Archives For Jonathan Sherwin

Quickfire: CVM Training Day

Date: Saturday 8th February
Time: 10:00am to 4:00pm
Location: Rising Brook Church, Stafford

This Saturday I will be heading to Stafford to give a talk at the CVM Training Day: Quickfire. Looking at the topic ‘Conversion Through Persuasion?’ I’ll be presenting a 20-minute TED-style talk covering the use of arguments, illustrations, and questions in our evangelism to men.

There are 8 other fantastic speakers presenting on a range of topics to equip as all as we seek to tell more men about Jesus.

Booking is available online.

Calling Our Bluff

January 7, 2014 — Leave a comment
The Jan-Feb 2014 edition of Sorted Magazine is available to buy now.
The Jan-Feb 2014 edition of Sorted Magazine is available to buy now.

For Rob Ford, the mayor of Toronto, Canada, things were pretty good. He was getting away with it. But when the revelations of character flaws appeared through a few films on YouTube it didn’t take long for the accusations of ‘unfit for office’ to be heard. I’m sure it could have been worse. Make no mistake, it will become harder and harder for a person to hold public office with hidden secrets when so much of our lives are being digitally recorded.

Of course we all hide things. Things we don’t like. Things that we have done and we regret or insecurities that we hold. For some of us, our greatest fear is being found out. And to protect ourselves we develop a self-righteous, stoic resolve and we reject enquiry. We don’t point fingers, because we don’t want any to be pointing back at us. As The Killers put it in the track Sam’s Town, ‘I’m sick of all my judges, so scared of what they’ll find.’

For the last 2,000 years or so Christianity has found homes in the overwhelming majority of cultures and civilisations. Spanning across race, language, and location the message of a man from Galilee has touched billions of people. And in one sense, this is not surprising. Christianity properly describes the ‘human condition’. It’s not a culturally defined, human-created idea, but the truth. And that truth rests on this fact:

We’re all bluffing.

Way back at the beginning of the story we the see the Bible describe the temptation put before Adam and Eve. ‘You will be like God (Genesis 3:5).’ The lie is: we, on our own, can be God. We can be arbiter and judge. We can decide what’s right and wrong. We can live our own lives well under our own power just fine.

History shows us the same story again and again. It is the story of people trying to live life under their own steam, and failing

If a friend of yours has a drinking problem, or is cheating on his wife, do you leave him in his error? On the surface he may seem fine, the thin veneer of normalcy and civility stretched over a framework of lies and shame. But when you learn of his problem, as a friend, you step in.

In the same way, whilst we struggle trying to make it within our own strength, God, who we originally rebelled against, and continue to rebel against, is the one who lovingly points out our weakness.

Enter Jesus. God himself, in the form of a man, came to earth to call our bluff. His first teaching starts with, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3).’ In other words, the ones who realise that they don’t have what it takes – blessed are they. Jesus came that we might know that we’re bluffing. For some of us, yeah, we know we’re holding nothing, but others of us may not realise this yet. Maybe we’ve never realised this fact or maybe we’ve been kidding ourselves for so long that we actually believe we have pocket aces when really we actually have nothing at all.

Go ahead, take a look at your cards. Socrates said, ‘the unexamined life is not worth living.’ It is so incredibly easy today to add distraction upon distraction so that we never truly examine our life. Ask the big questions. Ask why the world is the way it is, why people are the way they are, what hope there is that may be found. Jesus was fond of questions – he asked them of many people. Enquire of yourself and then enquire of the world and look around for the answers.

I don’t know about Mayor Ford but sometimes when people are found out, though there are consequences to their actions, they are flooded with a deep sense of relief. They are relieved from the burden of having to live that lie any longer.

Jesus Christ offers explanation for the deep problems that we face. But he goes one step further than that; Jesus offers a solution and a real hope. To all who see him, accept him, and trust in him he grants to them deep peace and he offers them complete forgiveness. There’s no greater sense of relief on offer from any other source. Don’t bluff your way through life; the stakes are just too high. Be real with yourself and get real with God.

Why Did God Have To Die?

October 21, 2013 — 2 Comments
Sorted Magazine
The November-December edition of Sorted Magazine is available to buy now.

Have you ever thought, ‘Why the cross?’ ‘Why not some other way?’ ‘After all God being God, can do what he wants.’ ‘Why bother with death and all that?’ You wouldn’t be alone in thinking about these questions, many have.

Had To? Chose To.

One of the most well known Bible verses starts this way, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son…” (John 3:16).

Love is a choice; it has to be. Coerced love is no love at all. You could spend years of your life studying robotics and then create the perfect machine to meet your every need, but you wouldn’t have created something to love you, rather it would exist to merely serve you.

