I moved house recently. My wife and I are working overseas for three months, and before we left we packed up everything, sold half, put half in to storage, and left our home.

It’s only when you move that you realise quite how much stuff you’ve managed to accumulate. When looking for a house to rent, a garage was quite appealing to me. Fast forward a few years, and the garage became the bane of my 4-day struggle with our possessions.

Much of what we owned was useful – furniture, kitchen bits, clothes, books (although this is a point of debate) etc. – and I don’t think if you had come to my house you would say that we were living in great luxury, at least in comparison to the people around us.

But nonetheless, this stuff had grown and become a bother. There are a thousand and one things that we can buy to make our lives easier. If you have a TV, then you should have an Apple TV, maybe a Blu-ray player, and surround sound. And books need bookshelves, and the kitchen needs one of those little round things to measure spaghetti portions accurately.

But when we move we suddenly question if the accumulation of stuff in order to make life work a little smoother isn’t just a rouse, perpetuated by kitchen accessory sellers and Swedish furniture companies.

Of course, things are good. Possessions are useful. Yes there probably is a point where enough is enough, but purchased thoughtfully and used appropriately, the inventions and developments of the modern world are entirely good and proper.

I was musing though, as I was boxing up 19 USB cables and hard drives from a decade ago, about what our pursuit of stuff says about our modern culture. We have devices and contraptions to help us cook, help us sleep, help us relax, help us stay connected, and they all do their jobs reasonably well. Very intelligent people create things to help our lives work a bit better, but yet … but yet, we still aren’t eating well, sleeping well, or relaxed – and many of us feel alienated and alone.

Perhaps, then, the stuff that we own says something about a deeper problem that needs to be addressed. If we look past the particular benefits of one device, and we zoom out on our lives, what can we observe? What does it say when the very needs these modern conveniences are meant to address, still persist in the lives of those who purchase them?

More stuff doesn’t seem to be the answer – just ask the very wealthy – and a minimalist life of detachment errs I think too far the opposite way. So, if the physical world doesn’t provide adequate solutions to our felt needs, then instead of grabbing more or eschewing it all, perhaps we ought to ask ourselves if our deepest needs are therefore not physical, but rather spiritual. Because, as any good doctor will tell you, the beginning of the right answer to the problem starts with the correct diagnosis.

Are “most of the teachings of the major world religions the same at their core”?

Our world is more connected today than ever before. People and information move around with greater ease and speed than just a few years ago. With freedom of movement comes freedom of ideas. People, with their ideas, moving from one area to another introduce new ways of thinking, leading to a cross-pollination of philosophies and beliefs.

In Oxford, where I lived until very recently, there are people who believe in no God, or one God, or many God. Some even believe that they are God. It’s most likely a similar situation to where you are.

With the arrival of new ways of thinking, the incumbent philosophies are challenged and sometimes, as a result, modified. Our belief structures are tested. Now, at its core, a belief structure answers the basic questions of life. Questions like: Where have we come from? Where are we going? What in this world has value? What is my purpose?

You of course don’t need to believe in God, or gods, to have a belief structure. Atheists have a belief structure: they believe that there is no God. The way we view the world – our worldview – is shaped by the beliefs that we hold.

The many worldviews on offer, each with their own founders, holy scriptures, and traditions seek to address our world and our problems and provide us with answers. They all have different answers of course. The questions that we face are common to all but the answers are specific to the viewpoint offering them.

For example, the problem posed by the existence of pain and suffering is a universal conundrum; every worldview must address it. “Why does pain exist?” “If there’s a God, why would he/she allow it?” These questions are dealt with throughout history and across cultures.

I once spent some time in the Far East and in my time there I encountered the belief that pain is ultimately an illusion. With this as the diagnosis, is it any wonder that the solutions offered by that worldview centre around becoming aware of the reality of this illusion, and then seeking to escape from it? Likewise, a Muslim may express to you that the suffering of this world is part of the will of Allah. And Allah’s will is set. We see these religious beliefs shaping whole countries and cultures.

With time and repetition beliefs become habits and habits turn into culture. On one holiday to the Outer Hebrides I saw how the islands all but shut down on Sundays to observe the Christian Sabbath. You can’t buy petrol or pop into the supermarket and until recent changes in the last few years, planes and ferries didn’t run on Sundays either. The practices of the people in the Islands changed because of the belief system.

In this way, perhaps we could say that in some respects religion reflects culture. The way people behave – for example the way they dress – becomes a religious belief about how they ought to dress.

Thinking along this line, we might then be inclined to wonder if the differences in the major world religions are merely cultural, the result of distinct people groups forming their identity over many years?

The late Sun Myung Moon from Korea thinks so. He says this:

In 1984, I brought together forty religions scholars, instructing them to compare the teachings that appear in the sacred texts of Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and other major world religions. The book that resulted from their efforts was World Scripture: A Comparative Anthology of Sacred Texts, published in 1991. What they found was that the sacred texts of religions convey the same or similar teachings more than seventy percent of the time. The remaining thiry percent are teachings that represent unique points of each religion. This means that most of the teachings of the major world religions are the same at their core. The same is true of religious practice. On the surface, some believers wear turbans, some wear prayer beads around their necks, others wear a cross, but they all seek the fundamental truths of the universe, and try to understand the will of the Divine One.

– Sun Myung Moon

Moon isn’t the only one to believe this. It’s quite a popular position today.

A Plurality of Beliefs

We live in a pluralistic society. A plurality of belief structures and moral codes can be found in our world; in your town, your workplace, your pub. Pluralism of course, as a reality, exists. But what about Pluralism as an ideal? Should we equally celebrate the many different approaches to life? Are they all equally valid?

Do all paths lead to God?

Throughout the history of the world we observe civilisations going to war because of different belief systems. Our united history of the clash of ideas doesn’t paint a pretty picture. ‘Can’t’ we all just get along?’, we might muse, hopefully. Well, historically speaking, no. Peoples have attacked, mocked, and ridiculed others for their beliefs.

Of course, there is a degree in flexibility with all of this. Some ideas we feel happier to hold more lightly than others. But there are plenty of areas that we just won’t bend on. Even the Romans, who absorbed the Greek pantheon of gods, found themselves at odds with the early Christians. Not because the Christians worshipped one man called Jesus as God, but because they worshipped him alone and didn’t recognise Caesar as a deity. At some point every religion, every worldview, claims exclusivity.

The Buddha, for example, was rejecting Hinduism. It was upon the realisation of the amount of pain and suffering that the young Siddhartha Gautama experienced that led him to reject the views he had in search of a better truth. Islam – coming around 500 years after Jesus – claims Judaism and Christianity were useful, but are now invalid and that the Quran is the only holy scripture delivered by the prophet Muhammad.

