Google+ Badge

Friday, 25 August 2017

10 Deadly Views that are Prevalent in Society

Since settling back in England, I’ve been engaging people in conversations about faith in a number of different environments. Rather than fill pages with lists of my contacts that will most likely be meaningless to anyone that wasn’t present for the conversation, I thought it might be helpful to mention some of the common responses and viewpoints that are emerging in faith discussions. I hope my experiences will help you, should you be faced with these questions, issues or stumbling blocks. (You can click on some of the headings for related past posts that deal with the subject, or an aspect of it, in greater detail)

A number of the statements on my list deal with the issue of whether truth is absolute or relative. In layman’s terms, whether truth can be different for different people. We know rationally that if something is true then it is true for everyone but unfortunately the lines have been blurred by those who try to suggest that people can “make their own truth.” I hope by the end of this post that you will see that truth is absolute and knowable.

1. I hope I’ve been good enough to get to heaven.” This is an extremely common sentiment, sadly even amongst professing Christians. The view that God will judge us based on our good vs bad deeds or that there will be some kind of divine scale. The fear in people’s eyes as they express the hope that they have done enough is sobering as the statement alone demonstrates that they have completely missed the point.

No one is good enough to get to heaven because God’s standard is perfection. The Bible reminds us that “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3 vs 23.) This is the very heart of the Christian message, that Jesus had to die to pay the price for our sin. The most famous verse in the Bible reminds us that “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3 vs 16,) and perhaps a lesser known verse but one of my favourites, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10 vs 9.) It is through faith in Jesus alone that we gain our place in heaven and this has absolutely nothing to do with good vs bad deeds.

2. All religions/faiths lead to God. Again, a commonly expressed view, but one which I find more difficult to understand. There is an ignorance about this statement that couples with the idea of Multi-Faith facilities which are supposedly open to everyone regardless of their particular faith. Every religion/faith group is worshipping a different god or deity or in some cases several gods. They all claim exclusivity and all believe that their religious practice is the right and only way to their god or higher power. They all believe that their god is the one, true god. Most people practising a particular religion wouldn’t be willing to accept that another faith group can access their god via a different religious system or creed, nor would they accept that another faith group might be right and they might be wrong about their belief system. How, then, are we in a position where people believe that all religions lead to the one, true God and how can people of different faiths worship together when, according to their own belief systems, one of them must be worshipping an idol or a false god!?

The issue here is that the absence of a belief in absolute truth has led people to make nonsensical statements. It can be very difficult to get people to acknowledge that if there is a God, there can only be one true God due to all the religions believing things which are fundamentally opposed to each other. I have to conclude that a person following a false god is no better off than someone who fails to acknowledge that God exists. Therefore, all religions and faiths don’t lead to God. There can only be one true faith and one true God and each of us must seek the truth with all of our hearts. God promises that we will find Him if we do this (Jeremiah 29 vs 13.)

3. “There is no God.” Atheism is steadily on the rise in Western countries and yet I have been surprised by how many people prefer to be identified as agnostic (they don’t know,) rather than atheist. This seems to be a more honest position. Even the atheist London buses campaign had to stop short of declaring categorically that God doesn’t exist by inserting the word “probably” into the statement. It doesn’t have quite the same effect if, when telling people to “stop worrying and enjoy life,” you also remind them that God cannot be disproved. The Bible reminds us that God has placed the knowledge that He exists within us and, if that isn’t enough, we can see it in the things He has created. This is why we are without excuse if we suppress that knowledge and reject Him. (Romans 1.)

4. “Where is Jesus then? He would’ve come back already if He was going to.” Not such a common complaint, but one I have heard several times in recent weeks. We are not told when Jesus will return, only that He will do so and that we should be ready when that happens. Ironically, perhaps, these people are actually fulfilling a prophecy written in the Bible centuries ago just by expressing their view. "They will say, "Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation." (2 Peter 3 vs 4.)

5. It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are sincere.” In some ways this is similar to points 1 and 2. People that say this usually think they are being kind. They want to encourage people and believe that God will judge them purely on their levels of devotion or sincerity of belief. However, this is an extremely dangerous thing to say to someone. Would you tell someone who believed that drinking poison would make them well that it didn't matter as long as they were sincere?! 

God says that it absolutely does matter what you believe and that people can be sincerely wrong. Is it more loving to affirm someone in their erroneous view when potentially they will end up in Hell forever, or to tell them the truth before it is too late? Someone famous, I can’t remember who, once said that he wondered how many Christians would be confronted with the question, “Why didn’t you tell me?” by desperate friends and neighbours on Judgement Day. The likely answer in many cases would have to be, “It wasn’t culturally appropriate.” What a tragedy!

6. God can’t judge me because I don’t believe in Him” and “I won’t go to Hell because I don’t believe in it.” These statements and ones like them are again rooted in the view that truth is relative or that we can make our own truth. However, just because we don’t believe in something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. At the simplest level, a person can say that they don’t believe in Canada because they have never been there or seen it, but it still exists. A person who buries their head in the sand believing that they can somehow annihilate God/Hell by their unbelief has probably not seriously thought about faith rationally. They prefer to live in denial rather than honestly looking into the matter and sadly protestations of ignorance will not help them when the times comes.

7. “A loving God wouldn’t send people to Hell.”  A very common view and a stumbling block for many Christians. I was asked by a sincere Muslim girl at Speaker’s Corner recently what my biggest struggle with the Christian faith is. I immediately said “eternal punishment in Hell.” Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely believe Hell exists and that it is eternal, it is just the hardest thing for me as a Christian to accept and understand. The thought of anyone being tormented forever is something that most normal people cannot bear to think about for more than a few seconds at a time, if at all.

