Sunday, 12 August 2012

Things that encourage me about evangelism: History

Tomorrow morning I'll be heading off to the Newfrontiers youth camp 'Newday' with some young guys from Hope Church. There will be several thousand people meeting together to worship, receive and serve. Big conferences are always encouraging, sometimes just because they are so big. Worshipping God with a few thousand brothers and sisters is a wonderful feeling - and it reminds me that the Church is by no means a small group of people (even in the UK!)

Which brings me to my third encouraging point: history tells a story of consistent successful evangelism. It's fairly staggering to think how Christianity has grown from a tiny maligned so-called 'sect' into such a phenomenally large family. I might be saddened at the thought that less than 10% of my country are regular church-goers, but there once was a time where the figure was more like 0%.

Waves of revival have swept the UK in the past, why not today?
The church is spreading rapidly in China, why not here?

We have the same Spirit, and the same gospel. Anything could happen.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Things that encourage me about evangelism: Stories

Of all the things that get me motivated to talk about Jesus, one of the most effective is hearing other people's stories of what's happened when they have. If accounts from the book of Acts seem a little distant, hearing about what happened to Bob last week has a more immediate impact.

Real life, personal stories have a lot of power. I've started keeping a private journal of noteworthy happenings at s-yfc, which is a helpful focusing tool.

The conversations with Christians I enjoy most are the ones where we talk about what God has done, and is doing in our lives and the lives of those around us. We often ask our friends "what are you up to?" but isn't it more exciting to ask "what is God up to?" The answers can be really encouraging.

So if you've got stories of witnessing going well, please share them.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Things that encourage me about evangelism: Jesus said...

Without giving you an exact figure, I can tell you that the list of "things that encourage me about evangelism" turned out to be longer than I was expecting. The difficulty comes in deciding where to start. I think it's fairly reasonable to begin with some things that Jesus said. So here we go:

"Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven." (Luke 10:19-20)

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

“This, then, is how you should pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." (Matthew 6:9-10)

If we fall into the trap of seeing evangelism as something we have to do, something that is awkward, embarrassing and won't really work anyway, it's useful to get Jesus' perspective on the matter.

Firstly, Jesus doesn't use the word "evangelism", which might be significant. I mean, the word does have a potentially off-putting archaic religious feel to it. The very word is a little intimidating, so it might be reassuring to remember that Jesus didn't tell his followers to engage in a programme of evangelisation. Nor did he say, "harken unto me, as I now bestow upon ye THE GREAT COMMISSION". Jesus never sounds like he's trying to establish a religious tradition. He gets to the heart of the matter without the ecclesiastical bumf.

So, do we have to? Well, Jesus did say "therefore go", which sounds like a command to me. But he also makes it sound pretty exciting with the whole stomping on snakes and scorpions stuff. The way Jesus presents evangelism, it's more like something we get to do. A privilege. An opportunity. An adventure.

Jesus also talks about evangelism like it really works - as if we might actually succeed. In fact, it seems like we should expect significant spiritual events to take place as a result of our obedience to Jesus.

Jesus didn't suggest we pray for God's kingdom to come because God was struggling with the process and needed our help. Isn't it because God's kingdom is coming, and he wants us to get involved?

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Ambassadors for Christ

Today I was at a regional conference called "Ambassadors for Christ", the aim of which was to train and equip for evangelism.

It seemed that every session was preceded by the phrase "you've probably heard most of what I'm going to say before", which didn't do much for the atmosphere, but is probably a good thing. I mean, when it comes to things like the theology of evangelism, our motivation for doing so etc. it's good to see we haven't deviated much. However, the fact that we went to a conference to re-hear stuff we already knew about evangelism suggests one thing quite strongly; we aren't very good at it.

Paul says this to the Corinthians:
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."

If this is true, then why would living it out be such a struggle?

Would you go to watch this?