Many religions agree on so much. They say, for example that it’s good a thing to treat your neighbour well. Showing kindness to friends, strangers – this is a noble thing. And many people from differing religious find they can work together toward common goals such as alleviating poverty. But they differ on some pretty major points. Such as the existence of God or gods, the afterlife, which sacred text is right, how to obtain salvation etc.

For all religions to be true, all paths must lead to the same destination, however, even a cursory glance at the basic tenants of the major religions reveal that they propose some very different ultimate destinations.

Yes, there are some things that multiple religions agree on. And in addition, from the outside, many religions look like the hold the same structure. They might be formed in the same way, but made up of individual distinctions.

For example, many religions operate on the system, ‘If you’re good you’ll be rewarded with eternal bliss.’ All you need to do is lead a good life and you can be assured of a good outcome. But which afterlife are we promised? An eastern extension of self? A cloud in the skies with all our friends? And what exactly are the good deeds that we need to do? Specifically? And now we come to think about it, what exactly do we mean by good?

The more we delve into the complexities of each religion the more we realise that they offer different and distinct final realities with different and distinct paths that we need to follow to reach these realities.

So, what do we do?

What To Believe: 3 Options

When dealing with the plurality of religious beliefs we have I think three options to choose from.

All Religions are true: relativism

Our fist option is to say that all religions are equally true. There are many paths to take but one is not better than the other. It’s up to each one of us to choose which path we will take

To believe this we have to say that all truth is relative. That is, each viewpoint is equally true relative to the person holding it. We would have to reject the idea that absolute truth exists – that is that there are some things that are true for all people in all places.

Of course, relative truth exists. When I visited Nepal I found, to my surprise, that I was a tall man! If I were to be hanging out with my Nepalese friends and said, ‘Hey, I’m quite a tall person’ I would be completely correct – relative to the group.

But then I get on a plane and visit Norway. Now, if I were to make the exact same statement there I would find that I would no longer be saying something that is true. Even if I used exactly the same words and I was exactly the same height.

Because relative truth exists we might be tempted to place religions into this category. After all, if religious belief is relative to the individual holding it, then we can affirm their right to believe it without the need for us to believe it. This can avert conflict and lead to harmony.

It’s a lovey idea and seeks a noble cause. But the problem is that this position is unliveable. And besides, we don’t really live like relativists even if we want to say that is true.

In Oxford there are lots of bikes and I would cycle around a lot because it’s the quickest way around town. And as I cycled around I noticed that I, and the other cyclists always look for that bus, when the cycle lanes and bus lanes converge because we are absolutely sure that if there is a bus and we were to have an accident will always end up worse off.

Think about it, you always (try to) look before you cross the street because even if you believe that you are special and built like the Incredible Hulk, the truth of reality would correct you very quickly.

If we don’t care about whether our lives correspond to reality then we can choose any story for ourselves. But when our story bumps into other stories we face problems.

What we believe defines how we live. Not what we think we believe, but how we really live. Our actions betray our core convictions.

If there was no evil in the world and nothing bad happened to people, if there were no consequences to our actions, then believing in different narratives wouldn’t be an issue. But ideas have consequences.

Furthermore, to state that all truth is relative is of course to make an absolute statement. To categorically state that all truth is relative means that there is no truth which is not relative. If all truth is relative than that very statement must be relative and therefore not necessarily true for all people and people ought not to take us seriously if we say it!

So it emerges that relativism is unliveable. Well then, can’t we just be tolerant of other beliefs? But have you noticed that even tolerant people can’t tolerate the intolerant.

No religions Are True

Our second option is to declare that no religion is true. It was Ernest Hemingway who said that, “All thinking men are atheists.” This statement suggests that when rational enquiry is held all religions fail because they ultimately are irrational. All we need is a little education, a little science, a little knowledge and we’ll see that we have no need for a God.

But is this true? Oxford University is fortunate to some of the brightest minds in their respective academic fields make their home there. People like Professor John Lennox (Mathematics) and Professor Richard Swinburne (Philosophy) have held the chief positions in their fields in a University of international renown and they are committed to belief in God.

They are not alone. Throughout the sciences, the humanities, and the arts there are men and women dually committed to excellence in their field and at the same time publicly professing belief in God.

The atheist Thomas Nagel shows greater humility when he states:

“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 that there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.”

We simply can’t write off religion because we don’t want it to be true. We need to investigate. That’s the second point.

One religion is true

The third option we have is to come to the conclusion that one religion, one worldview, is true. After investigation we can come to a belief that one of the many are true and we can put our faith in that.

We all put our faith in something. Faith is simply following the evidence where it leads. The atheist has faith that universe is rational and can be understood through enquiry. You don’t need to be particularly religious to have faith, you just demonstrate a commitment to live out your life in accordance with the views that you hold.

If we reject relativism as unliveable, and if we reject an outright rejection of belief as unfair, then we are only left with an examination of what we believe. The major religions of the world differ enough to be distinct, and require us to do more work than glibly asserting they’re all true, or they’re all false.

We believe for many reasons: cultural, intellectual, emotional … To come to a point of committed, enquired-of faith requires us to examine what we believe and why. This might lead us to reject some of our ideas if they fail to hold up to scrutiny, but that is another matter for another article.

What’s Distracting You?

On last year’s Christmas list I mentioned to Santa that I’d like a copy of Focus by Daniel Goleman. 2016 was going to be a year of concentrated effort, where I pick off one task at a time and get things done. Goleman was to be my tutor in single-mindedness.

10 months on and I’ve read Part I (out of VII) and the book sits alongside a dozen or so other books I’ve dipped in and out of. This is no slight on the author – whose Emotional Intelligence is a must-read – it just turns out that I needed Goleman to read Goleman. I am perhaps as some might say, distractible (I prefer to think of this more as allowing my creative processes to be engaged by new ideas.) Jumping from book to book, idea to idea, keeps my mind inspired, sure, but, alas, also distracted. It turns out it’s harder to hit goals when the goalposts are frequently moving.

Current trends indicate that distraction – and especially digital distraction – could soon reach epidemic levels. From social media, to online games, to TV, constant news, and photostreams – our minds don’t ever have to sit still or chew over a single deep idea if we don’t want to. In all this noise it’s easy to become afraid of the silence. Asking questions of ourselves may be painfully hard, if we don’t like the answers, so we turn on and tune out and the big questions remain unexamined. As 16th Century French mathematician Blaise Pascal put it, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

Blaise Pascal on humanity's problems

If I’ve had a particularly distracted week I may look forward to the weekend, which affords me the chance to rest my brain, reset, and start afresh on Monday. I have come to learn that distraction, or avoidance, or “multi-tasking”, is incredibly tiring. Facing what we’re dodging, invariably takes less effort than we fear it might, and much less than what we would spend trying to avoid it.

