursuit to be completed on the day of Christ’s return.

Morris’ desire to learn about the things of God and to become more Christlike in his daily walk, was perhaps most evident in his willingness to humbly listen to whoever preached in the church he was sitting in at the time. Can you imagine, as a preacher, climbing the stairs to the pulpit, notes in hand trembling slightly as you reflect on the importance of the task, only to look out to see one of the world’s leading theological academics seated in the pews? But Dr Morris was never there to critique. I’ve been told that if one was to look in his direction during any sermon, you would not find a man taking notes but rather a man with his eyes often closed, listening to what God had to say through the lips of whoever was speaking.

Surely, any one of us can learn from these types of lessons. If a man of far greater understanding than most can, in humility, seek to learn from God through whatever vessel he chooses to work through at the time, then why shouldn’t we? This, the attitude of becoming a sponge for God’s truth, is one we would all do well to emulate.

Why is this so important? Cultures change, and worldly priorities change to a degree, but the Word of God stands firm like an immovable stone in the stream of life. It is through this unchanging Word that all ultimate truth and wisdom are to be found in Christ. We can only become sponges, ready to absorb this truth whenever God speaks to us and through whoever’s mouth he chooses to speak. Of course, having said this, we must always test what is being taught with Scripture itself, but that’s not the focus of this article.

The incredible thing about biblical texts is their ability to continually uncover deeper levels of understanding and new insight, despite our having heard or read them many times before. For this reason, it’s a sign of immaturity to claim, “I’ve heard it all before.”
Consider the words of John Stott:

“God hides from the intellectually arrogant and reveals himself only to ‘babies’, that is, to those who are sincere and humble in their approach.”

The only way we as Christians can continue to receive illumination or enlightening when it comes to developing a deeper and richer knowledge of God, is to remain childlike in our faith, relying humbly on the Holy Spirit to minister to us. As J.I. Paker suggests in his book, ‘Concise Theology’, “The way to benefit fully from the Spirit’s ministry of illumination is by serious Bible study, serious prayer and serious response in obedience to whatever truths one has been shown already.”

Take for example a sermon I recently heard, focusing on Exodus 12, a passage I have heard many times before. Through the words of the minister, God provided me with a new piece of insight that I had not yet uncovered from the layers of richness within this story.

“Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household… You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat.” (Exodus 12:3-4)

While I understood the link between the sacrificial lambs in the Exodus story with the perfect and final sacrificial lamb of Christ, there was another insight to be made. God had made it personal! Each family had to play their part in the sacrificing of an unblemished lamb to represent their family. It is through this process that each Israelite would become fully aware of their part in the sacrifice just as we all need to come to understand our personal role in nailing Jesus -The Lamb of God- to the cross, not only for the sins of the world but for our personal sin.

While my new found insight into the Exodus account is just a small example, I believe it highlights an important point. If we really do seek knowledge, wisdom and understanding when it comes to God, humility, surely, must play its part. We would do well to learn from the Dr Morris’ of this world. We can never become so arrogant as to assume that we know much at all. Instead, as children of God, we should remain open to the ministry of the Holy Spirit, always being ready to unwrap the next layer of giftwrap from what God reveals to us.

Pity the Fool

By Ben Swift

“If you know that your heart is cold, then it is not yet a hard heart; God has not rejected it.” (Tozer)

It seems to me that a significant slice of western society lives by the creed of not taking life too seriously; play hard, play fast and enjoy life while you can. It would seem that although most would be ignorant to the fact, they have been influenced by an Epicurean style philosophy in which pleasure is the chief end of humanity. Modern day thinking, however, has put its own twist on the teachings of Epicurus. While he believed in the pleasures of friendship, the beauty of the Arts and the nobility of a good conscience, many today preach the pleasures of physical and carnal pleasure; a weekend of meaningless sex, drugs and whatever feels good in the moment.

A life subscription to modern day Epicureanism surely must be coupled with a devotion to ignorance. For as the old saying goes, “Ignorance is bliss.” To be ignorant of the consequences of the decisions that focus purely on self-gratification is the only way a person could, in good conscience, continue to follow this path; continue to seek ignorant bliss in their own circumstances.

There is an inescapable catch to this philosophy of life. It can’t go on forever. Pleasure feeding, blissful ignorance will soon come to an end, leaving with it a life emptied of purpose and without eternal hope. Consider the words of Solomon:

“How long will you simple ones love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge?” (Proverbs 1:22)

If you stop and think about it, our western way of life depends on our sustained, ongoing ignorance. Each cog within the corporate machine turns on society’s willingness to buy into the consumerist way of life. It’s almost impossible to escape. There are no decisions we make that don’t impact our world on a far larger scale than we would often care to know about, so it’s easier to not ask too many questions, remaining blissfully ignorant.