Well, I guess there are a lot of challenges. Getting the 'why?' of evangelism sorted is fairly straightforward, but when it comes to the 'how?' a lot of us get stuck. It doesn't help that there are numerous strategies advocated as being essential. It's no good just talking about Jesus, you have to also:
- Be culturally relevant
- Build a bridge of trust
- Be sensitive
- Pray a certain amount (not a specific amount, but at least a few hours more than you currently are)

Add in to the mix the minefield of political correctness, and top it off with the pressure of getting the message right first time or else it'll all go totally wrong and they will never come to faith ever ever ever aargh and you can see why some Christians baulk at the prospect of witnessing.   

So I've decided that the next few posts will share the heading "things that encourage me about evangelism". Hopefully you'll be encouraged too.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

IHOP's 24/7 Prayer room

I've been somewhat skeptical of some modern adaptations of the sacred - online church, drive-in church etc. So the idea of a 24/7 prayer room being streamed into your house via the internet didn't immediately strike me as a very blessed idea. However, as they often say in the more obscure sushi bars, "don't knock what you haven't tried".

Several months ago I made a brief investigation into the IHOP Prayer Room and now I think it's absolutely fantastic!

A little bit more information about it:
The Prayer Room is a centre for 24/7 prayer based in Kansas City (which, to my surprise, is not in Kansas). The focus of the Prayer Room, however, is worship. Worship bands are on a rota to play two-hour stints, so there is literally continuous worship happening day and night. There are also specific times of intercession. You can either watch a live video feed from the Prayer Room, or listen to the audio, as I am doing right now.

Don't actually click this - it won't do anything.

The first time I ever tuned in I was a bit underwhelmed by the amount of people that seemed to be in the room. I thought, "surely if IHOP are investing so much into this, there ought to be more people using all those chairs - I can only see about 40." And then I realised that due to the time difference between Kansas City and Shrewsbury, UK, I was watching worship taking place at about 5 am.

And this leads me on to the reasons why I think this is such a great thing:
- Any time of day or night, you can join in with other Christians worshipping Jesus. I know that it's not exactly "being a part of" the event to watch it on your PC screen, but there's something about knowing it's happening right now that engages me. It's better than just sticking a CD on.
- The Prayer Room is a good model of worship. Not that many churches can implement the same kind of 24/7 worship with bands of 14 musicians. But the whole ethos is, in my opinion, really admirable. It's easy to tell that their aim is absolutely not to get through a list of songs, but instead is all about encountering the presence of God. There is no pressure of "getting somewhere", but a real sense of waiting on God and enjoying Him in the moment. The Spirit looks to be in charge here. They use scripture, are spontaneous and creative.

Anyway, I hope you'll go and check it out now. 

Friday, 22 June 2012

Gram Seed in Shrewsbury

Last week I had the privilege of hearing Gram Seed speak to 800 young people in two secondary schools, as well as to a wider assortment of folk at two evening events. Gram tells an amazing story (I heard it eight times in total, and it didn't get tedious) of how he was transformed from a violent criminal into a compassionate follower of Jesus. (See a local minister's take on the first evening event).

I was thinking about the word "testimony" recently. It's a peculiar word, one that you either hear in court or in church. I was on the verge of consigning "testimony" to my Christian jargon bin, until someone pointed out that its more than a fancy word for "story". To testify means to bear witness about, to give evidence in order to establish a fact.

In other words, while my "story" is all about me, my "testimony" is not all about me - it is simply my account of the things I've seen. A Christian's testimony is evidence that points toward Jesus.

Hearing Gram's testimony, I wonder what those who doubt God's existence, love and saving power must think of it. In a similar vein to C.S. Lewis's 'Lunatic, liar or Lord' principle, they must think Gram is either deluded or deliberately lying to people. The only other option is that the story is true.

While we may not be able to satisfy the demands of some to see proof of God's existence, there is a lot of weight in a testimony.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Dave Walker is on fire (in a good way)

Some of his recent works have been fantastic. Check them out at

(Click to see a bigger version of this exemplary piece).

