Monthly Archives: June 2015

A Singer Loses His Religion

The annual Eurovision Song Contest is a huge event, one of the world’s most-watched non-sporting events. This year’s competition was also – in my opinion – the scene of a lesson for Christians in what can happen when you let the power of the world overwhelm your faith.

Eurovision is a kind of European Idol – a competition to find the best singer in Europe. This year marks its 60th anniversary, and to commemorate the organizers decided to invite a competitor from one non-European nation. They chose Australia – my country – on the grounds that the contest has been shown here on television each year for many years and has become exceptionally popular.

Representing Australia was Guy Sebastian, a charismatic young singer with a beautiful voice who has achieved enormous fame over the past decade. He sang a number he composed himself, “Tonight Again.”

Guy was once a devout Christian, and for his fellow Christians his story is a sad one. He was born in Malaysia, but his family emigrated to Australia when he was young. He attended King’s Baptist Grammar School in Adelaide and became a worship leader at Paradise Community Church, part of the Assemblies of God and one of Australia’s largest churches.

But then fame struck. In 2003 he won the very first Australian Idol television event. Many such winners are never heard from again. But Guy’s star grew only brighter. His debut song, “Angels Brought Me Here,” went on to become Australia’s top-selling song of the decade.

Sadly, as his fame grew, his faith withered. At the beginning of his career he openly praised God, and he spoke forthrightly of his Christian values. For example, he made it clear that he believed it important to retain his virginity until marriage.

But, as he became absorbed by the glitter and the bright lights of show business, he started to change. In 2012, now one of Australia’s most popular entertainers, he announced that, while he still believed in God, it was important not to impose one’s beliefs on others.

“What I was told in regards to so many things was so wrong,” he told a journalist, concerning his lapsed faith. “I’ve gone from a place where I was told there was one way and only one way, to being more in a place where I don’t think anyone has the right to say what they believe is more important or more significant.” He came out in favour of gay marriage.

On his own website is a biography which does not even refer to his faith, but simply describes him as having “a reputation as a person of the highest moral values and integrity.”

Like most Australians I was cheering for Guy to win the Eurovision contest. But at the same time I was praying that he can return to the God who has blessed him with so many wonderful gifts.

NB: This commentary was actually written before the contest. It has been updated. (And Guy finished fifth.)

The Dilemmas of Prayer

It is the kind of news that makes us praise God: a British Catholic newspaper reports from Algeria that Muslims in their thousands are seeking Bibles and turning up in church, wishing to learn about Christianity.

This results from disillusionment with the so-called Arab Spring, as well as a reaction against the rise of violent Islamism.

So praise God for what He is doing in the hearts of these people. It certainly cannot be easy to seek Jesus in a Muslim country where churches face heavy restrictions, where Christian evangelism is banned and where a foreign priest who hands out Bibles can be imprisoned for five years.

But wait! Was not Algeria – home of Saint Augustine – once a Christian country? Yes, like much of Mediterranean North Africa, Algeria in the early days of the church was Christian. But subsequent Muslim invasions wiped out all but a remnant.

So Algerian Muslims in their thousands, in a Muslim nation of 39 million people that was once Christian, are now seeking Jesus. Good news? Of course, but…

I receive monthly newsletters from a missionary in one of the Gulf states. He and his wife both speak Arabic, and for months on end we might be asked to pray for a particular Muslim friend or neighbor who has, however vaguely, expressed some kind of interest in the gospel.

We seldom hear of positive results from these encounters, but still we are asked to pray.

I sometimes want to cry out in despair to this missionary. While we are praying fervently for “Sally” or “John” – his contacts are always given Western names for anonymity – the wholesale rape, imprisonment and slaughter of Christians is occurring on the other side of the desert. Would not his efforts and our prayers be better directed there? Yet I know without doubt that he feels a strong calling for his work.

A church friend says that increasingly when he prays he simply feels like saying, “Dear God. Whatever.” For just as Christianity is being eradicated in the land of its birth, millions and millions have been coming to the Lord in places like South Korea and China.

Knowing how to pray can sometimes be confusing.


The Heavenly Neighbor from Hell

What would you – a devout Christian – do if your next-door neighbor erected a 20-foot statue of an Indian god in his backyard, as an object of worship?

Would you complain to your neighbor? To the local authorities? Would you consult a lawyer? Or would you decide that nothing can be done, and so do nothing?

This is the predicament facing a man in Auckland, New Zealand (formerly my home town).

His Hindu neighbour commissioned in China a giant statue of the god Shiva, shipped it to Auckland and, having obtained local council approval, has just erected it on his property. Asked why, he told the New Zealand Herald: “Do you need a reason to pray? I don’t think so.”

According to the newspaper report:

But neighbour Bryce Watts, a Catholic, said the marble statue was “bizarre” and “offensive”.

“Religiously and culturally it’s a bit insensitive to us and I can’t believe they’re able to do this. Part of our property looks at it and it’s part of a religion we don’t agree with,” he said.

“I don’t see why we should have it poked down our throats in such a big way.”

… “I’ve been to the council and asked about it and evidently it was within their rights to do it…It’s 10 metres [32 feet] from our boundary which is within the rules where you can build a building. It’s like, ‘bad luck, if you don’t like it, it’s your problem’. I find it really hard to believe in this day and age that this can happen.”

Really? Welcome to the multi-cultural 21st century. In this day and age it seems that just about anything can happen.

Though I too wouldn’t want a 20-foot Indian god statue next door, looming over my property. I would feel there was something spiritually menacing about it.

When we lived in Japan we visited some friends whose home overlooked a Buddhist temple and its cemetery. I was not then a Christian, and remarked to my wife that in fast-paced, frenetic Tokyo living next to a cemetery must be pleasant – so quiet and tranquil.

My wife shivered and said there was no way she would live next to a cemetery.

But back to that statue. Maybe the neighbor, a Catholic, should erect his own massive Virgin Mary. Or perhaps he should take an interest in his neighbor’s religion, and then invite the neighbor to a church service. Who knows where that would lead? Or should he simply move out?

I’m not sure what’s best. What do you think?