Other religions – not to mention a few cults – detest the idea of God dying. The idea of the most holy God suffering and dying as a human is repulsive to them because it brings shame on their God. God would have to be less than God if he suffered a human death.

Yes, I would agree, if God were not a God of love. But what greater act of love could someone perform than willingly exchanging their life for yours? If love were of immense value, surely the greatest person (God) would be capable of the greatest act of it?

To Pay The Price

The problem of sin runs deep. The Bible speaks of Jesus coming to earth and dying to pay the price for our sins and offer us forgiveness. But why, it may be asked, did not God just ‘click his fingers’ and be done with sin?

Richard Dawkins asks it this way, ‘If God wanted to forgive our sins, why not just forgive them, without having himself tortured and executed in payment?’

Seems like an easy out, but it would cheapen the character of God to someone not worthy of worship.

The things that are most valuable are the things that people steal from (like the recent  $137million Cannes diamond theft – it was diamonds, not sand, that was taken). The perfect love of God is of immense value, and when it is stolen from – through sin – the cost incurred is immensely high.

When people are found guilty of a crime we hold them personally responsible for the cost.  When my computer was stolen after a break-in to my house, the thief who was caught later that night was ordered by the court to pay me in full. His crime brought a punishment that he had to pay.

I chose to forgive him for breaking into my house whilst I slept, to let that go and not hold it against him. At the same time justice was done through the courts that day. If I had chosen to forgive the thief and that court had not passed that sentence, the crime would not have been properly addressed.

Likewise, If God were to choose to just forget, and ignore the cost of our sin, our sin would be valueless, dissolving morality, and cheapening God’s love. If the French police turned around and said, “Ahh, they’re just diamonds – no big deal”, there’d be an outcry.

God’s perfection calls for sin to be dealt with and God’s patience gives us the chance, through his sacrifice, to make amends. He forgets and his death pays his price. Its is total love and total justice.

To Show Us His Love

What is the most loving thing you could conceive of? The greatest loving act imaginable?

The noted philosopher Alvin Plantinga says that the cross of Christ is the best loving act not only that has happened, but also that could ever happen.

If God exists, and is all loving, and we are in sin, then the greatest act would be to make his existence known to us, reveal that he loves us, and redeem us from sin.

In Jesus’ incarnation – coming to earth as a man – and atonement – dying to forgive us – we have the greatest possible act of love conceivable.

Just pause for a moment. If Jesus really was God, and Jesus really did die for you to forgive you, forget all the other objections you may have for a moment – if that were true, what would you say to Jesus if you met him? What would you feel, and what would you think about him?

The evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is compelling and well-documented. There are hard things to wrap our minds around and we continue to think about them. But if Christ rose from the dead then that changes everything. What this reveals when we piece it all together is the act of a perfect, loving, just God who offers full forgiveness to all.

This article appeared in the November-December edition of Sorted Magazine.

Warning: some strong language.

Louis C. K. is back with another funny and profound look at modern life. This time he’s talking about the dangers of smartphones and why he won’t be giving them to his children.

After explaining how the lack of human contact when communicating causes all sorts of problems in the development of a child, Louis goes on to talk about how now we’re always connected we never have to feel sad, and concludes that this is a dangerous position to be in.

It was Meg Jay who told told us that ‘distraction is the 21st century opiate of the masses’ and Louis picks up on this idea well.

With all this distraction so readily available it is becoming harder and harder to be present and ‘in the moment’, something Russ Ramsey talks about here.

Have you noticed how the increasing presence of digital technology in our lives has become a hindrance to our relationships? What do you think we should do about it?

Blaise Pascal
Blaise Pascal

I am a fan of Blaise Pascal. The 17th Century French genius has me in his corner. When I turned up in Oxford a couple of years ago I was told to read his Pensées (best said with thick, French accent – thank you Uncle T.) and so I did. At first I felt like I was snooping through his personal diary. His sprawling collection of notes, intended to be turned into a book one day, is a great insight into the mind of this brilliant man. It is a great pity that he never lived to finish what he started, but what he left was incredible in itself.

Perhaps best known for his famous ‘Wager’ argument, Pascal has made his mark in philosophy, not to mention his great work in mathematics and so much more (one of those great Renaissance men). However his famous ‘betting on God’ approach to belief (it’s better to wager on an eternity of bliss than against) is nowhere near his full apologetic for Christianity. Just reading Pensées makes that clear.

If all we read of Pascal is his Wager, and perhaps, as his most famous argument, that is all we might come across, we may think Pascal a Fideist. That is, someone who belief structure in God is based on a ‘leap of faith’. A ‘faith in faith’ approach, rather than a rational faith. David Baggett takes on this deficient view of Pascal in his essay, Pascal was No Fideist.