Sometimes what we are manoeuvring around can’t be tackled by a weekend off. When anxiety churns deep within we need a greater comfort than a lie-in, a late lunch, and a few beers. The Bible tells us that real respite for the soul is not for the put-together and perfect people only (if there are any) but for those struggling and tired: Jesus said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”

If we let multiple distractions run amok in our minds we will weary to the point of exhaustion. We have the technology now to satiate our schemes of avoidance, the motives of which are themselves as old as humanity. So let’s not let distraction abound unchecked, but rather make it our guide, leading us to ask why it is we can’t “sit quietly” and then, turning to God, be led into true rest.

Feeding On The Truth

I’ve been struck once again by the reminder that the simple things in life so often are the most important things. And it’s those simple things that we can lose site of as our lives invariably tend towards the complex.

As my wedding anniversary approaches I find myself flustered, as I can’t quite locate the perfect present that I am looking for. We’re going away for a few days and now there’s a time crunch. I should have taken care of this earlier, but I haven’t. I worry about not getting something and failing to show my wife how much she means to me. In the mean time, the stress of the present-buying as well as concluding other business before we leave is getting to me. I sleep less when I’m stressed, which makes me more irritable. Only when I pause for a moment (after successfully locating the gift) do I see the irony in all of this. In my effort to play the husband I lost of site of being the husband.

The Heart of our Gospel Message is the Gospel

The job of sharing our Christian faith is part and parcel of what we signed up to. Evangelism isn’t a role for an expert who has all the answers, but a call to everyone who has made Jesus Lord. But boy are there days when we wish we could outsource this obligation to the pros! More answers, more knowledge, more persuasion, more compassion, more time, more patience … if only I had more.

We know we are saved by grace through faith alone, as Ephesians says:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”[1]

If I them therefore saved by grace, and not my works, how am I reflecting this in my evangelism? Now I have spent time and I have spent money to learn and prepare to “give an answer for the hope”[2] that I have. I read books and I listen to podcasts and I attend lectures. And all of this is good.

But the core of our message is still a message of grace. I wasn’t chosen by God to be adopted into His family on merit. It was totally undeserved. Therefore, I must never, ever let me efforts cloud the message. My doing must never get in the way of demonstrating what Christ has done for me.

The Apostle Paul boasted in his weaknesses[3]. The man who wrote much of the New Testament and was to early church planting as Michael Phelps is to American swimming knew that his efforts and his successes were nothing compared to the glory of the Resurrected Jesus. That’s why all of his efforts only promoted Christ, and didn’t bring attention to himself.

Sadly, I am still a long way from this.

Feed on Truth

C. S. Lewis, of whom William Lane Craig believes all modern Christian apologetics is indebted to, once wrote, “A man can’t be always defending the truth; there must be a time to feed on it.”[4]

C. S. Lewis - Reflections on the Psalms

After moving to Oxford 5 years ago my life was once more synchronized with the academic schedule. Suddenly I was thinking in school terms again. This means that the Summer is actually the end of my year and the time I think about what’s on the horizon, what I’m planning and hoping for.

Defending the gospel is only good when it is defending the gospel. It becomes complicated when we defend our own ideas, or justify our personal actions. The heart of the gospel message is the gospel itself.

A good friend of mine is fond of reminding me to ‘Preach the gospel to myself’. In my struggling and my striving I was reminded to tell myself what the gospel is, again and again. And as Nathan helpfully reminded me, our “personal life and intimacy with God is the fuel and it is essential to being able to run this race, cover some serious ground and see stuff happen.”

To defend the truth we must be feeding on it. We must be being transformed by it. We must be inviting it to permeate all areas of our life. We must be willing to drop everything for it and to hold nothing back from the light of it.

It as this point that my heart echoes John Newton who said:

“Yet, though I am not what I ought to be, nor what I wish to be, nor what I hope to be, I can truly say, I am not what I once was; a slave to sin and Satan; and I can heartily join with the apostle, and acknowledge, “By the grace of God I am what I am.””[5]

[1] Ephesians 2:8–10, ESV

[2] 1 Peter 3:15

[3] 2 Corinthians 11:30

[4] C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms

[5] John Newton, The Christian Spectator (Vol. 3, 1821)

8 Strategies to Assist You in Your Evangelism

QUICKFIRE: Jonathan Sherwin from CVM on Vimeo.

The CVM Quickfire Conference is day of TED-style 15 minute talks by ministry specialists covering a wide range of topics for men’s ministries. In this talk, ‘Conversion Through Persuasion?: Looking at how we can deploy arguments, questions, and illustrations effectively as we do the work of an evangelist’ I attempted to get through 8 points before the klaxon sounded (see the video above if you want to know if I made it!).

Conversion Through Persuasion?

Evangelism is a spiritual struggle. It’s a bloody, vicious war. There is no Geneva Convention or International Court of Justice imposing civility. Our enemy is not a gentlemen and he is out to totally, utterly ruin all that you love, cherish and seek to protect.

In this war we have been given tools, and I believe the role of persuasion – arguing, illustrating, and questioning – is a weapon that we are to deploy in this war.

Timothy was told by the Apostle Paul to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Timothy 4:5). We’re shown that evangelism is both a task, as well as an office or role (Ephesians 4), and a task that in the Great Commission (Matthew 28) all Christians are called to.

As we think through how to use persuasion in evangelism here are 8 points to remember.

1. Being & Thinking | Feeling | Doing

Michael Ramsden is fond of talking of the Ontological Root of the Gospel. That is, the core of our Christian message is that it’s not what you think or what you feel or what you do that makes you a Christian, but that the very centre of who you are are is changed – redeemed – by God himself. That central change is the root of the Gospel.

Michael’s point is I think incredibly helpful. A Christian is someone who’s heart has been redeemed by God.

So then, focussing on that, we are freed to use our thinking, our feeling, and our doing to show Christ. We are to reflect our salvation in what we think, what we feel, and how we act. So too we can illustrate across all these areas.

Each one of us has a different personality. Some are more cerebral, others more in touch with their emotions, and still others who are intensely pragmatic. By illustrating the Gospel in a way that connects with the hearer we can demonstrate something of the message, but without forcing the listener to conform to that pattern of behaviour.

A change of our thinking, of our feeling, of our doing, comes out of a change of our being. We don’t change who we are to become a Christian – our core is changed by God and that then goes on to change everything else.

2. Persuasion is a skill

The art of persuasion is, according to Sam Leith, rhetoric. And rhetoric is something to be learnt. It is a skill.

