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All Alone All Together

It has taken me a while to wake up after the shock of the news of loosing another brilliant star to suicide. I grew up with Nirvana playing loudly on my Sony Walkman and Kurt Cobain’s death has been a 20 year enigma to me about brilliance and popularity’s relationship with despair and suicide. It is too painful to recount the innumerate celebrity lives lost in the 20 years since Cobain wrote ‘Lithium’ (Nevermind 1991) about a man who turns to religion because of suicidal thoughts.

Robin Williams’ death is a hard contrast in my mind. Far from being the apparently moody, raw and wounded talent of Cobain, he was (to me) the lovable, resolved therapist Sean Maguire (Good Will Hunting 1997). I had consumed Williams’ films throughout my turbulent late teenage years and to some level I imagined Christ was something like John Keeting (Dead Poets Society 1989) or Maguire; seeing your brokenness but loving your potential into being. If there were a scene in my imagination it would be Cobain and Williams on a Boston park bench, “It’s your move chief.”

Robin-Williams

I have ministered to enough grieving families over the years to know that there is nothing to say. I mean, nothing that you can say that adds anything or takes anything away. Words are hollow in the face of the confusion, guilt and despair faced by those left behind through suicide. Every circumstance is different and yet, as I have seen families grieve, these emotions are almost universal, as if they have been left behind to be unpacked like a suitcase in an empty hall.

All Alone But Well Known
Williams has been broadly quoted these last few days, “I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people that make you feel all alone.” (World’s Greatest Dad). I have been mulling this over in my mind and it is still forming a response within me. I guess all I can think is, ‘I get it’. I get the whole sense of horror, being lauded around the world, being tweeted and selfied but feeling totally unknown. We can only guess how great the chasm between the true and professional self of Williams, or Seymore Hoffman or Winehouse, but we can feel it in ourselves. What could be more confusing than being known but not known, needed but unable to give or loved but only in part?

Our 21st century society carries huge dangers; it hungers after an uncomplicated person. One who is good or bad, talented or foolish, well or ill, mature or childish. It proposes that we can create a self that will be totally acceptable and that once we have sold that lie to enough people we will feel safe. We instead find ourselves all alone, all together. Suicide holds us all responsible for creating a world in which it is prohibitive to say, ‘This is me and I need your help.’

Easy Answers and Finger Pointing
Tragic events like these always cause worthy people to start pointing to mental health charities for answers. The trouble is that all of the pointing distracts people from their responsibility. It lays blame on the victims of suicide who are often parodied as ‘mental’ or ‘addicts’ or ‘weak’. Yes, suicide can be a tragic outworking of mental illness, but mental illness is often a tragic outworking of a lonely and stigmatising culture. More than that, our societies’ continual pillaring of people suffering from mental heath issues only drives up the sense of unacceptability we all feel about our own mental health. It therefore increases the sense in some that suicide could provide a welcome relief from the pain of living.

Perhaps the shock that we feel is wrapped up in the immature aspirations we held to receive the same applause and veneration offered to Williams. Suicide is a cold reality check to our vain hopes that performance or stardom might undo our own sense of isolation in the crowd.

The Church is the antidote to these longings. Yet I see the ‘all alone, all together’ problem more frequently in the packed pews than in the crowded malls. If we are to have any impact on the devastating issue of suicide our mission must be to address the sickening problem of loneliness.

Rest For Souls
Cobain talking about ‘Lithium’ said, “I’ve always felt that some people should have religion in their lives…That’s fine. If it’s going to save someone.” I think its fine too. But I want to tell Cobain that it isn’t religion that is going to save people from suicide, it is a relationship with Jesus Christ. He says, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:29)

It sounds simple but its not. When a dear friend in my last church committed suicide I realised that we had spent nearly four years together trying to cross the bridge between religion and relationship. Mental health issues, shame, isolation and disappointment all played a part in making that journey super tough. But ultimately I believe she got there, even though it wasn’t enough to stop her making a decision to not to live.

The Big Secret
The big secret is that we are all making a choice to live. We all need ‘rest for our souls’; we are so exhausted by our own posturing and the gnawing sense of unacceptability that plagues us. Let’s stop blaming ‘mental health’ for suicide and start blaming culture for mental health. I am tired of being all alone, all together and my sense is that you are too. I am grieved that our creative heroes and heroines are being taken from us by loneliness and despair, but I am also angry that their personal battles are made out to be the sole justification for their loss. As Christian people let’s stop the scapegoating and start modelling welcome, inclusion, acceptance and understanding to society. Let’s work to make the Church the place of ‘soul rest’ that Jesus intended – where our loneliness is undone and our decision to live is an easier one.

Will Van Der Hart
This blog was first published here…

Confrontation versus Love?

Confrontation is frequently seen in a negative light!

