Sorted Magazine - September/October 2014

Published in the Sep/Oct 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’.

Double Take

January 26, 2015 — Leave a comment

Sorted Magazine - July/August 2014

Published in the July-August 2014 edition of Sorted Magazine

“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.

The Gig Delusion by Andy Kind

The Gig Delusion by Andy Kind – available from Amazon

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.

Published in the May-June 2014 edition of Sorted Magazine

Published in the May-June 2014 edition of Sorted Magazine

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.

What if Your 20s Weren’t What You Expected?

Somewhere between elementary school self-esteem talks, Jesus Freaks youth group lessons, and “you can single-handedly evangelize the 10/40 window” college mission conferences, we were pumped up and ready to change the world. We anticipated picture-perfect marriages and families after we signed our commitments at True Love Waits and kissed dating good-bye. What could go wrong when we had the prayer of Jabez on our side and enough Christian T-shirts to win the world to Jesus? We were doing our part with sponsored children, the 30-Hour Famine, and prayer vigils for the persecuted church. God would certainly give us the good life with all of that sacrifice, wouldn’t he?

Although we consistently asked what would Jesus do, no one told us how important it was to learn how he dealt with suffering. While we may have escaped much of the suffering of the world and generations past, we weren’t equipped to deal with the realities of life. We had categories for the American dream and grand ministry experiences, but many of us didn’t have a framework to endure deaths of siblings, financial hardship, cancer, or family conflict. Here we are, 10 years later, trying to deal with hard things and coming to terms with our own sin, and the harsh fact that suffering isn’t ageist after all.

Some good thoughts from Jackie Knapp on The Gospel Coalition Blog.

March-April Edition of Sorted Magazine

Published in the March-April 2014 edition of Sorted Magazine

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.

1st Point: Whatever begins to exist has a cause

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.

2nd Point: The Universe has a beginning

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.

3rd Point: The Universe therefore has a cause

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.

Let there be light

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’.

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?