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Jesus, Christianity and Islam

Adrian Warnock has posted a couple of very useful and interesting lists:
11 Things Muslims agree with Christians about concerning Jesus (a prime number, wahey!)
Six Things Christians and Muslims disagree about over Jesus.

It seems we agree more than we disagree, but then the disputed points are by far the most significant. I mean, the belief that Jesus is the Son of God who died in our place and rose again, and is worthy to be worshipped, is the crux of the Christian faith.

Disappointingly, there doesn't appear to be any inter-faith controversy over beliefs about Jesus' facial hair.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Common worship leading mistakes

I was pleased to see that the folks at have published a list that contains a prime number of entries! It's satisfying when they don't just go for a "top ten". So here we have 17 common worship leading mistakes to avoid.

I think I've experienced (and been responsible for) most of them, although I'm not sure I've ever seen a "worship crash", which sounds like the title of a David Crowder album.

Setting songs in the right pitch is crucial. Most mainstream worship song writers seem to have supernaturally augmented vocal ranges. The article suggests that the average range of a woman is five semitones below that of a man (up an octave, of course). Can anyone confirm that? I previously thought it was about two semitones. Would be useful to know.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Reaching the Unreached 2012

Yesterday Lis and I travelled to our second conference in as many weekends. This time to Reaching the Unreached 2012; an intense day-and-a-bit of focused teaching around the theme of taking the gospel to council estates/housing schemes/urban priority areas/you get the idea.

The teaching content was really first-class. Our guest speakers took us through the book of Titus, and employed their finest exegesis, testimonies and food-related analogies to inspire and equip us in our gospel ministries. It was very refreshing for me to hear such fantastic preaching from guys with strong regional accents.

It was also really interesting to compare the two conferences:
- "Written by the Spirit": A creative writing conference with a heavy emphasis on the Spirit, led by folks from Bill Johnson's church, with much exuberance and a dash of wackiness. Followed by...
- "Reaching the Unreached": An evangelistic conference with a heavy emphasis on the Bible, led by conservative evangelicals.

In both cases I had many more positive things to say than negative.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Written by the Spirit

At the weekend I went to a creative writing conference organised by a local Anglican church in a perhaps surprising partnership with Bethel, Redding, California. The teaching content included story writing, word & image, song writing and testimony. There were some fairly exhilarating times of worship as well.

It was definitely an inspirational event. I went along hoping to get some song writing ideas, but got motivated in several other directions. Conferences often have that effect. So while I may have left with a bundle of new ideas, the main thing is that I pursue God - and find out where my creativity fits in with His kingdom.

Conference speaker Pam Spinosi and Rev. Richard Spencer talk about the conference in a BBC Radio Shropshire interview you can hear here.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Handling Pressure

Most of us encounter high-pressure situations regularly. How many jobs these days don't involve an element of pressure? Most advice seems to be about how to handle pressure, rather than avoid it. I'm all for limiting pressure (trying not to take on too much etc.) but no one can completely escape it's grip. So it is a good idea to learn how to cope with pressured situations.

I've just completed a BBC test - with Michael Johnson - that showed me the extent of my pressure-handling techniques, and suggested a few more. It was quite fun, so why not give it a go?

Anyway, the results were interesting:
Consistency - MEDIUM (I perform with a reasonable degree of consistency under pressure.)
Improvement - HIGH (I learn effectively from past experiences.)
Efficiency - HIGH (I know how to focus on my goals.)

My optimum mood is happiness - I perform better when I'm in a good mood, so think happy thoughts!
Anxiety might help as well though.

I am less likely to suppress negative emotions and more likely to reappraise them.

And now I've got Under Pressure by Queen in my head, which will be fine until it morphs into Ice Ice Baby.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Responding to minor ethical dilemmas

I'm sure you can think of a lot more dilemmas than the three I came up with: buses, refills and CDs. My intention here is to sum up some general principles that could apply to any ethical quandary, whether minor or not.