Take for example, the controversial topic of climate change. More and more, climate change is being recognised as scientific truth, but it’s been a slow process and one that certainly confronts our way of life; a potential spanner in the works of economic growth. As a global society we are finally coming to the realization that these issues can no longer remain in the closet of blissful ignorance. When extreme climate events are running rampant through the world, causing unprecedented levels of devastation, even politicians can’t escape replacing their short-sighted policies with potential solutions to big picture issues.

While it would be easier, we can’t shift the blame of a world gone wrong onto the shoulders of others. It’s when we put our own lives under the microscope that we can honestly admit the part we have all played. Epicureanism has infiltrated each of us at different levels and will continue to do so, as long as we live in a corporately driven society that holds the highest of doctorates in self-service.

It only takes the opening of our eyes and minds to see that things are clearly not right. To live a life of seemingly blissful ignorance is not what we have been called to do, at least not by the one who personally created us for a far higher purpose. When Paul encouraged us to be fools for Christ, he did not mean to act as fools but rather to live a life for Christ; a life that would appear foolish to those who remain in worship of themselves. Solomon continues:

“Wisdom will save you from the ways of wicked men, from men whose words are perverse, who leave the straight paths to walk in dark ways, who delight in doing wrong and rejoice in the perverseness of evil, whose paths are crooked and who are devious in their ways.” (Proverbs 2:12-15)

When it comes to living a life of purpose, a life that has eternal meaning, it must be a life immersed in the wisdom of Christ. We cannot expect to know how we should live if our hearts and minds are being diverted this way and that by the endless voices of those that sit apart from God’s truth. When it comes to understanding the world’s ongoing problems and issues, we as Christians need to seek wisdom from the eternal King of the universe, whose knowledge far outweighs the futile thinking of finite minds?

Let us seek to grow deeper in truth and wisdom, knowing God and knowing ourselves. Let us listen to his voice as we read his Word and be guided by his spirit. Let us learn to discern the ways of Christ in a world that rarely bends its knee before the one who holds the keys to life.

“My son, preserve sound judgement and discernment, do not let them out of your sight; they will be life for you, an ornament to grace your neck. Then you will go on your way in safety, and your foot will not stumble.” (Proverbs 3:21-23)

No Stairway to Heaven

By Ben Swift

“Faith in God transcends reason as it flows from the heart and the heart has its reasons, which reason knows nothing of.” (Blaise Pascal)

It’s an interesting thing to stop and reflect on what it means for something to flow from the heart. Perhaps Pascal’s idea speaks to us because deep down we all struggle as human beings to align all of logic and reason with our human emotions. We are, after all, more closely related to Captain Kirk than to Spock. While we might know something to be true within our minds, our hearts can seem to whisper alternative words of wisdom into our being, often blurring the lines between the choices we must make.

There’s a popular saying in western society, “If it feels good, do it.” The problem with this saying is that short term, temporary pleasure can often lead to long term harm. It can lay the foundation to a path that subtly veers away from the heart of God. When it comes to opening windows to our souls, we must be careful about who and what we let in. John Lennon may have pointed us to seek Mother Mary for wisdom but the truth is better found in the Word of God.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you. Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm. Do not swerve to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.” (Proverbs 4: 24-27)

When it comes to music, how are we to guard our hearts in this way?

Rock band ‘Kiss’ once filled the airways with the lyrics, “God gave rock and roll to you… put it in the soul of everyone.” While we could debate the truth of these words, there is something special about music; a divinely inspired art that alludes the analytical dissection of the neuroscientist’s scalpel. Music has the power to draw you in, speak to your inner being, call you to be a part of it and it a part of you.

For the Christian, one who seeks to live by the truth of Christ, this power that music holds can be both a source of enrichment but also of tension. Here lies the dilemma. When it comes to choosing our associations with music, where shall we draw our lines? And who gets to forge these lines, the self or God? And to top this off, how can we even tell who’s guiding the stick in the sand when almost every perspective can be justified with scriptural quotes manipulated to support a particular point of view?

When considering division within churches, music is surely one of the most common sources of division. But why? While there may be several explanations for this, the reason people feel so strongly when it comes to music is in the way it is played. These 12 notes in their various arrangements are closely tied to the emotions of the heart, whether we like to admit it or not. We could put on our Spock masks at this point and explain these musical tensions as generational biases or theological issues with the lyrics – both of which can hold some truth – but if we bail on Spock for a moment and invite Kirk back in, we will see more clearly that music is powerful in its ability to take us on different emotional journeys. While music may be soul food, not everybody thrives on the same diet.