I know what some of you may be thinking: rhetoric, just verbal tricks and cunning collections of words to sell your point. A go-to in the politician’s hand-bag of tools.

Rhetoric does appeal to emotions, to reasons … yes! But deployed correctly they serve truth.

Of course, rhetoric is a skill that may be used for the wrong reasons but for goodness sake, don’t stop using it because some guy in a bad suit and appropriately coloured tie is misusing it in a fancy palace like Westminster!

Blaise Pascal said that we ought when sharing the Gospel to,

“Make them wish it were true and then show them that it is.”

Our individual testimonies – our stories – share something of how we have met Jesus and have been changed. We appeal to our story to share something of the Ultimate Story, or as J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis referred to it, the True Myth.

3. Stand on Scripture

The basis for our confidence in the Gospel does not ultimately rest on our experience but on the revelation provided to us through the Bible. We don’t stand alone on reason, nor on emotion, nor on action, but on the Word of God.

Because the Bible is a reliable revelation that may be trusted we can stand firm on the foundation that it provides. This sure footing offers a position of strength and a starting point for all our creative efforts in sharing God’s truth.

Having a foundation is a powerful thing. Having a strong foundation that doesn’t rest on who we are, what we know, how we feel etc. provides a deeper assurance that when relied upon in our evangelistic efforts helps to make our efforts all about Christ (as revealed to us) and gets us out of the way. It’s not about us; it’s all about Jesus.

4. Know what is provoking your spirit

Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.” (Acts 17:16)

The Apostle Paul launches into his apologetic in Athens at Mars Hill after having “his spirit provoked within him”.

Our individual worlds are increasingly larger and the Gospel opportunities are seemingly endless. We are more connected than ever with easier travel and greater communications abilities than ever before.

In our modern world it can be hard to know where to act or to what we are called. Paul had his spirit provoked and took it as his cue.

So what is provoking your spirit? What can’t you let go of that can be used a starting point to share something of Jesus? We are each to be going after what is that we each are meant to be going after. We’re all different (thankfully) and who we are is to be used to reach those we’re called to.

5. Pick the hardest battle

Evangelism is a series of battles. In the Bible the church is often related to as an army. To do well we need to perform just like any army: we need to show discipline and courage.

After the British army in World War 2 had been beaten out of Burma back into India by the advancing Japanese it had to heal. The army was in a bad shape. They were plagued by malaria and bad morale. Their enemy was brutal – unlike anyone they had faced before They were far away from home and far away from comfort.

Sickness in the camp, lack of motivation, and attacks from the enemy: these things bring armies to their knees.

In ’42 they went kicked out of Burma and it took them nearly two years to fight their way back in.

And as they advanced, they picked their battles. They knew the enemy was fierce and that if they were to succeed they would need to engage in some brutal assaults. The war wouldn’t be won by sneaking a little victory here and there. They would need to crack the enemy at his strong points.

Where is the battle fiercest in your friend, in your office, in your family? What is the main stronghold?

It won’t do any good dealing with the brazen academics and their philosophical questions if the main issue in front of us is one of loneliness and fear, and a search for God that hasn’t yielded any answers so far.

Martin Luther said this:

“If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at the moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved and to be steady on all the battle front besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.”

Don’t Construct Straw Men

We need to take the person we are sharing Christ with seriously. We need to treat them and their objections to Jesus with all seriousness.

When someone offers a problem don’t reduce it down to a bite-size chunk. If anything, build it up in to a really big problem and then hack it to pieces.

6. Use words

You will have of course heard the phrase, ‘Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary use words.’ This maxim we are told is to be attributed to St. Francis of Assisi – but in truth there’s no record of him ever having said it.

And if even if he had said it, it’s just not true.

God preached the world into existence in Genesis 1:3. Jesus, in Matthew 5, “went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying …”

Stephen preached his own funeral. Paul reasoned with the Athenians, and before that he preached at Salamis, and Antioch, and Iconium, and Lystra, and Derbe, and Perga. He preached all those sermons with words, and that was on just one journey!

Words have incredible power. A friend of mine who is a leadership coach to large international companies often says, ‘Words create culture’.

The right word at the right time can bring life. The wrong word at the wrong time …

7. Illustrate: Use authorities people recognise

Paul, in the Athenian court, quoted from Greek poets and philosophers. He’d done his research. Or perhaps this was just part of his education.

He was establishing common ground. But I’m not sure if I were Paul I would have gone to those authors first. By this time we remember Paul had seen the resurrected Christ, had his life incredibly altered  from chief Christian persecutor to chief evangelist. Post-conversion Paul looked nothing at all like pre-conversion Paul.

If were Paul I think I would have been strongly tempted to say, ‘Look at me! Look at my life!’ But he didn’t. He pointed to Jesus, preached on the evidence of the Resurrection, and borrowed the authorities of his day to make a point.

It’s often said that “all truth is God’s truth”, so when we find nuggets of gold in our culture – the arts, the media etc. – we can borrow these to point to Ultimate Truth.

8. Conversion is through the Holy Spirit

Look, Richard Dawkins never sent anyone to Hell and you’re not sending anyone to Heaven.

The heart of a person can only be redeemed by the power of God. He will use you to illustrate, to demonstrate, and to advocate but the final solution to man’s deepest problem cannot be dealt with by humanity. We all need supernatural transformation and it is the Christian’s great honour to witness God taking people from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:13).

We cannot save ourselves and we cannot save others. But once we have been saved we bear witness to the truth of God as we have had it revealed to us.

This liberation from sin is also a liberation from self. Our friends and family members don’t  – thank God – rely upon us for their salvation.

We’re freed to spend our lives pointing to the One who spent His life for us.

What Would Make You Change Your Mind?

A friend and I were having a conversation recently. “I was so left,” he said, referring to his political persuasions. “That was my background,” he explained. “When I then, later on, began to ask why I thought that way, I began to change my mind on a few things.”

This interested me. My friend (now self-identifying as more moderately left) had examined what he believed, questioned why he believed it, and ultimately changed his mind under that examination. It was, I thought, an act of honesty and bravery.

Why We Believe What We Believe

I suppose we believe all manner of things for all manner of reasons, but many of the big things we believe are in large part shaped by our communities – our families, our friends, our colleagues etc. These social groups can produce strong feelings of loyalty, and to change our mind can sometimes feel like a betrayal of the people we are closest to.

There are of course natural break points in life where we are afforded chances to examine our beliefs. Going off to university for many brings a cessation – or at least a pausing – of old community ties and an introduction to new ones.

When our families grow – marriage, children, grand-children – we can re-evaluate a number of things closest to us.

But for most of the time we continue to operate as we have, more or less, always done.