In very black and white terms, if something is wrong you shouldn't do it.

The great problem we have is in deciding whether something is wrong. As it clearly behooves us to find the answer to that question, it's no surprise that we've developed a smorgasbord (oh yeah, Sweden was fun by the way) of tools to help us make the right choice:
- Does the teaching of the Bible suggest this is wrong?
- Pray about it.
- (Loosely related) What would Jesus do?
- Is it illegal?
- What are the consequences (i.e. will anyone get hurt, or will the cons outweight the pros?)
- What would my mother say?
- What is my gut reaction/what does my conscience tell me?
- What does my favourite blogger/celebrity/leader think?

So we're all capable of making an informed decision, and yet we often find it difficult to make decisions in the case of ethical dilemmas. We feel in a pickle when we stand to gain by doing the thing we suspect might be morally wrong. The thing that clouds our decisions more than anything else is selfishness. Suppose I find a wallet with £40 on the street - to hand it in to the police is a no-brainer... unless of course I want that money for myself.

In other words, if you're not sure what the right thing to do is, try not to think about how much you stand to gain. A better way of approaching it is to ask, "what would be most honouring to Christ?" 

If you've already acknowledged that there is a dilemma though, then you're halfway to making the right decision. A lot of people make the wrong choice without even thinking about it, so if you find yourself in an ethipickle, it's a good sign that at least you are keen to do the right thing.

Come on, let's get 'ethipickle' into the dictionary.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

We're going to Sweden

On holiday that is, nothing permanent. It's far too cold to stay. Anyway, we're looking forward to staying with Phil and family for a few days near Kalmar. I'll do that post about minor ethical dilemmas as soon as my fingers have thawed on returning.

Saturday, 31 March 2012

A minor ethical dilemma: Copying music

Out of the three quandaries I'll have blogged about, this is probably the most widespread. I'm not talking about photocopying the score of Fly Me to the Moon, but rather copying digital music files - ripping tracks off a friend's CD, emailing favourite tunes around, or bluetoothing them perhaps? Although CD drives, email and Bluetooth are relatively new ideas, taking a copy of music you haven't paid for is not. I don't know how popular bootleg cassettes were decades ago, but these days copying music is, to a large extent, a socially acceptable practice.

Here's a list of activities that record companies despise:
1) Loaning a CD to a friend (most DVDs show a warning that states unauthorised loaning is prohibited, I'm guessing it's the same with CDs).
3) Making a mix tape/compilation and giving it to a friend.
2) Borrowing a CD and ripping a few favourite tracks.
3) Borrowing a CD and ripping it in its entirety.
4) Regularly downloading music illegally.
5) Downloading or copying music illegally, making more copies and distributing them.

So where are you on this list?

Wherever you are, there will probably be a justification for it. There are a lot of arguments going around these days as to why the above activities are actually good to do, such as...
- Record companies are evil and need to be taught a lesson.
- Music should be like, totally free, man.
- If I have bought a CD I can do what I jolly well like with it.
- Lending CDs, making mix tapes etc. actually promotes the music and helps the label.
- Everyone does it.

On this issue, unlike the previous posts, I can't really claim to be the epitome of integrity. However, my opinions have changed over the last few years, and I have two general principles that I think are good to apply.

Firstly, I think that people who work to produce music have a right to be paid for what they have produced.

Secondly, if I enjoy an album enough to want to own it, I should be expected to pay for it.

I'm thinking about even generaller general principles that could cover all of these minor ethical dilemmas, and they will emerge in my next post.

Friday, 23 March 2012

A minor ethical dilemma: Free refills

A number of restaurant chains charge patrons an unreasonably high price for drinks, on the basis that they can drink as much as they want. Of course, very few people will actually have more than one refill, and no one will ever drink enough to claim it was "good value for money" (if you're really thirsty you might just be able to manage 15 glasses of Pepsi).