As created human beings we have all been blessed with God-given potential in whatever form that might be. But if your potential is musical, how should your potential be developed and used? How far can you take and mold this potential before it is no longer about the glory of God but rather the glory of humanity? Surely these must eventually become the theological musings of all musos desiring to serve God?

When the philosophical dust settles however, it’s all about ‘glory’. If a star is born then let that star be a beacon that points to Christ. It’s not that Christ needs us to bring glory to himself or to the Father, rather it’s that we who have been called to him should feel compelled to acknowledge who he is and who we are in relation to him. The focus of how we live, the music we listen to and play, should be shaped in the light of this reality.

Let us remember that God lists joy amongst the fruits of the spirit. The joy that comes from music is a gift. Whether as a player or a listener, open up to some soul food. Let music do what it does best, expressing the reasonings of the heart that reason knows nothing about.

‘Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world.’ (Martin Luther)

Beyond the Minefield

By Ben Swift

‘Insanity in individuals is something rare – but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.’ (Friedrich Nietzsche)

‘Risk taking’ seems to be a buzz term floating around the corporate and educational worlds of late. But risk taking in these contexts is far from the risk taking of the past. For those who grew up on old school playground equipment harbouring the risk of third degree burns as steel bars were superheated under the summer sun, or potential arsenic poisoning as splinters from the treated logs lodged into your blood stream, modern risk taking takes on a whole new meaning. Much of the old risk taking has been bubble wrapped and isolated from our well-protected lives.

While the laws of society may be protecting us from the freedom of risks such as those found in old school playgrounds, a different form of risk has evolved for the modern, western citizen. This risk often goes undetected until a person learns the hard way the price of breaking unwritten laws about what is politically correct to say in an ever-growing minefield of contexts. Terms of speech that were once perfectly polite and acceptable are now being angrily thrown back into the faces of those falling behind the current social benchmarks of acceptability.

I recently heard from a man who took the great risk of ordering a coffee on a flight to Canada. When asked by the air hostess how he would like his coffee, he answered, “White with one please.” No sooner had he put in his request he was advised that applying the terms ‘white’ or ‘black’ to coffee was completely unacceptable in this racially sensitive age. Shocked by this, the man who was of Indian descent and well aware of racial issues, became confused about how then to order his coffee. What could he say that would be less of a risk in offending any group of people? Did he need to explain that he would like his portion of coffee beans to be crushed, dissolved in boiling water with about 10ml of milk added?

Surely when it becomes a risk to use harmless words to describe how you would like your coffee in the off chance of breaking the unwritten, socially acceptable conventions of a group, there’s no other explanation, the world’s gone mad!

While it’s true that we all run the risk of unintentionally causing insult as our freedom of speech is narrowed by those who seek to protect seemingly every group other than those that follow Christ, how do those risks affect Christians?

Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias once suggested, “Truth by definition excludes.” This statement perhaps sums up the risk taking dilemma faced by those who seek to follow the truth of Christ in a world where truth is whatever you want it to be.

Surely to follow Christ is to risk offending anyone who seeks affirmation and acceptance for a lifestyle or belief system that sits outside biblical teaching?

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

When Jesus claimed to be the exclusive way to God, he knew very well that for his people this would cause division and hardship. Why else does he refer to the Christian life as one that involves taking up a cross?

“Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven. Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:32-34)

When it comes to Christianity, there’s no escaping the flow on effect of subjecting your life to the exclusive truth that is Christ as revealed in Scripture. If the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, are to be read, interpreted and understood as the Word of God, there must be a flow on effect as we listen to God speaking into the way we live, inwardly, outwardly, collectively and individually.

It is here that the risk is no longer a risk but a guarantee of rejection from the world. If we stand for Christ exclusively, without carefully selecting which sections of Scripture we agree with and disregarding what remains, we will stand apart from the world. The divisiveness that Christ spoke about is not the result of his intention to destroy relationships but rather that, out of love, he calls people to stand apart from the world in truth so that they may live in his saving grace.

When what is being normalised in society lies in contradiction to the teachings of Christ, what will we do? When issues associated with injustice, sexuality, education, politics and religion confront us, where will we turn for answers? To make this even more difficult the institution of the church too often creates confusion that leads to divisiveness by conforming to the pressures of the surrounding culture; trading the rock of Christ for the sandy foundation of the world.

As the seasons of life continue to change, bringing new and recycled issues to our doorsteps we need to remember that our responses do involve risks. The question is how do we weigh up those risks and what are the costs? It may just come down to some heated discussion but it also may become the tipping point between truth, life and death.

The good news however is that the human right to life found in Christ alone is a right that cannot be taken away, even if it becomes politically incorrect; even in death.