Collisions With Reality

Have you ever noticed that within many sadness’s there’s often a secondary, deeper pain? When the man in his 50s is made redundant it is sad, and it is proper for he and you and I to grieve his loss. But the grief is made more protracted when this pain causes him to question his place in the world or lose his sense of value and purpose.

In another way, we might never think long about what happens after we die, until someone close to us passes away.

At the exact moments that our belief frameworks need to stand strong in the face of massive disruption, they all too easily collapse. Our loss then becomes total loss to us.

Testing Our Beliefs

Unless we want to run a similar risk to the man who suffers a heart attack brought about from poor diet and lack of exercise, we need to begin doing the right things now. We don’t want a shock in the future to cause us to think if only we had changed something in the past, the present would be avoidable or made more bearable.

Ravi Zacharias, the Christian thinker, is fond of saying that there are three ways we can test a belief or thought to see how strong it is.

Firstly: is the belief logical? Does it confirm to the laws of logic? Secondly: does it make sense? Does the belief contradict itself at any point? Thirdly: does it work? Does it fit with our observations of the Universe and our experience?

We can hold a belief for many reasons: it’s popular, or it’s traditional, or it’s new or fashionable. But there is only one good reason for holding a belief: is it true?

Faith and Truthfulness

It’s entirely possible to hold to beliefs that are true, but for bad reasons. A Christian, the Bible says, is to be prepared to answer questions of faith asked of him by anyone, and so the question is: do you know why you believe what you believe? And do you believe for good reasons?

Truthfulness is not just for the believer of course, there are many seeking truth that don’t see faith in God as a warranted belief. But if you don’t believe in God because you think the Christian position is not truthful I’d say, take another look and ask yourself, why don’t you believe? There have been many people who, upon second glances, have come to see that their reasons for not believing weren’t as strong as they at first supposed.

It takes an act of strength for anyone to change their mind. It’s humbling, sometimes humiliating, but when we take a step back and compare the value of our pride and ego against truth itself, well, the honourable pursuit of truth gleams much brighter than the dim bulbs of our own self-value.

A Christian Vision For Politics

The political landscapes of two countries I love greatly are currently swaying like a suspension bridge in an earthquake. On my side of The Pond a referendum on membership to the European Union is to be held this coming Thursday. The implications of this vote are potentially huge.

Across the Atlantic and, 8 years on from then-Senator Obama’s first successful run to the White House, the Democrats and the Republicans see gaping fault lines within their own ranks as they summon the courage to unite under banners they just simply can’t all believe in.

The votes cast in June in the UK and in November in the US could be hugely divisive.

The rhetoric being deployed to promote particular campaigns is much the same across the board. On matters like the economy, immigration, national security, and sovereignty we are told there are disastrous consequences if we go one way, and a terrible future if we go the other. We are informed that it is a bold move to vote [Out|In] or [Hilary|Trump] because [your choice] is the only way forward for our country. And Woe! to us if we vote [against your choice], for calamity is lurking at our doorsteps.

Searching for a Vision

“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” The Bible says it and we trot this out in at moments like this, to support a strategy and endorse an idea. We use this verse in our personal lives, when we feel that our our own outlook has stagnated and it’s time to refocus. We use this verse to help support the pastor’s strategy for the new direction of the church. And yes, we can use it when our national political viewpoint is contested.

And right now I think this verse is indeed apt, although not perhaps for assumed reasons based on first glances. This verse is not really talking about personal, church, or national strategies at all. It is talking about a revelation of God and His law to His people.

Interesting, this oft-quoted verse from Proverbs 29:18 is usually rendered in the King James vernacular (although we seldom use this version in our churches or personal study any more). The NIV says, “Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint”, and the ESV puts it this way, “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint.”

The verse is really a warning to heed God’s commands, to follow the vision of the Lord because, as the second part to the verse tells us, “blessed is he who keeps the law (ESV).” If the Bible is God’s primary revelation, then nations who turn from it do indeed “cast off restraint” and unrestrained by this life-giving governance they drift, at best uncertain, and at worse under misguided zeal leading to despair.

Our Political Decisions Should Serve Us; They’ll Never Save Us

I am alarmed by what I see in our countries right now. I am alarmed by the state of the discussion, the level of conversation, the tactics being employed to convince swathes of voters to lean one way or the other. I am concerned by the standard of debate, because it so rarely seems to approach a state even remotely close to being generously termed ‘debate’.

The Bible I believe does speak about politics and Christians should be keen to get involved. Our politics should serve our human flourishing, something Christians ought to be deeply concerned with. Our politicians serve as our leaders, individuals the Bible without qualification tells us to pray for. The economy, immigration, national security, and sovereignty – not to mention the many other issues – concern people, concern the planet, concern a world that the Bible quite clearly demonstrates repeatedly that God cares for enormously.

Our politics are important because people are important, and people are important because God made them and made them in “His image”. We are immensely valuable, which means that the decisions that we make about our lives and our futures are indeed deeply important.

But politics won’t fix our broken world. A certain individual elected and given more power, or a certain decision reached over national governance, these won’t fix our world. Broken people voting for broken leaders with imperfect abilities and imperfect desires can’t bring us to the promised land.

The Bible tells us that the root problem in our world is not political, but moral. And that each person in this world is affected by the problem. Pardon me for sounding trite and overly-simplistic, but if as a nation we all got on our knees before God and repented for our individual selfishness and pride and pleaded for mercy would we not be more likely to be united?

If our individual hearts were more bent towards God’s would not our corporate gaze spot the injustices, the brokenness, the problems more quickly and act with greater compassion to heal them?

Democracy, moulded by Christian thinkers over centuries, seeks to restrict evil intentions and promote good; limit abuse and release healing. It acknowledges that the human heart is fickle and that humanity has a problem. It is not naive in thinking that all we need is a little more effort, a little more education, a little more this and that and we will see great happiness in our time. Nor is it pessimistic in thinking that people from all walks of life and from all beliefs can’t make a positive difference for us all.

Democracy is not a perfect system, but a system suited to a broken world. Democracy doesn’t change the core state of the world, but deals with the condition that we find ourselves in. Therefore democracy – or any other form of rule or government for that matter – will never heal our deepest wounds. The condition that affects us all is beyond our own ability to fix, and therefore all our efforts, of which our politics is a part, have no potency in the matter.

A Christian Vision for Politics

The issues before the voters in the UK and the United States this year are large. They are important and I believe we should get involved. How we do that and to what extent is probably a matter of conscience for each Christian.

As for me, I know I don’t pray enough for my leaders. I know I don’t know enough about the matters at stake. I know I’m not gracious enough in how I respond to different views.