The obvious solution for the shrewd customer is to pay for one drink which everyone on the table shares. Everyone drinks as much as they want, and you only pay for one glass of 7-Up!

But, as you might have guessed from the post title, there is a wee dilemma here. Is it really a noble thing to play Robin Hood - pinching what you can from Nando's coffers in order to feed your impoverished friends? But then, when the restaurant's prices amount to daylight robbery, what's wrong with exploiting a little loophole?

What would you do?

I get very uncomfortable in situations where I feel I'm breaking some kind of law, whether written or implied. It's almost like being at school - I'd be thinking "what if the manager comes out and tells me off?" That and the inconvenience of sharing one drink between a group would definitely put me off the idea.

Beyond feeling uncomfortable and inconvenienced though, I wonder whether the principles of honesty and integrity totally preclude any behaviour of this kind. I've got one more case study up my sleeve and then I'll discuss the issues a bit further.

Monday, 19 March 2012

A minor ethical dilemma: Bus tickets

Last Friday I was standing at the bus stop waiting for the number 25 to take me into town. As I was standing there a man called to me across the street, "do you want a day saver mate?" The man was kindly offering me his used ticket, which (being still valid for the rest of the day) would give me free journeys into town and back. I took the ticket, thanked the man, and started thinking about how good it was that you can still count on the kindness of strangers.

My thoughts soon moved on, however, to the ticket that was now sitting in my back pocket. Would it be dishonest of me to use it? Would it be unfair? Would it constitute theft?

What would you do?

Well, here's what happened. To the left is a picture of the actual ticket I was given. You might be able to see that it says "jrny: 20" somewhere near the top. That means that the guy originally bought the ticket on a number 20 bus. I started thinking about the remote possibility of getting caught out: what if the bus driver asked me where I had bought this ticket - could I remember which route the number 20 bus took? Was it Radbrook?

Then I realised I was trying to work out the most effective lies that could get me out of that unlikely, but sticky, situation.

A lot of people work like this: get what you can for as little as possible, and if that puts you in a spot, lie your way out of it.

I figured that is more of a worldly mindset than a godly one. So I paid for my tickets.

Monday, 12 March 2012

A response to euthanansia stories

One of the most-read posts on my blog is "7 reasons why I'm against euthanasia". This makes me slightly nervous, as I wonder whether any of the things I wrote will be seen as insensitive and ignorant, and indeed whether I myself will come to disagree with any points made previously.

What also worries me is that there is a propensity among religious people (including myself sadly) to jump headlong into any debate with their opinion of what's right and wrong. When it comes to euthanasia, abortion, gay marriage or whatever the first question we want to ask is "are you for or against?", which can be summarised in various ways: "are you right or wrong?" and "are you on my side or on their side?" being two prime examples.

As Adlai Stevenson shrewdly observed, some people approach every problem with an open mouth.

The tragedy then, is that when we hear another news story about someone with a debilitating illness asking for the right to have their life ended we call it a story about euthanasia, and we pronounce our judgement. To some people, though, this is not a story about euthanasia, it's a story about Tony Nicklinson. He is a real person (not a 'case') who is suffering, and who needs compassion more than he needs to hear seven reasons why I disagree with euthanasia.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Christianity's influence on a nation's morality

A while back I started reading Dawkins' The God Delusion but I have to admit that I gave up on it before I got to the section on morality. Nevertheless, I understand that when Christians and atheists talk about morals they are pretty much talking about two different things.

The Christian says, "Morality is the definition of what human behaviour is 'right' and 'wrong', as defined by God Himself. God sets the standard of moral perfection, and is the judge of good and evil."

The atheist says, "Morality is a system that humans have evolved in order to help societies function smoothly. There is no absolute good and evil, only relative concepts of right and wrong that constantly shift as a culture develops."

this fantastic screen shot is from
I have previously blogged about the implications of those definitions.