Baggett highlights that Pascal’s approach with his Pensées was to provide a wide variety of ‘evidential reasons’ to believe in God’s existence. Reason was central to Pascal. Yet reason has its limitations. Baggett says:

Pascal’s use of reason enabled him to identify reason’s limitations, which naturally led him to infer that reason is not everything.

Of course, as Baggett then goes on to point out, because ‘Pascal was no strong rationalist does not mean he was a fideist’. Pascal understood reason including reason’s limitations. Reason, logic, history, the condition of man (and morality) all played into a collective case that Pascal find persuasive for belief in God. Pascal’s Wager sat on top of all of this, rather than forming the foundation to his faith. Belief in God made sense for Pascal for many reasons and the Wager was far from a ‘hail Mary’ apologetic but a strong line of thought that would be useful in getting many to think about the great question of the existence of God. Baggett sums it up:

It is not that Pascal thought theism was unlikely but we had better cover our cosmic rear ends anyway, but rather that theism was likely true and that it had remarkable implications that need to be seriously reckoned with.

I continue to enjoy dipping into Pascal and learning from his great thoughts. It is amazing how his rich insight can seem contemporary (he nailed Facebook, for example). Using The Wager as a diving platform I’ve discovered a depth below it of well-reasonsed wisdom that we do well to revisit today.

Download Pascal was No Fideist by David Baggett.

Sorted Magazine
The September-October edition of Sorted Magazine is available to buy now.

Have you ever heard something like the following?

“You only believe in God because you want someone to be there. You want your life to have meaning and purpose, you want the comfort of knowing someone is in control of it all. In short, your faith is simply a psychological crutch.”

This common objection against faith in God seeks to argue that many people only believe because they want to believe in God. That is, they do not believe on grounds of good reason. Belief in God, the argument goes, typically comes about as a result of experiencing pain, or worry, or heartache – something negative – to which the person responds by choosing to believe in God to make things better.

It was the psychologist Sigmund Freud who described that religion was a man-made system of belief invented to cope with the, “crushingly superior force of nature.”

The believer is described as projecting a view of God, in much the same way, perhaps, that a child believes that good fairies are protecting them whilst they sleep from all the nasty goblins and things under the bed. It is a belief that one believes to be true in order to feel better.

Recently I found myself at a talk listening to A. C. Grayling, the celebrated philosopher and one of the so-called New Atheists whose recent book The God Argument seeks to counter faith in religion with an optimistic view of humanism.

One of the arguments more heavily pushed by Grayling in that talk was this one of ‘wish fulfilment’. In fact, at a few points Grayling actually likened the argument for the existence of God as akin to an argument for the existence of fairies at the end of the garden.

What Does This Argument Really Prove?

Grayling was offering this argument in support of the idea that there is no God. But wait just a minute. What is the argument actually saying? It may be laid out like this:

  • Many people believe in God for psychological reasons
  • These psychological reasons aren’t reasonable
  • Without good reasons for God it’s unreasonable to say that God exists
  • Therefore God doesn’t exist

However there is a huge jump from premise two to premise three! Since when did how anyone believes in anything amount to any sort of evidence for/against that very thing?

Let me offer an analogy. I might believe that airplanes are carried magically across the sky by hoards of tiny invisible bats, contrary to all the laws of lift and thrust etc. I would be completely unreasonable in my belief structure but that doesn’t mean that airplanes don’t exist!

It’s entirely possible to do the sums wrong and end up with the right answer.

For And Against

Additionally, this same argument may be deployed against those who don’t believe in God. Could we not say that non-belief in God could just be wish-fulfilment also? That is, that you don’t want someone to be there, someone to say what is right and what is wrong, someone that might interfere with you life? You don’t want there to be a higher power so you believe and live in such a way that say there isn’t?

Listen to Thomas Nagel, another philosopher, here sharing his thoughts candidly on the matter of belief in God.

“I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.”

The fact of the matter is that how someone believes in God does not speak to the reasonableness of the existence of God. There are many reasonable cases to be made for God, including the historical accounts of Jesus, the evidence of the Resurrection, the arguments from design and from morality, and so on.

Dismissing the existence of God, as Grayling would like to do, because of how some choose to believe in God just does not make for a compelling case. Further more, on closer inspection the argument scuttles itself by the very fact that this argument is not reasonable.

This article appeared in the September-October edition of Sorted Magazine.

To know God and make Him known.

New video from Youth With A Mission (YWAM). 9 years ago I started my YWAM journey and I count it an incredible honour to continue to be working with them now.

Salvation at Auschwitz

September 18, 2013 — Leave a comment
July-August Sorted Magazine
The July-August edition of Sorted Magazine is available to buy now.

Just a few months ago, on a bitterly cold day, I was trudging around the internment camp of Auschwitz, Poland, listening to my guide explain this building and that, when I came across a plaque that caught my attention. The corroded brass plaque was affixed to the side of the wall of one of the buildings that housed the inmates. It marked the courageous life of one man by the name of Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish priest.