So: pray more, learn more, and show more grace. That’s my personal Christian political vision going forwards.

Pray More

Prayer acknowledges that we have limits, that we don’t know everything, but that God does know everything.

Prayer puts me in closer relationship with the Creator of the Universe, who holds the master plan.

Prayer properly aligns my allegiances.

Prayer brings me to task over my shortcomings as I hold my life openly before God.

Learn More

We have a rational God who communicates to us rationally. Therefore Christians have affirmed the use of the mind for centuries (many great universities of the world serve as markers of rich historic Christian heritage).

We have a sure foundation for trusting our thinking, because we believe there is ultimately a rationality to this universe. We believe there are rational reasons to our existence – it’s not blind chance – and we can know them and communicate them.

This foundation supports our learning. Because we can know, we can learn. We have a firm base from which we love the Lord our God with all of our mind by increasing our knowledge and wisdom of the world and so bringing the mind of God to all matters around us.

Grow in Grace

If there’s one thing above others I ask for more of that my life might reflect more of God, it’s grace.

Extending deeper grace to others can only be supplied by my leaning on a deeper grace that I have received myself. To show more grace, I must rest on God’s grace more.

Too often I lean on my own perceived strengths and abilities, too proud to continue to acknowledge my unceasing need for grace.

To bend the knee before God to receive salvation by grace was a defeat to my proud soul. My old self is dead, yes. I have new life in Christ, but my soul does not always know this. I encounter acts of prideful rebellion that seek, with the passing of time, to justify that one act of humility by proving myself worthy.

My soul believes that Jesus death for me was deserved.

How utterly disgraceful. In grace we were saved, in grace we live our lives. By the power of Christ’ Spirit were we raised from death to life, and by the power of Christ’ Spirit we are to live this mortal life to His glory.

I need more grace, to give more grace. And more grace in how I deal with people is going to be more winsome and thus aid – nay, fuel – my goal to share my faith more than all my other designs and plans.

With grace and by grace Christians can enter the political fray, indeed any part of this created world, and demonstrate something of the nature and character of God who holds all the answers to all our problems.

Some of us are called to be politicians, some of us will campaign, some of us will pontificate on Facebook – all of us will give an account for our activities and will be asked whose kingdom we were building.

Reformation and Revival

The history of these two great nations is replete with times when after much prayer God poured out His Spirit – Revival – causing many to return to Him and the study of His Word – Reformation.

A people with a redeemed heart and a renewed vision of God’s truth have sought to inform politics, the arts, business, education – all areas of life – to demonstrate and reflect God’s great love for all that He has made.

If we think we’re beyond this now, know that there were those who went before who faced the same doubts. But by faith and great prayer and great effort much was accomplished that now stand as examples to us in history.

The challenges our countries currently face can be the alarm that awakens us to the need for a true vision, that spurs us to repentance, revival, and reformation.

I believe there is a present opportunity to bend the knee, call out to God, and by His grace add a chapter of success to our nations histories. Let us not miss it.

This post was first published on

Always Be Prepared

Life is busy. Responsibilities and commitments rarely abate, and new challenges require our attention and focus.

This is in addition to our increasingly cluttered lives. Lives where the in-between parts are filled up by technology, media – digital distraction. Like water finding the cracks in a pavement, so our empty spaces so easily fill up with things that are just a click away.

I have known times in my life where I have suddenly come to the realisation that it’s been a while since I’ve stopped, prayed, read my Bible etc.. This wasn’t intentional, it just sort of happened.

I may have become aware of this rather gently: no dramatic incident in my life, just a realisation of something familiar that was no longer there.

These unassuming moments where I return to my private life with my Lord can mask the danger that may have just been averted. Perhaps there were slight feelings of guilt, or nostalgia, but it didn’t feel like anything bad really happened. I, or others, weren’t seemingly hurt from this lapse.

But something bad could have happened.

Spiritual Preparation

When Peter tells the church to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15, NIV) he is in part instructing the church to think through the reasons for faith: to be able, when called upon, to explain the basis for hope. But there is more to the defense of the faith than having all the answers. We must be spiritually prepared too.

There is no strong apologetic that is not rooted in relationship with God. The “hope” we proclaim is relational. God, come to earth, to redeem the world. Sharing Christianity is not only sharing reasons for faith, but includes an active demonstration of the relationship between God and us.

When we spend time with God in prayer, when we learn of His truth through the Bible, we cultivate a spiritual preparedness. We’re more on God’s wavelength, so to speak. Then, when we are presented with an opportunity to share our faith, spiritually we are much more informed. By being closer to God’s heart and His truth we are more able to share it more quickly with others.

Taking Stock

I am surrounded by devices. My computer, my phone, my iPad, they’re all close by. It’s so easy to either always be checking for the latest update, email, score, or, be informed of the latest photo, tweet, or post.

The technology is great. It serves me well, but only when it serves me.

I have found that it’s useful to, perhaps at the end of the week, ask myself some questions – and be honest – about how I’ve spent my in-between time. Have I been purposeful with it? Have I prayed, have I meditated on Scripture, have I been active in involving God in my life? Or have those spaces been consumed by distractions that have crept in?

(If you have a hard time being honest with yourself, ask your wife or someone else close to you for his or her honest thoughts on how you spend your time.)

It’s not a question of grading myself, but a decision to prioritise the most important things. It’s not a religious check list to make me feel good about my life, but I genuine desire to be more in communion with my God who has shown incredible love and grace towards me.

All of this is incredibly beneficial to me, individually. Walking closely with God has knock on advantages in all areas of my life. But the other side of this is that one day it might be incredibly beneficial to someone else who asks you for “the reason for the hope that you have”. You’ll smile, and begin to explain the reasons for this amazing God who were just moments ago talking to and thinking about. And that could make all the difference.

Hoping for Victory

I remember listening to the radio as Manchester United beat Bayern Munich in extra time to win the 1999 Champions League final. There’s something slightly magical about listening to a game, having to rely on the commentators description of the events unfolding before their eyes, reconstructing it in my mind. Perhaps it’s the extra effort required on my part to ‘see’ the game, that means it sticks in the memory that much longer.

The Liverpool v. A. C. Milan 2005 final, with that thrilling second half comeback before the penalty shoot out, is another that lives long in the imagination.

And now there’s another game to add to the list. On the face of it there was nothing special about this Premier League Monday-night London derby feature. Except that , this time, if Spurs lost to Chelsea, Leicester – the team that only months before were 5000/1 to win the league – would be champions with two games to spare.