The issue seems very prevalent at the moment, what with the row over gay marriage, the proposal of "after-birth abortion" and the ongoing outcry over the greed epidemic amongst MPs, bankers and the like.

Do you think moral standards in your country are in decline?

(Incidentally, if you think morals can be said to 'decline' at all then you're a moral absolutist, right? Which means you probably believe in God, yeah?)

So what is it that causes shifts in the moral fabric of a culture?
And how can a moral decline be reversed?

I don't claim to have all the answers, but, well, I've got a few largish ones. Namely, that an increase in Christianity is always good for overall morality, and actually the only way of restoring broken morals is an increase in Christianity. Conversely, a decrease in Christianity is always bad for overall morality. This is not because religious people are better people, it's because Jesus is the light of the world.

So we can petition and campaign like William Wilberforce. We can lobby and protest. We can speak up on behalf of the church, and pray for her voice to be heard. We can plead with the government to listen to bishops, arch-bishops and cardinals. But we'll only pull out of a moral decline when people start repenting and believing the gospel.

I'mma finish with a quote from everyone's favourite pastor.

“See, after church tonight you will go home and you will eat chicken, not human, because of the spread of Christianity. You think I’m kidding, go to a country that hasn’t had the spread of Christianity. They’re having human for dinner.” 

Friday, 2 March 2012

After-birth abortion

Last week I read this article about two Catholic midwives who lost their case to not be involved in abortion procedures. Apparently being a conscientious objector will get you off the front line, but you might still have to make bombs.

But a much bigger volcano just erupted, namely the propsal of medical ethicists Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva that parents should be given the option to have their newborn babies killed under certain circumstances (the same circumstances that apply to abortions).

Naturally, this has stirred up some intense reactions. Adrian Warnock suggests (or rather, agrees with the Daily Mail) that their argument actually undermines the case for abortion. I disagree, and here's why...

The proposal put forward by Giubilini and Minerva is, in fact, the absolutely logical next step from abortion. I firmly believe that anyone who holds that abortion is morally acceptable must either agree with them, or be guilty of double-standards.

What is the difference between an unborn baby and a newborn baby? It might immediately seem like a vast difference, but as these academics point out, neither have a sense of their own existence. So why would a person who is pro-abortion be opposed to "after-birth abortion"? Whatever their objections are, they are not logical because when you believe it is acceptable to kill an unborn baby because it is not really a person then you must also agree that it is acceptable to kill a newborn baby.

It's utterly appalling, and we need to be prepared for the following shift. One of two things will happen:
1) People will see the logical connection between abortion and "after-birth abortion" and agree to accept both.
2) People will se the logical connection between abortion and "after-birth abortion" and decide to reject both.

Lets pray that its the latter.

And also please read this.

Friday, 24 February 2012

A few photos

Last week I took Lis away to a secret holiday destination - the Forest of Dean. While I pause to think of some real blogging ideas, here are some interesting pictures to have a look at.

(From top: an interesting sculpture, Tintern Abbey, a rabbit, Puzzlewood.)

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Talking about Jesus with the Smiths

I've just finished reading Delirious: My journey with the band, a growing family, and an army of historymakers by Martin Smith. It was an interesting read, particularly for a Delirious? fan. This isn't just a biography of the band though, in fact it's not very detailed on that front. Instead (as the subtitle suggests), it is a very personal reflection on Smith's own journey, and the issues that took over his heart and mind as the band sought God's direction for their lives. So there are insights into songwriting, the music business, family life, travelling, discipleship, the Church, worship and poverty among other things.

However, one of the sentences that struck me most was actually in the foreword (which goes to show it's always worth reading the foreword, the preface, the introduction and the acknowledgements - don't say you've read a book unless you've read it all!)

Matt Redman writes, "Beth and I have spent many precious moments in the company of Martin and Anna, and it's always more of the same - Jesus is consistently the main topic of conversation".

Note that the main topic of conversation was not church services, worship music, Christianity or theology. It was Jesus.