The story of Kolbe is one I will not forget quickly. After an alleged escape attempt by one prisoner of the camp, all of the inmates were assembled and from them 10 random men were selected for death by starvation. The brutality of this response was sure to crush any fleeting thoughts of escape that may have surfaced in the minds of the imprisoned men.

One of the chosen ten began to break down in tears as the realisation of his fate overwhelmed him. At this point Kolbe steps forward from the ranks and offered himself in the place of his fellow inmate. Laughing, the camp’s officers agree.

Locked in a small, windowless room underground, Kolbe and the 9 other men are left to slowly starve to death.

As the war drew to a close, the camps liberated and the few inmates who were still barely alive rescued, one man by the name of Franciszek Gajowniczek limped away from Auschwitz to begin the rest of his life. This shell of a man was one of the lucky few to make it through. He was a survivor and all because of one man. Maximilian Kolbe took Gajowniczek’s place in the 10 and this selfless act became the ‘salvation’ moment of Gajowniczek’s life, who incidentally went on to live to the ripe old age of 95.

Ultimate Salvation

When Jesus Christ was nailed to a cross to pay the price for a crime he didn’t commit, what was happening had far deeper significance than the people murdering him knew at the time. The Roman soldiers had killed a man entirely unaware of the part that they played in the greatest selfless act the universe has ever witnessed.

When Jesus died, the pivotal point in all of human existence was permanently established. Jesus’ death was the salvation moment for not just one internment prisoner, but for the entire world imprisoned by sin and without hope.

The Bible says that God’s love and justice met at the cross. Jesus stood in our place and paid everyone’s mess with his life. His perfect life – and his life alone – could pay for all the mess of the world. Justice demands payment and as we faltered Jesus stepped forward and took our place, freeing us to life.

Established in History

You can visit Auschwitz today, as I did, and find the plaque honouring Maximilian’s life. You too can visit the small, dark cell where he was starved and murdered, as Gajowniczek did every year after his release. You can read the accounts of his fellow inmates and others at the camp, now published for the world to examine.

Maximilian’s story is grounded in history. His exemplary life and death still inspire many today.

Commemorative Plaque for Maximillion Kolbe
Commemorative Plaque in Auschwitz Internment Camp for Maximilian Kolbe

So too Jesus’ exemplary life and death reach out to us from history to ask us to learn from his story. Attested to by reliable eyewitness accounts, preserved through written records for generations after to examine, the stories of Jesus Christ reach out to us today and leave us with a question to answer.

Maximilian died and we celebrate him for a hero. We can think about why he did what he did but we ask those questions from the position of a spectator to the story. Gajowniczek alone reaped the reward of Maximilian’s death, our benefit comes through the inspiration we may receive from the story.

But with Jesus’ death the reward is yet to be determined. Jesus’ story isn’t merely an inspiring, courageous tale of an act of wonderful selflessness. That’s because the story of Jesus’ life and death isn’t over. We don’t observe that monumental historical event from afar as a spectator.

When we read of the life and death of Jesus we become aware that we are immediately and inescapably involved as characters in the story. Jesus died that all people would be liberated from their mess and the mess of the world. The rewards of his ultimate selfless act aren’t reserved for one man alone but are for all of us.

Jesus stepped forward, in front of us, to take our place, and set us free. The great selfless act has taken place and the freedom that has been bought is offered to all of us now. The only question left is: of what reward will his sacrifice be for you?

This article appeared in the July-August edition of Sorted Magazine.

Demolition Squad Update

September 17, 2013 — Leave a comment

In November 2012 the Demolition Squad was set up at Christian Vision for Men (CVM). Since that time Andy and I have got to work, writing blogs and engaging in the debates that followed.

As well as writing the blogs we had a great time at the annual summer conference, The Gathering (video coming soon!). Getting the opportunity to equip Christians in the UK with tools to share their faith was exciting and rewarding. Andy and I had a lot of fun!

Listen to the Demolition Squad podcast in iTunesNew Podcast

Our latest development from Dem Squad R&D is the new Demolition Squad Podcast. Starting with Intolerance Andy and I chat about a variety of issues confronting the message of Jesus. We engage serious topics with a splash of humour and hope that these talks are useful and thought-provoking.

View the podcast in iTunes or Feedburner.

Recent Blog Posts

The last 9 blog articles from Andy and myself.

You must translate every bit of your Theology into the vernacular. This is very troublesome, and it means you can say very little in half an hour, but it is essential. It is also of the greatest service to your own thought. I have come to the conviction that if you cannot translate your thoughts into uneducated language, then your thoughts were confused. Power to translate is the test of having really understood one’s own meaning.

C.S Lewis in Christian Apologetics quoted in C. S. Lewis – A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet