The Bible’s answer to our fallen self obsession is a superior satisfaction in God where he becomes our soul possession and we become his treasured possession for all eternity.
Looking at how we can deploy arguments, questions, and illustrations effectively as we do the work of an evangelist.
This seminar was part of the 2014 CVM Quickfire conference – a collection of short talks to encourage and equip men to share their faith with their friends, colleagues, and families.
On the 26th October the Union Flag was lowered at Camp Bastion. The next day the last of the British troops left Helmand Province. Over the following days and weeks many newspaper articles, television documentaries, and pub conversations assessed the overall value of the British military campaign in Afghanistan. “What did we achieve?” “Was it worth the cost?” “Will our efforts have a positive result on the country next year, in 5 years, in 20 years?”
The British Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, said that some mistakes were made in our 13 years in Afghanistan but that many good achievements have been made also.
The stories of tragedy, heroism, dismay, and hope have been coming to us for over a decade and soon it will be the job of historians to disseminate all of what we know and present the case for the success or failure of the overall mission.
This won’t be an easy task but it is driven forward by a strong collective sense of a nation seeking to know the truth of a situation for many so far removed from their day to day lives, yet so frequently punctuating their evenings through news broadcasts.
It’s because conflict is so costly that we won’t accept cheap answers. When lives are on the line suddenly quick-fire soundbite-replies to the big questions don’t cut it. When casualties of war mount up there grows a vested concern that truth not be listed among the number lost.
It is right to probe, to strain, to strive for the truth in these situations. With knowledge comes understanding and we hope wisdom for the future.
War has a way of framing questions rather bluntly. It also reveals how casual we can become with the search for truth in other, less immediately affected areas of our life.
Conflicts are violent and immediate and the questions we ask surrounding them are marked in the same way. Yet our own lives also have huge questions that perhaps don’t strike us with the same urgency. What we live for, what rules we live by, what hope we look to – these massive questions that religions seek to answer are treated rather shallowly.
They’re not so ‘in our face’ but surely they are of equal value to the questions that we ask of conflicts? Perhaps even more so?
Yet instead of investigating, searching, and seeking to discover the truth for these big questions so often we are satisfied merely to find what works for us and leave the bloke next to us to find his own way too. We wouldn’t want to interfere too much in his life and we certainly wouldn’t want to invite too much attention from him!
In our pseudo-civil attempts to restrict any meddling in our private affairs we end up demoting truth from her true authoritative position. If all we want is something that works for us then we answer the largest questions of life with simple pragmatism, disconnected from what may be true. Or another way of thinking about it is that unhappy with the prospect of having to bend our lives to a superior truth, we decide to make ourselves the sole arbiter of what’s true for us.
Can you imagine if we treated the Afghanistan conflict in the same way? If in the House of Commons instead of debate and counter-point, each Member were granted their own viewpoint regardless of its correspondence to the reality of the situation? This nation would deride the self-serving views of our politicians swiftly and trust would be destroyed.
Questions surrounding the things most valuable to us deserve the best answers. The struggle with the biggest questions of life is a noble quest and to shortcut the search by setting aside truth for personal preference risks a betrayal of the truth and an act of personal deception.
This article first appeared in the January/February 2015 edition of Sorted Magazine.
Where were you when you first experienced elation? I have vague, early-childhood memories of blissful birthdays with cakes shaped as Subbuteo pitches and parties at water parks. In my teenage years I hit new heights kayaking down French alpine rivers, dodging rocks and trees, mostly the right way up, to be rewarded with pure adulation coursing through my veins at the finish.
Of course, in sports, there was the 2003 Rugby World Cup final, that 5-1 against Germany, the Miracle at Medinah, Super Saturday, and the 2012 Autumn Internationals when Tuilagi opened up the All Blacks’ back line like a bayonet through a pack of ravioli.
When I recall these memories I find my mind has assiduously mapped out the little details surrounding the events. It was as if I was a little bit more conscious, a little bit more alert. I felt more alive; and it felt good.
It’s little wonder that we spend good money and much time pursuing things in life that leave us feeling good. It is, after all, nice to feel good. Great experiences, like a concert or climbing a mountain or a fantastic holiday, cause us to seek for further great experiences.
When we come back from our travels the first question often is, “Where next?” The pursuit of pleasure leads us to open up our wallets and map out our time with war-room-like efficiency.
Now currently, we are told that around 10% of people in Britain attend some kind of church once a month (2013 stats). On that basis, one could conclude that our country isn’t particularly religious, yet our behaviours I think tell another story.
Consider the humble football fan. He supports the team his father did, and lives locally enough to make it to most of the home games. He has a season ticket, and a draw in his bedroom with team shirts of years gone by. After the game he comes home and turns on the TV to watch the highlights and catch up on the rest of the league.
Through the ups and downs and the comings and going of new managers, he sticks by his team. Visiting regularly, checking websites, inviting his friends, and spending his cash. Now what about that is not religious?
And to a certain extent I’m with him. Saturday evening, when the world is a little quieter, I quite like a bit of Match of the Day. I like the routine, the familiarity, the ‘quick fix’ of action, and of course, catching the goals. And apparently I’m not the only one with around seven million viewers tuning in over the weekend.
Having now been going for 50 years, it really has become an institution. In the recent ‘Match of the Day at 50’ program, Thierry Henry when asked about his thoughts on the show replied, “It’s like going to church, you know, it’s a religious thing. It’s part of the culture in England.” I think he’s spot on.
“It’s like going to church, you know, it’s a religious thing. It’s part of the culture in England.”
And in this statement I think lies the fact that Britain is indeed a religious country. It is a religious country because it is a country of worshippers. No, it might not be the Christian God or another religion that the majority of the people turn to for comfort and hope, but it will be something.
In our lives we have these sunshine-through-the-clouds moments, mini-revelations or periods of elation perhaps. We stare at them, think on them, analyse and run after them because we are looking to orientate our lives in a certain direction.
We worship. The choice we have then is what or who do we worship? What or who is truly worthy to be worshiped? Many of us are content to fix our eyes on the moment, the experience, the snippet of ecstasy and miss the author of all these things, God.
The next time you hit a high, enjoy it. Enjoy it and be thankful, and then, perhaps the next day when you wake up, why not begin to investigate why you are grateful and to whom you ought to be offering your thanks?
This article first appeared in the November/December 2014 edition of Sorted Magazine.
New is cool. At least, this is what the advertisers would have us believe. If you don’t have the latest thing then you’re not ‘with the times’. And do you know what? So often the advertisers are right. My current phone is a better version of my old phone. It has a longer battery life and a crisper display. In a few months I’m sure I will be told about the latest development and how it’s faster or bigger or slimmer etc. and how much I need it. The march of technological progress soldiers on.
This progress requires change. The change ought to be an improvement on the old, but at the very least it needs to be different from the old. It needs to be distinct. If what is new isn’t different then it becomes hard to sell. If Volkswagen were to believe that their Golf has finally ‘arrived’, that it couldn’t possibly be any better, that it should look and perform this way forever, it would in a few years time look dated and most likely be out-performed by its rivals.
In a world obsessed with things and the production and selling of them, an environment of constant change must be manufactured to keep the supply chains rolling.
Now, change is good, but only whenever it actually is good. I like that my latest car is more reliable than the car it replaced and that the fuel economy is better. I like my new running shoes because they fit well and make running almost a joy again. All change that is good is only good if it is in fact an improvement upon what it is replacing.
But from a marketing perspective change doesn’t need to be good. It only needs to exist. If we can be told that we need something new, simply because it is new, then we can be persuaded to buy it independent of an analysis of what it actually is and whether it really is any good.
What is sold to us today is most definitely a way of life, being offered through the product being advertised. Adverts don’t just sell to us on the merits of the product, they seek to convince us that we will be better people because we have and use these products. In this world we live in we are told that change is good and life is better when we are playing with the latest thing.
In the current climate, it has therefore become all too easy to assume that things that are old are of lesser value than things that are new. Your first TV will most likely not be as good as your current TV. But so too have changed what you used to think about, say, politics, or your goals in life, or where your ultimate holiday should be. Those old ideas have been replaced by newer, improved, and updated versions. The naivety of our youth is superseded by the wisdom gained throughout life.
Except that not all things that are new are good, are they? Ancient Roman buildings in England have outlived modern buildings, hundreds and hundreds of years younger. I’m sure that in the 1970s, a period I blissfully have no memories of, the taste of the day in interior design was a real high point! Those greens, harvest golds, and burnt oranges etc.. Fashions come and fashions go.
So too the ideas, philosophies, and religions of our culture, they ebb and flow. They may be in fashion one moment, and out the next. But we would be foolish to dismiss the great ideas of our past, of our heritage, simply because we prefer the new.
The great author C. S. Lewis was brought to task by his friend Owen Barfield when, as a younger man, he dismissed Barfield’s viewpoint simply because it was old. Lewis came to realise that he was engaging in “chronological snobbery”. When contemplating an old fashion or idea Lewis wrote that,
“You must find why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood.”
Perhaps in our nation today faith in the Christian God, although once popular, is now no longer fashionable. We would do well to heed Lewis’ advice and not dismiss it because of its age or association with previous generations. It must be investigated and examined on its own merits.
This next time you’re at your Dad’s house, look at his photos – the ones in the older albums. Do you see how silly those trousers look? But be warned, the next laugh you’ll hear will be in 30 years when the future generation simply cannot fathom what we were thinking when we donned skinny jeans.
What seems right in our day will seem old in the future. Change cannot alone be the measurement for truth. We might cringe when we look back on our old fashion choices, but how much more will it hurt when we realise we dismissed God only because he was ‘so last century’.
“Content plus context equals meaning.” Whilst I may have forgotten much about ‘Prohibition America’ from my ‘A’ Level History class, these words still rattle around my mind. This maxim (another word I learnt in that class) of course rings true not just for a history essay, but for nearly everything in life.
For example, my first trip to the United States reinforced this point well. ‘Football’, ‘Cider’, ‘Pants’, ‘Biscuits’ etc. etc. When making the jump across the ocean, familiar words take on new identities faster than Clark Kent could ever change costumes. I found that it is entirely possible to have a conversation where you and the other party are using the same terms and yet are talking about something completely different.
Of course, we don’t have to cross borders for this to happen. My friend was once engaged in polite conversation with a senior member of the Royal Navy at some fancy evening event. Somehow or another the conversation turned to piracy, which both my friend and the top brass noted was a very real problem. A spirited conversation then ensued, and it was only after 5 minutes or so that it dawned on my mate that perhaps they were talking about different subjects. It turns out that the potential strategies for dealing with DVD fraudsters and Somalian armed gangs are strikingly similar …
Getting to the crux of a matter requires us to both hear what is being said about an issue and then also to understand what is meant by what is being said. Understanding this distinction, comprehending the context, is at the heart of good communication. Good listeners repeat back what they have heard, to check and see that their take reflects the intentions of the person making the statement.
The reason why misunderstandings occur is that we see the world and all the information therein through our own eyes and fail to realise that other people see things differently. When I hear a statement about something, the words that my ears pick up are run through my mind and all of its collected experiences and training, not to mention journeying through my emotions as well. We all hear through a contextual filter.
This applies to everything. The way that I view the world – my worldview – is entirely unique. It is a combination of millions of shaping influencers and factors. It shares many things in common with my friends, my family, my countrymen – but the nuanced version of the way that I see the world is my very own.
All the Big Questions of life pass through our worldview. Questions of meaning, hope, destiny, love etc. What you hear when I say ‘Jesus Christ’ depends entirely on your worldview. You could hear ‘prophet’, ‘hoax’, ‘myth’, ‘good man’, or ‘God’, to name a few.
The above answers can’t all be true however – Jesus can’t be both a myth and a good man, for example – so some people’s worldviews can be faulty. They need to be updated. Assumptions need to be suspended, the content re-visited, and the context re-evaluated.
Christianity invites this investigation. It wants to be examined. It is rich in both content and context. It is a faith based on evidence – not a blind leap, and certainly not a hasty assumption.
It turns out that there is a lot more to Prohibition America than a cursory watching of The Untouchables would let on (despite being a great film). Expanding my understanding through proper investigation helped me to go someway to getting a clearer idea of what really happened.
Perhaps in this way faith in Jesus Christ deserves a second glance, a double take. Don’t miss the meaning of the message of Christianity because of a deficient worldview constructed from assumptions. It doesn’t work well for essays; it’s potentially tragic for life.
I had been up for 17 hours but my day was only yet half-way through. The first of my flights was over. It’s fascinating how much I can get done with 10 hours of seclusion, 35,000 ft up and without distraction. I chose to watch the Iron Man trilogy in one go.
Now I was boarding my second flight. Not only was I filmed-out but this 6-hour flight didn’t give me the option of numbing my mind further as it was a ‘domestic’ flight and therefore had no entertainment at all.
I briefly flirted with the idea of a nap but Sleep Nazi – the voice of a firm but loving friend many years ago with strong anti-jetlag advise that now lives in my mind – filled me with anxiety.
The problem was that it was now midnight and my body wanted to go to sleep. I had to try to keep my mind alert and slumber-free for this next leg.
So I reached for my bag and found The Gig Delusion. I was saving it for a beach moment later on my trip, but needs were strong and I started to read.
4 hours later I was finishing the last page. I hadn’t put the book down once. I was in a bit of an emotional state. I had laughed a lot – not as ‘out loud’ as when I watched Ice Age on a night-flight once, waking up several fellow-passengers around me (I learnt from that) – and I had shed a few tears too.
I was gripped by this little gem. I think the last time I was that gripped was watching The Hurt Locker at the cinema. This was a bit like that, but in a funnier way. It brought back memories of staying up way past my bedroom to finish a Famous 5 novel when I was 7 or so.
The Gig Delusion is a heart-felt story of one man trying to make it on the comedy scene. In the pursuit of his own glittering career to ensure the life he desires, Andy finds that choosing his own success doesn’t necessarily mean choosing the life he actually wants.
I greatly enjoyed The Gig Delusion and I’m thrilled to hear there’s a follow up on the way. It’ll be the first thing I pack on my next trip.
I recently started watching Homeland. I think it was the combination of Damian Lewis donning US military uniform again as well as the award nominations that provoked my curiosity. And wow. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t what I found myself watching. Homeland is brutal. Sure, there’s the violence and the sex etc. but it was the uncertainty of the plot that was most assaulting. I wasn’t sure who to cheer for. But I kept watching, certain that at any moment Captain Winters would emerge and save the day.
Stories surrounding military conflicts – be it Band of Brothers or Homeland – are gripping because they are stories of struggle. If truth, hope, and beauty are lights that guide us then in wartime those things can become awfully dim. How people struggle to find that light through the chaos is the stuff of inspiration to authors and screenwriters.
War for those involved in them is not a neat thought experiment but rather a brutal testing ground of all that you believe and hold to be true. Perhaps this is why those that cling on to hope through turmoil provide us with some of the greatest film plots.
But you don’t need to have been to war to know the struggle for the good and true is within us. Even in the day-to-day rhythm of life we can ask ourselves what the purpose of our existence is all about. War may present these questions both suddenly and acutely but equally the monotony of life can provoke the formation of an unshakeable question: ‘why?’ ‘What’s the point?’
When we watch stories of triumph over despair on our screens we watch them actively looking for resolution. We want the hero to win, to overcome the odds, to persevere at all costs. Be it Batman, or Oskar Schindler, or Andy Dufresne – we long for the good to defeat the bad. There is something within us that agrees that it is right and noble to seek and strive for the good of a cause, a person, or an ideal.
That we all believe in a concept of goodness points us to a greater reality. The desire to cheer for a winner, the good side, makes perfect sense if there is, ultimately a good side.
It is a worthwhile thing to strive for the good and lament the wrong but the advantage the person of faith has an advantage here. For him, the entire framework of right and wrong makes sense being grounded in God.
Without God – as moral standard-setter – we can cheer for a winner but how can we ever be sure we’re cheering for the right side? If there is no standard to judge by, no ultimate right and wrong, then is there really any such thing as a right side at all or is our belief in goodness just a construct or perhaps based only on group consensus? Here’s hoping you’re in the right group – and the strongest and largest group – if that’s the case, because history points out that there the majority often get their way.
The moral tensions teased out on our screens taps into a deep desire in all of us, a desire based on an understanding of some kind of moral code, an order. That these things resonate so strongly with us suggest that we are wired in such a way to know right from wrong, which in turn points to a standard beyond ourselves and our cultures.