I had listened in on the 1-1 draw that Leicester conjured up at Old Trafford the day before, slightly disappointed that they didn’t get the win there, but still believing they’d wrap it up soon. So Monday evening, as I pottered around the house, I tuned in as Spurs went 2-0 up against Chelsea. Tottenham’s form this year has been stunning, and Chelsea’s has been too, albeit for other reasons. So this was perhaps to be expected.

But then Chelsea pulled one back not long in to the second half and there was a rise in hope that, with just one more goal, tonight would be the night. The tension crept up as the second half progressed. And then Hazard scored; quiet all season but adds a line of his own to the incredible story of Leicester’s indomitable march to victory.

With just a few minutes left of the match, I found my wife and told her what was going on. She paused, looking up from her novel, and smiled. Earlier in the season when I was getting increasingly excited about a potential Leicester victory she told me that she was happy, but that she’d rather wait for the movie complete with the love-story angle added to it.

At 2-2 I could sense Spurs were fighting with everything they had, straining to find a way through and take the challenge to Leicester just a little bit further. The match was being drawn, between two sides I’m usually not that bothered by, yet it felt like Scotland were 1-0 up against England in a Euro final. The clock couldn’t tick down fast enough.

At the final whistle it was done. Leicester had won the Premier League and it felt like the whole world was beaming. I smiled, laughed a little, shock my head and went and told my wife. It was such a beautiful story, and a sorely needed injection of overwhelming genuine affection for the Beautiful Game. Leicester had done something truly remarkable in a world where we even fail to get excited about space travel anymore. Newspapers from countries that don’t even rank football in their top 3 sports ran headlines crammed with enough superlatives to compose a thesaurus.

‘Could they do it?’ we asked at Christmas. ‘It is possible?’ We wanted to believe it was possible, we wanted to hope that there was a chance for a team lacking the usually required financial punch, armed instead with grit and team-spirit, to defy the very worst of odds and make history. As the season progressed, the growth in goodwill from near-everyone else was matched only by the rise in belief that it could happen.

Hope soared on Monday night and carried a team, a city, and a legion of adoptive fans, to swirling heights.

The Bible describes those that know God as people who “dwell in hope” (Acts 2:26, ESV). Leicester’s remarkable achievements on the football pitch inspire and cause us to rejoice, but they also serve to remind us that the human soul is made for hope, to dwell – to live constantly – in a state of hope. This hope, from God, is of an assured victory of good over evil, love over hate, life over death.

We see dimly now, but one day we will perceive the unrestrained emotion of triumphant, glorious hope fulfilled across every inch of our lives and throughout the entire world. That’ll be some celebration.

Searching for Love

Searching for Love

Love is one of the strongest desires of the human heart. We sing about it, paint about it, and write poetry about it. Our TV shows talk about it. The Internet is full of it, and magazines tell you how they think you can achieve it. I have Shakespeare’s sonnets on my iPhone and The Notebook is available to stream online at any time should you so wish.

We love to talk of love and yet we live in a time when the largest single cause of death for a man under 35 in many Western nations – including ours – is suicide. Deep loneliness abounds. How do we explain this?

The world we live in today is more connected than it has ever been. We can send messages to other side of the world in just a split-second. I can chat to colleagues 10 time zones away effortlessly. I can stay connected with all my secondary school friends on Facebook and Instagram.

My favourite comedian – Billy Connolly – when he as filming a travel show for TV and was left alone on a polar cap for a night quipped, “There’s a difference to being alone and being lonely.”

Now wouldn’t you agree that there is something wrong in a world filled to the brim with messages and promises of love when at the same time there’s a vast amount of people drowning in despair without it?

A Shift in Culture

Things are changing in our culture. We get married later, if at all. It’s easier than ever to hook up … and break up. And who of us likes break ups? So we seek alternatives to mitigate the pain.

Maybe if we avoid the commitment we’ll avoid the grief. So, no-strings-attached then. We’ll move from romantic encounter to romantic encounter and avoid the sting that comes from hanging around too long. Except that this doesn’t seem to fix the problem either.

The British feminist author, Natasha Walter, wrote a book in 2010 called Living Dolls. In her book Walter explores the pressures many women face in this hypersexual culture to conform to image. Walter asks if our supposedly more enlightened culture is in fact in many ways robbing women, not empowering them.

More than ever, men and women today are incredibly free to do what we want with out bodies. Old cultural and social restraints have been replaced with an ‘it’s your body, do you want’ approach. But this new liberation hasn’t led to satisfaction for many. In the book, one 17 year-old girl, Carly, tells her story.

“It’s all casual sex now, nobody talks about love,’ she said … I wish I could have a real connection with a man. But there’s no courtship any more. That’s all dead. It’s just immediate. There’s no getting to know someone, you’re expected just to look someone up and down and make the decision just like that, are you going to have sex or not? There’s no time to build up to a connection. The idea is that you have sex first, but how are you meant to create the kind of excitement, the emotional connection, after that? I want to have an emotional connection with a man. I want it to be there with the feeling that I am equal to him. I do think I’m as a good as a man. But I don’t want just this no-strings sex stuff.”

Our appetite for our desires to be fulfilled can lead us to look for fulfilment in the wrong areas. Our desires crave fulfilment, but we must use wisdom to discern what is best for us. Our appetite for food, for example, cares not how it is fulfilled – only that we do something to address the hunger. But we know that if we choose the giant bag of Jelly Babies over a well-balanced meal, we will pay for it in the long run.

Life can leave many with an empty feeling inside, causing us to reach out for connection, only to find that our efforts for love and intimacy in the end leave us feeling even emptier.

In our deep desire for love we can rush head long after the feeling and in the process we can get make some bad choices. Bestselling author Tim Keller, says that:

“Our fears and inner barrenness make love a narcotic, a way to medicate ourselves, and addicts make foolish, destructive choices.”

Many of us will have at times made bad choices and experienced broken dreams. Small or large, things don’t always pan out the way that we want them to.

Broken Dreams

I have my broken dreams too. Today, I’m happily married to a wonderful woman whom I love greatly and who also loves me.

Before I met my wife there were a few other relationships which ultimately didn’t work out. Upon reflection they didn’t work out in part because in some cases I wanted too much from them.

I knew that I wanted love but I whilst maturing well in a few areas of life in love I was a like a toddler.

Foolishly thinking that my romantic gestures were genuine I didn’t realise that all my efforts were really just a way of showing love in order to receive love! I was living for those moments of acceptance based on how I made someone feel.

Well, I couldn’t keep with this. It wasn’t long before cracks began to show.

I longed to be loved. But like a 14 year old with a poster of a Ferrari on his wall who’s suddenly given the keys to an F12 Berlinetta there’s a world of difference between desiring something and knowing what to do with it when you have it.

Many relationships don’t last because we want too much from them. Perhaps you can relate? Out of desperation to be loved ourselves, we love someone expecting total fulfilment.