While it can be tempting to see the Smiths and the Redmans as super-holy-Christian-heroes in a special world of their own it's clear that isn't the case. These are people who, like everyone else, have a shared passion that they enjoy talking about.

So I have to ask myself the question, when I meet up with my Christian brothers and sisters, what do I talk about most of all, and why?

Monday, 6 February 2012

Your cross

And he [Jesus] said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23 ESV, emphasis mine)

When you got up this morning, did you remember to pick your cross up?

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

A world without God?

I was a visiting speaker at the Shrewsbury Sixth Form College Christian Union today, and spoke on the topic "a world without God?" When I was given that title I struggled to think how I could approach it. I mean, without God, there wouldn't even be a world. Trying to describe the difference between a world with and without God is a bit like describing the difference between a tennis ball and a game of tennis. So this is basically how I approached it...

We started by looking at some things in the world have value, like pizza, a duck, the Bible, an iPhone, the Archbishop of Canterbury and other stuff like that. I asked the group to trade so that they would end up with a set of items that would be worth the most in a world where God didn't exist. They ended up with a collection of useful stuff (like food and technology) and a pile of unwanted artifacts (church, a WWJD wristband etc). 

My point was that this is how a lot of people (Christian and not Christian) see the influence of God on people's lives, i.e: 

A Christian's Life = A Life Just Like Anyone Else's + Some Extra 'God Stuff'

Christians might try to persuade their friends that the 'God stuff' is really life-enhancing. They might quote John 10:10 - "I [Jesus] have come that they may have life, and have it to the full" and claim that the '+ God' equation results in a more fulfilled life. 

We read Colossians 5:15-18:
"The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy."

and then John 3:16-18:
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 

My conclusion from these two passages was that God is not a premium package life-enhancing supplement that we bolt on to our ordinary lives. He is a life-giver, who holds the universe together and saves those who would otherwise perish. 

Then I posed the question: "What are you most looking forward to about the new heaven and earth?"

We talked about it and then read Revelation 21:3-4:
"And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”"

And John 17:1-3:
"After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.  

The best thing about the new heaven and earth is that God is there. What is eternal life? It's knowing God, and His son Jesus Christ. 

A world with God is a world of hope, freedom, joy, healing, peace, love and grace, but the best thing is God Himself. It's the kingdom of heaven.

A world without God is a world of conterfeits - vain hope, 'freedom' that actually ties you up in sin, happiness that doesn't last and a constant striving for love and acceptance, but the worst thing is that God isn't there. It's hell. And people will end up in a world without God because it's what they chose. 

People who are lost don't need to hear about a god who enhances their life - they get enough of that from L'Oreal, Bang & Olufsen and a kerspillion others. They need to hear about the God who is like Jesus; who loves, saves, heals, forgives, accepts and raises the dead.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

A blog post about Jesus

This was going to be a blog post about Mark Driscoll, but I was going to link to a post on his blog that concludes,
"The best thing is to not waste time blogging, twittering, and talking about me. I was not born of a virgin, have not lived without sin, and am not going to judge the living and the dead. Jesus is all that matters."

How can anyone link to that in a post and not collapse under the weight of irony? So I decided to blog about Jesus instead. But then I found it hard to think exactly what to say about Jesus - there are so many things I could say! So let me say something that, if you read this blog, you have probably assumed, despite the fact that I have never expressed it.

I love Jesus.

I think Jesus is the best thing in the universe. I believe that if someone could live a hundred lifetimes and experience everything the world has to offer that they would not find anything that comes close to Jesus. If everything in my life were to be taken away, destroyed or lost I would still be utterly fulfilled as long as I still had Jesus.

Without Jesus I would be a mess. Without Him I would be a totally selfish person. I would live to please myself, all my efforts would culminate in a great big worthless hideous tribute to the person of Andy Lowe, which God would despise and then rightly destroy. I would have no hope.