God provides a grounding point for morality that makes sense of this world as we experience it. Our searches for meaning that come from within ultimately point us to look outside of ourselves and outside of this world. The moral clues in all of us serve as a signpost to the true nature of reality. And with morality secured, there is hope that the winning side may be found and known.
Now, if only I could work out who is on that winning side in Homeland. But that will have to wait for another season or two I fear.
Not so long ago it was popular to believe that the universe simply always existed. Carl Sagan famously stated that,
“The Cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be.”
But then along came a chap by the name of Georges Lemaître – working with ideas from one Albert Einstein – who said that actually, it looks like the scientific evidence points towards a starting point. We now commonly refer to this point in history as ‘The Big Bang’.
Science – and our experience – points to the fact that the Universe began to exist. And this is quite interesting, because if we take things further it points beyond this, to the existence of God. When all of this is put together, this is known as the Kalam Cosmological Argument.
Think of something, anything. Anything at all. Now think about how that ‘thing’ got there. In your mind or in reality, we instinctively know that things do not just pop into existence out of nothing.
My credit card bill is proof of this. It didn’t just get appear out of nowhere, it is the result of a cause (rightly or wrongly, but that’s a different argument). Likewise, the means to pay my bill won’t just spontaneously appear out of thin air, no matter how hard I wish it. Things that begin to exist have a cause.
Cue Einstein and friends with their scientific research. Science, as the exploration of what is, is of great help to us with this point. Established scientific theories today, such as the redshifts found by Hubble (the man, not the telescope), point towards a beginning for the universe. This is very much in agreement – not opposition – with faith.
Additionally, we can take this second point to be true by employing a bit of logic.
If the Universe has always existed and did not have a beginning then the history of the universe would be infinite. Sounds good, but as none of us possess the talents of Mr Buzz Lightyear, it is impossible for us to traverse an actual infinite.
Let my try to explain. Mr Chris Evans, of current BBC Radio 2 radio fame, is known for his large collection of Ferraris, all painted that classic Ferrari colour, white. Imagine that one morning Chris wakes up and finds that his collection has expanded and now he possesses an infinite number of Ferraris (for some of us, believing we could own just one Ferrari is the same as believing we could own an infinite number of those beautiful machines).
Chris is happy and as he muses over this increase in his collection he decides to break his own rules and paint every other car in his (infinitely long) garage, oh, I don’t know, red. Chris now has one red Ferrari sitting next to a white Ferrari and on and on …
Some time (in the not-too-distant future, perhaps), the BBC is faced with budget cuts. Chris has to take a pay-cut and decides to self off half of his beloved collection. The red cars must go. So Chris sells all of his red Ferraris and is left with just the white. But how many cars is Chris left with? He had an infinite amount of cars and removed half of them. What is half of infinity? It’s not a number, like 6, because that could be doubled to produce another number, which would not be infinity. Chris still has an infinite amount of white cars. So what happened with those red ones? What exactly did Chris lose?
The reality is, actual infinite series of anything just don’t exist. In this way, logically, the universe cannot have existed forever and had an infinite series of past events leading to the present moment.
We have shown the universe has to have had a beginning, and in point one we showed that all things that have a beginning have a cause. Let’s think about the nature of this cause.
The cause of the existence of the Universe must have been very powerful (to create the Universe from nothing), outside of time (the cause created time as well), as well as existing infinitely.
What’s more, this first cause, as well as having amazing attributes, must also be in some way personal because it chose to create the universe. An eternal, extremely-powerful thing doesn’t have to do anything. Nothing can compel something that large to do anything, in much the same say that I can’t force Martin Johnson to smile – or do anything for that matter – unless he wants to do it himself.
The Kalam Cosmological Argument doesn’t reveal a specific deity nor point to only one religion, but what it does do is turn on a light.
One can add – and we will this year – further arguments to this one, building a cumulative case for the existence of God, outside of Scripture and the historical record. As these lights turn on, take a look and see what they reveal. Perhaps they will lend themselves as starting points on a journey.
Perhaps you will discover that there are good signs within this universe that point to the existence of the divine, outside of space and time, incredibly large, complex, and powerful, commonly referred to as ‘God’.