We tend to respond differently when confrontation presents itself. This could be as follows:

  1. The goal is ‘I’m right and you’re wrong’! It’s my duty to put you right!
  2. I’m uncomfortable – so I’ll withdraw; conflicts are hopeless, people cannot change!
  3. It’s better to be nice, stay friends as differences can be disastrous to a relationship. I may be wrong anyway!
  4. I’ll meet you half way! A compromise – both sides give up a portion of their position/ values.

Perhaps none of these seem to be the right response? There is however a fifth way – ‘I want relationship and I also want honesty and integrity’. It has been called ‘care-fronting’ where there is high concern for relationship and high concern for truth.

With ‘Care-fronting’ you can say ‘I care about you and about our relationship’ and ‘I feel deeply about the issues at stake’! This is the most loving and the most growth promoting for human relationships. Sometimes however it is a goal that needs time to be achieved and other responses such as those set out above could be consciously chosen.

As you would expect Jesus modelled this approach with exemplary consistency, courage and clarity. Examples are:

The woman accused of adultery – ‘Let anyone among you who has never sinned throw the first stone at her’. Such accruate confrontation! …………………..To the woman, ‘Where are they all – did no one condemn you?’ ……’No one , sir’; Neither do I condemn you’. Warm understanding care! ‘Go away and do not sin again’. Clear, unmistakable confrontation.

To the rich young ruler. Jesus listened to him, loved him and then confronted him. ‘Go, sell all, give to the poor, and come follow me’. What could be more clear?

Jesus spoke truth in love. He was truth. He was love. So the Word became flesh; he came to dwell among us, and we saw His glory,……full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

Jesus: The Evidence

it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” (Luke 1:3,4, ESV)

Luke, when composing his gospel – his account through eye-witness testimony of the life of Jesus Christ – prefaces his book with his reason for writing it. Luke is providing an “orderly account” for a chap named Theophilus, that based on the facts, Theophilus might know for sure what has happened with this man named Jesus Christ, and that there is evidence to the stories that he is hearing.

Christian belief has always rested on the evidence for the life of Jesus Christ. Faith isn’t hoping that the nice things we hear could be true, but an assurance that they are true because God really entered space-time as Jesus. Faith in Christ is supplied through hearing about what actually happened and what it means for us now.

Derek’s Journey

Derek was an agnostic who began to look seriously at faith later in life after some conversations with a friend who was a Christian. Having been brought up in the UK, it wasn’t as if Christianity was totally alien to Derek, but he hadn’t taken it seriously until this point. As Derek writes,

In my late 30’s I thought it would be worthwhile revisiting some of the questions I’d left unresolved in my teens. My thoughts were that as there are plenty of capable and intelligent people who profess to have some form of belief in God (eg. Scientists like Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking. Politicians like Nelson Mandela. Military men like Sir Richard Dannatt and Norman Schwartzkopf etc). In a survey published in “Nature” in 1997, four out of 10 scientists said they believed in God.

Well, Derek’s friend sent some books over, outlining the evidence for the person of Jesus Christ. This was completely new to Derek.

I was amazed by what I found. I was amazed by my own ignorance of the evidence I found. How could I be living in a country where Christianity is the dominant religion and not be aware of this stuff?

Starting from these books Derek was on a journey of building his faith upon the evidence of the person of Jesus Christ. He was so impressed by this, that he then decided to collate all the different sources and create a booklet and website: Jesus: The Evidence to share with others.

Download your free copy of Jesus: The Evidence, where Derek looks at:

  •  The Sources of Evidence
  •  Who Was Jesus?
  • Resurrection: The Evidence

Would You Benefit from Jesus: The Evidence?

Derek presents the course at locations all over Scotland. If you’re interested in hearing more, take a look at the presentation schedule for the rest of the year.

Perhaps you think that your church would benefit from this talk too. Why not host your own Jesus: The Evidence presentation? Contact Derek for more on this.

ID Check

ID-Check-PassportSummer may bring the opportunity to cross borders and visit foreign lands. If you are based in the UK this means border controls to enter or leave the country where someone checks your passport. However, being based in The Netherlands, and holidaying in Italy by car recently, I crossed Dutch, Belgian, French, Swiss, German and Italian borders to visit Como, Lombardo without an ID check. Bliss!

Your temporal ID is based on your nationality or residence but what about your eternal ID? We are called to be ambassadors of Christ in thought, word and deed but although residents of his kingdom we have dual nationality in this world.

Do you find that concept difficult on a daily basis? I do. Hence my admiration for and inspiration from people like Joni Eareckson Tada who are experts at Finding God in Hidden Places.