Jesus has lifted me out of the wretched dark stink of slavery and loneliness and reversed the whole situation. Because of Jesus life is not a misery nor a pantomime but a real opportunity to run into the arms of my loving father God and be embraced as His son. Every day. Every day.

Love and forgiveness that never ends. My slate wiped clean, and my heart healed.

Jesus did not demand that I become a religious person and tie me up in a world of pews, stiff shirts and dull dirges. He set me free. And I love Him when I'm cleaning my teeth, when I'm driving to work, when I eat a sandwich or hug my wife I love Jesus and nothing will stop me from loving Him because He loves me.

However many long words and clever things get said about Jesus, the thing I constantly struggle to get to grips with, the thing I will always come back to is that He cares about me. And I will have all eternity to ponder that, and get to know Him better.


Friday, 20 January 2012

Praying or rubbing a lamp?

At some point everyone must have thought about the genie-in-the-lamp scenario, and decided what, given three wishes (and having restrictions on wishing for more wishes, bringing people back from the dead and making people fall in love) they would wish for. 

Would it be a new car/house/tropical island?
an eternal supply of chocolate?
or just oceans of money?
Given the chance to ask for anything, what would you go for? 
Well, Jesus said "Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me for anything in my name, I will do it."
What are we to do with this? Can it really be true? What about the time I asked God to give me the spiritual gift of being able to fly (true story) and it never happened? 
Of course we need to look at this verse in context. The slight problem is that "looking at this verse in context" often becomes a euphemism for "find some evidence to suggest that this particular part of the Bible isn't really true, or at least, it doesn't mean anything like what it seems to." 
It can be too easy to strip this promise of all its faith-increasing power by mitigating it with conditions like "as long as you ask for something which is within God's will, with the right motivation, with enough faith and you persevere for at least a week." You don't find that in the verse, but neither is Jesus suggesting that He is a magical genie waiting to fulfil our every desire.  
This passage will probably always confound those people whose top three wishes are for combinations of money, success, pleasure, prestige or power. It won't make sense because it seems like an amazing offer that Jesus consistently fails to come through on. 
For those people, however, whose greatest desire is for the kingdom of heaven to come on earth, to see people saved, healed and set free, this promise is one of the most encouraging in the whole Bible, and should be one of the biggest motivators to prayer. Because it's true.  

Friday, 13 January 2012

How to not get your iPad stolen

Thanks to outstanding technological innovation our lives become so much easier.

Like Tom, the IT consultant from Hove, you could take your iPad to Tesco and use it to remind you what you need to buy.

Then, when the iPad is stolen from your trolley, you can use iCloud's automatic mobile photo-streaming (which you will have set up previously) to see pictures that the thief has taken of his woolly-hatted friend and forward those images to the police.

Yet, with access to technology like this, many people can still be seen walking around the supermarket with shopping lists written, by hand, on paper.

What hope is there for society?

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Getting going

It's nice to have a break.

While I haven't been blogging this last month, I have been...

- Feasting on delicious festive food served up at the in-laws. 

- Enjoying some well-chosen Christmas presents, like the Yes Minister Miscellany, Muppets Socks, A Stephane Grappelli vinyl record, cheese and Bohnanza.

- Dressing up in 1920's garb.

- Reading Leviticus.

- Attending the annual Youth for Christ Conference (which I normally devote a whole post to, maybe I'll do that at some point).

- Playing the translucent blue recorder the Open University sent.

- Not making new year's resolutions.

- Thinking.

One thing I've been thinking about is this:
As we move forward, if we want God to use us more and see more changes in our lives or in the world around us, then we'll have to let ourselves become more dissatisfied, more grieved and hurt, more burdened and troubled by those things that need to be changed.

We like to quote James 4:8a, "Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you" without necessarily following onto "Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you."

I hope that this year will bring lots of blessing, but I mainly hope to get closer to God's heart, and that might mean that this year brings more mourning and weeping.