But hang on a moment? Have you seen these people we love?! Even the best of us let people down.

The reality is, that when we love something or someone who is not perfect and expect perfect fulfilment from them, we will always end up hurt.

Unmet Longing

One of the things that I get to do from time to time in Oxford is to take people around the former home of C. S. Lewis. Lewis – perhaps best known for The Chronicles of Narnia – lived in Oxford from 1917 until his death in 1963.

In part I think Lewis connected so well to his readers because his rich imagination tapped into our deepest longings, creating characters we could connect with.

Lewis knew of unmet longing. He once wrote:

“Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise. The longings which arise in us when we first fall in love, or first think of some foreign country, or first take up some subject that excites us, are longings which no marriage, no travel, no learning, can really satisfy. I am not now speaking of what would be ordinarily called unsuccessful marriages, or holidays, or learned careers. I am speaking of the best possible ones. There was something we grasped at, in that first moment of longing, which just fades away in the reality. I think everyone knows what I mean. The wife may be a good wife, and the hotels and scenery may have been excellent, and chemistry may be a very interesting job: but something has evaded us.”

So what do we do when our deepest longings remain unmet?

Lewis tells us that we have three responses to this longing for satisfaction from within:

1. The Fools Way

We blame something or someone else. “We reason that it’s not us that’s broken, but the objects of our desire that are faulty. Because whatever we are longing after is clearly not delivering, it shows us the problem is with the object of our affections.

So we ditch the girlfriend we currently have for another. We buy a better car. We take a bigger holiday. Upgrade to the stronger drugs.

People can live in this cycle of repeated disappointment for a long time, moving from one let down to the next, always believing that something will change and never stopping long enough to observe what is really happening.

2. The Way of the Disillusioned ‘Sensible Man’

We blame ourselves for not having our longings met. Clearly, I’m the problem: me and my desires. So, I’ll just grow up and get over myself. I’ll get over my silly desires.

This way of thinking actually spawned an entire worldview: Buddhism. The four noble truths of Buddhism tell us that life is suffering and suffering is caused by desire. To cease suffering, we must cease desiring.

It’s because we love that problems arise, so we tell ourselves to dial back those expectations and reign it all in.

3. The Christian Way

There is a third way. This option that doesn’t shift the blame or give up the game. The core of the Christian message is a message of love. That love is true, love is real, that love is to be given and to be received.

But in addition to that our desires to love and to be loved serve as a clue to a deeper love.

Lewis explains:

“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

Lewis suggests that instead of thinking our desires are wrong because they are unmet, they are not fulfilled because ultimately we’re looking in the wrong place.

We All Want To Be Loved

Just before Helen (now my wife) and I first started going out and I was thinking, “hold on a minute, there’s something more going on here”, I found my senses went up couple of levels.

Suddenly I was paying closer attention to what she was saying and how she was acting. I was looking for those little clues that maybe these growing feelings of mine were mutual. As my heart began to catch up to the reality of this beautiful, intelligent, funny, caring and increasingly friendly person I started to wonder if she felt the same.

Well, soon we found ourselves on our first date. A quiet, little drink and then an artsy-cum-reflective-cum-depressing Italian movie. Winner. As I saw her come through the door to meet me my senses went into overdrive. My heart level was raised. My skin was tingly. The setting for our date quickly faded away and I just saw … her.

And then she said it. “Hi friend.”

It was brutal. Our date hadn’t even started and here at the outset Helen was clarifying that I was firmly in the friend zone. The drinks hadn’t been ordered and the intimate walk to the cinema in the drizzle hadn’t happened. I was shot down before I even took off.

But then I manned up, drank my drink, and soldiered on. ‘Damned if that would stop me’, I reasoned to myself. ‘To heck with it. I like this one!’

The date went well – really well. She even said yes to another one.

Well, the next week as I was picking Helen up from her house her housemate came home. I was sitting in another room and through the door I overheard their conversation.

“Hi friend.”

My heart soared! This is a greeting. This is a strange-Helen’s-house-friendly greeting! That’s all. I’m not in the friend zone!

The game was most definitely on.

Loving the Unlovely

It is a wonderful feeling to know that we are loved, but it is also scary. Being vulnerable doesn’t come easy to many. We wonder, “What if they find out who I really am?” “What if they don’t like what they see?”

For many of us we’d rather not be known, that be known and be found out to not be good enough.

The Killers put it this way in Sam’s Town: “I’m sick of all my judges, so scared of what they’ll find.”

When C. S. Lewis talks of our desires pointing the way to another realm he is talking of us – you and I – being wrapped up in a greater purpose. He is suggesting that we were made to connect to a greater source.

Our blog articles have been giving reasons to suggest that there is a greater source – God – and that we know him through Jesus Christ.

You might say that it’s all very well connecting my desires here to something – to someone – beyond this world. But how do I know that I will be accepted? Have you seen me?

The Bible tells us that God created us in love, to show us his love, and that in our mess he still chooses to love us. He came to earth as Jesus in order that we might know that He loves us. He died on that cross to fix the problem that prevented us from being in a loving relationship with him: the greatest single loving act the world has even known or will ever know.

The French emperor, Napoleon, said this about Jesus:

“Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and myself have founded empires, but upon what do these creations of our genius depend? Upon force. Jesus alone founded His empire upon love: and to this very day millions would die for Him.”

All You Need is Love

The Beatles sang that ‘All you need is love’. They say this:

Nothing you can make that can’t be made
No one you can save that can’t be saved
Nothing you can do, but you can learn
How to be you in time
It’s easy.

All you need is love …

They’re right. But where does that kind of love come from? A love that saves? A love that allows you to be all that you can be?

Something phenomenal would have to change in us to give us the ability to love, truly love, without return, and without fatigue.

Something has happened: his name is Jesus Christ.

The Bible says:

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:9–10, NIV)

God says, there’s nothing you can do to make yourself good enough for me. So I will make the first move.

The Bible tells us that God first loved us. Exactly as we are.

but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8, ESV)

Religions and belief systems across the world tell us we must behave this way, do this act, think this thought, or think nothing at all!

Whatever it is it’s that the onus is on us. We act first. But Jesus says come to me because I have first loved you.

What is love? Love is a commitment to the highest good of another. It is a commitment expressed primarily to you by your Creator who thought you up and brought you into existence in order that you might know Him and His love for you.

This love, which the Bible describes as the love of a perfect father, was committed to you from the beginning of time and has remained committed to you throughout your entire life. It is a total, unrestrained, nothing-held-back, inextinguishable passion towards you and He wants you to know it.

This article is an edited transcript from a talk Jonathan has given at several universities across the UK and Europe.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...