Holidays are important sources of nostalgic moments, the “remembering of another time and place”. It’s a yearning to pass through and reach the other side, as C S Lewis said.
“One day you’ll bathe in peace like this…satisfaction will shower you…this joy will last forever.” And it can start now. Make a memory today. It’ll be a memory of heaven. A touch of holiness in a hidden place.

May all your ID checks and travels go smoothly this summer!

They were longing for a better country – a heavenly one.” Hebrews 11:16

Out With The Old, In With The New?

Out With The Old, In With The New

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’, or so the implied message behind the images selling us the thing tells us. 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. The old phone wasn’t bad, per se, but this phone is clearly an improvement upon the old one. 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. And when we make a purchase, the company selling to us makes a profit, and can continue to employ marketing experts to go on convincing people of needs that they have, and therefore sell more of their products.

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.. Linoleum: what a wonderful and practical solution for the floor of a kitchen. Fashions come and fashions go, but the reasons for them doing so may seldom be practical or thought through.

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” and that the truthfulness of an idea has little to do with its age”. 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. We can either choose to inform ourselves through careful enquiry, or float along upon the tide of culture, receiving our viewpoints and tastes from the budgets of big companies and the ideas in vogue from mainstream outlets.

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’.

The Way of Wisdom

It’s funny how things come along in twos! Twice this week I have heard the idea that it would be good to be born with the wisdom of old age and, as time goes by and we become younger, using that wisdom to benefit our more youthful years.

The first instance was watching a DVD set of the original Forsyte Saga – in black and white and with very dated sets and production but also with such excellent acting that it still leaves you gripped! The other instance was less impressive – remembering the Mork and Mindy Show where Mork’s son is born old. As you all know – if you remember back to 1982! – Orkans like Mork age backwards, starting with elderly adult bodies but, in this example, with the mind of a child and regressing back to feeble “old” kids as they “aged” – or should that be “young-ed”!

If you are a little bit on the older side, what advice or wisdom would you give your younger self if you could? Would it be to make different choices? To right wrongs never addressed? Or would it be simply to take things less seriously and enjoy life more? Perhaps you would advise following a different path, but, for me, apart from a few daft things I would rather forget, as one of the fortunate ones, I would not change a thing!

For through wisdom your days will be many, and years will be added to your life.” Proverbs 9:11

Looking to the Future and Some Exciting News

As Bob Dylan said, the times they are a-changing. What a wise man he is, although he also sang this:

Now you see this one-eyed midget
Shouting the word “NOW”
And you say, “For what reason?”
And he says, “How?”
And you say, “What does this mean?”
And he screams back, “You’re a cow
Give me some milk
Or else go home”.

So maybe he’s not all good. Anyway, here at Demolition Squad HQ, the times are indeed a-changing. We’ve reached thousands of people with our blogs and podcasts over the last 18 months, and we are now on the verge of a new season.  At the end of June, I (Andy) will be leaving my role as blogger to focus on a new project we’ll touch on in a bit. I’ll still be contributing semi-regular pieces, and Jonathan Sherwin will continue writing regularly. This will also leave room for some new voices to contribute pieces to the Demolition Squad.

So, this new project! Duh, duh, duuuuhhhh…

New Book

At The Gathering 2015, CVM will be releasing a new resource in the form of the Demolition Squad Survival Handbook: tackling 25 objections to the Christian Faith. I’ll be spending the next few months collating, editing and adding to some of the articles we’ve written over the last 2 years and turning them into a sharp, neat, concise product for blokes to absorb and share with their mates.

Tackling subjects from ‘Isn’t Christianity Intolerant?’ to ‘You Don’t Have To Be A Christian To Be A Good Person’, the DSSH will take a look at key objections to Christianity and deal with how to respond to them. A lot of my time will go into transforming key arguments into everyday language, compressing them into bitesize nuggets, with a focus on practical application.

Defending the Gospel isn’t something that needs to be left to the lawyers and scientists. Every Christian bloke – whether a builder, a bricklayer or a brigadier – should be properly equipped to give a reason for the hope that he has. The Demolition Squad Survival Handbook will be geared towards that. An apologetics book by blokes for blokes.

New Blog Series and Talks

In addition to the new book there will be brand new articles on the blog as we continue to tackle the tough questions that we currently face with sharing our faith. We’ll hear from some top thinkers in the UK on tackling those hard objections.

In addition, we are rolling out new talks for the CVM conferences as well as an accessible introduction to apologetics talk that we can give at your church or men’s group. More news on that soon.

We’ll keep you updated with Andy’s progress as we go along. After this year’s excellent Gathering we we’re really looking forward to TG15, which, from the sound of it, is already bigger and better than last year. We can’t wait!

How big is your record collection?

Old-filing-systemPerhaps I should stay out of the kitchen.

I’m not talking about our kitchen at home; I’m talking about church kitchens, where my brothers and sisters in ‘the tea-towel’ are our church family. It can get hot in there.

I like to think I have a thick skin, but last Sunday I discovered that the passing of the weeks had not dulled the resentment which I harboured for the instant and multi-voiced rebuke I had received last time round for going through the “wrong” door while carrying the rubbish out to the bins.  The lack of logic (most direct route to the bins), the lack grace on the part of my sisters (was I not taking upon myself a lowly yet essential task?) and (this most especially) the lack of any notification on that door that it was not to be used (how anyone is supposed to know they don’t want you using it baffles me), pressed all the wrong buttons.  As the perceptive among you may have sensed, they seem to have stayed pressed.

In 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 Paul tells us what love is like, as personified in perfect form by the Lord Jesus Christ.  Although a staple reading at wedding services, Paul here is not writing about how to love our spouses but how to love our church family.  Love, Paul tells us, keeps no record of wrongs. How many records are you keeping?

“..and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.” Matthew 6:12

Enough is enough

Youth-and-gambling

In 2005 the Government in the UK opened the door to gambling becoming “an acceptable leisure activity”. I was a gambler for 40 years and believe me when I say that when you are in it, you don’t see the potential harm caused to some vulnerable people until you step back you see it for what it is. For those whose lives are ruined by Gambling Addiction, the notion of it being an acceptable leisure activity is ridiculous.

How can I best channel my burning desire to help those who each day are being harmed by Gambling Addiction?

Please bear in mind that my own experiences are testimony to the damage that may be caused – I have experienced family breakdown, relationship breakdown, debt, prison and I could go on. However let’s also consider some independent sources to understand what I see as some of the problems surrounding gambling in the UK:

  • Ofcom research shows gambling commercials have rocketed from 234,000 in 2007 to nearly 1.4 million last year. That is a 600% increase in 6 years.
  • In 2009 there were 109,000 children stopped in a betting shop but in 2013 that number had rocketed to 588,000 and 27,000 were stopped after placing their first bet.
  • A report, for the Lottery Commission by Ipsos MORI in September 2013, concluded that of over 2,000 11-15yr olds, surveyed from 100 state maintained schools, no less than 15% of young teenagers had engaged in some form of gambling “in the last week”.

What concerns me therefore is that we are now seeing the aftershocks of the 2005 Governement’s policy and in my opinion things are going to deteriorate even more.

I want to share a dream I had; I was in The Spirit and I looked down and I could see the river Thames and there was fire on the water. Big Ben struck 12, and I saw that the fire went under a bridge and into the House of Commons.

Zechariah 4.6 “Not by might nor by power, but by my spirit“, says the lord almighty.

I truly believe that the Lord has heard the cry of those who are suffering from Gambling Addiction and is now asking Men of God to step out and say “enough is enough”. This is what led to the creation of GAMSERVE, a movement that is dedicated to asking serious questions and seeking significant change around the gambling industry in the UK. I spent the weekend of CVM’s Gathering (in a field near Swindon!) talking to people that could see the problem and agreed that something had to be done and I pray that anyone that reads this blog will take time to look at my website.

As Christians, we need to respond to negative developments in our society and one way is to speak out and challenge the liberalisation of the gambling industry. I trust that you will join me and that the Lord will see my prayers answered as I serve obediently in His name.

The big wave

SurfI was reminded the other day of that moment when you are sitting just outside the breaking surf and look out to sea and see an enormous set of waves heading your way.

There’s a mixture of emotions. On one hand that’s what you’re there for – the perfect wave; but on the other hand there is fear as you contemplate what the wave might do to you.

Your choices are threefold – you can turn towards the beach and start paddling in the hope that you get the ride of your life and live to tell the tale; you can paddle frantically towards the wave in the hope that you can go over the top before it breaks; or you can just sit there, duck dive it and hope everything will be okay (it never is!)

It reminded me of the Christian walk. Sometimes you seem to just sit around in calm water waiting and hoping that something will happen. You’re there, ready for action but with little to do. At other times there’s lots happening but it’s all under control – you may be working hard but it’s nothing you can’t handle. Then there’s the times when you see a great wall of power sweeping towards you and you realise that things are outside of your control.

You’re faced with the same choices – go with it and hope you can ride it, sit there like a sitting duck or move in the opposite direction.

The worst thing you can do is just sit on your surfboard and hope everything is going to be okay – it won’t. You’ll get trashed. Sometimes fear takes over and you just want to be safe and live to see another day. That can be the right choice sometimes when faced with a wall of water. Even though it leaves you feeling disappointed with yourself it’s good to know your own limitations. The very best scenario is when you go for it, it all works out and you get the ride of your life.

The great thing about the Christian life is that God knows our limitations and we can trust Him for the ride of our lives knowing that what He calls us to, He equips for.

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