The best way to look at this subject is by remembering several things about God; He is perfect (He cannot lie) and He will always do what is right. “His ways are not our ways nor His thoughts our thoughts.” (Isaiah 55 vs 8.) He is not just a bigger version of ourselves, our finite and comparatively small minds cannot comprehend Him. Remembering these attributes of God helps us to trust that He is doing right even when allowing a person to go to Hell.

We need also to remember that the way of salvation through Jesus is open to anyone who turns to Him in repentance and faith. Also, that God “doesn’t desire for anyone to perish” (2 Peter 3 vs 9.) In rejecting God and the method He has chosen for salvation, people are making their own way to Hell…..

8. “The Bible isn’t relevant or has been corrupted, changed or falsified.” A favourite argument of those who most of the time haven’t read it. The best response to this is to ask for specifics; what has been changed? who changed it and why? how do you know? etc….There is actually plenty of historical evidence supporting the authenticity of the Bible including early manuscripts. The fact that nothing in it has ever been disproved is astonishing in itself due to the specific nature of so much of the material. As time passes, more and more evidence appears that corroborates the Bible, not surprising for those of us who believe it is God’s Word, but surely a puzzle for the rest.

As for its relevance, the fact that millions of people are still reading it today and find it to be a reliable guide for life, faith and everything else suggests that it is highly relevant and will continue to be so.

9. “I believe in science. Evolution is scientific fact.” Apart from contradicting the statement that evolution is factual, rather than an impossible to prove theory, I don’t usually get into the specifics when people take this line. Science and Christianity don’t need to be incompatible, but I’m not a scientist and websites like Answers in Genesis have a lot more to offer those with real questions in this area. However, it does seem to me that people are placing an incredible amount of faith in scientists who at the end of the day are fallible. Consider that if God did create the world, then he also created the scientists that are carrying out the research and the minds that belong to them. Should we really risk our eternal security by trusting the findings of finite, fallible people or should we instead turn to the God who created them?

10. “If there was a God He would stop all the suffering.” Another difficult but common stumbling block and perhaps the only one on my list with merit. It is really hard to explain to someone dealing with terminal illness or the loss of a loved one, especially a child, that God loves them and has a plan and purpose. As with all of the other issues though, there is an explanation which on a basic level falls into two sections.

The cause of a lot of the suffering in the world is human greed and selfishness or more specifically sin. There is enough food to feed everyone but for our greed. Likewise, there would be enough shelter and clothing. I’m sure you can think of other suffering that is caused by people; crime, war, stress, broken relationships etc. If God stepped in and prevented people from sinning against each other, then we would be akin to robots rather than having the power to choose how we behave and how we treat each other. This is one reason why is is necessary for there to be a Judgement Day, so everything can be dealt with and justice will be done.

So, what about natural disasters, babies born with cancer and things that cannot possibly be attributed to human choices that are being made now. This is again due to sin but dates back to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. When they took the fruit and ate it, disobeying God, sin entered the world. Sin leads to death and ultimately to Hell. God cursed the earth at this point as punishment for their disobedience. The earth is slowly dying and, like us, will eventually come to a physical end when Jesus returns. Until that day we can expect to see disaster, sickness and death as a consequence of the original fall.

As Christians, we can have hope that one day all of the suffering and pain will come to an end and we will live forever in heaven with God who created and rescued us by sending Jesus to die for our sin. That's the Good News that we need to urgently communicate to people as we also confront the deadly views that society affirms and encourages.

Monday, 24 July 2017

From Chester to Llandudno

The only positive aspect of having to be at home between 0800-1300 whilst awaiting a Sky engineer (or more likely a BT engineer on behalf of Sky,) is that I finally have some time to write something. It’s been a busy few weeks as I took part in a week long mission to Chester, moved house immediately on my return and then headed off again for another mission in Llandudno, North Wales. Both open-air missions were with United Beach Missions (UBM) under the sub-category Christian Answers.

Having been involved in a mission to London with the Open Air Mission recently, I thought I knew what to expect. However, I’m quickly learning that these teams are far from predictable due to the range of characters that turn up and form them.

In Chester we had a children’s entertainer who managed to keep us amused during our down-time and a potter who used his skill to share his testimony whilst making pots on the wheel. The Christian town crier was a definite bonus although it is sad that people are more interested in history and culture than in God. Also in our team was a young female convert from Islam which proved especially useful when a man attempted to dismiss Christianity on the basis that we had all been brainwashed by the religion we had been brought up to believe.

It did seem that God was leading the right members of our team to the specific people they could relate to. One man’s comment that he believed in science rather than religion was swiftly rebutted by our cook for the week. It turned out that her day-job was in the exact same, extremely narrow, scientific field as our friend with the strong opinions.

My most profitable conversation appeared to be with a girl in her twenties who had stopped to listen to one of the messages for a few seconds. She became quite emotional when I approached her and then confided that she had just bought a Bible having been wandering from God for a number of years. She had arrived in Chester pretty randomly having never been to the city before and was only alone because a friend had decided not to accompany her. Recognising that God was at work we spent several hours chatting over coffee discovering that our life stories were very similar. Later, having made a decision to recommit her life to God, she was put in touch with Christians in her area.

The men’s Gospel presentations were pretty varied ranging from the simple Bible verse, to philosophical arguments, to interactive discussions about where famous people should be placed on a “Goodness Scale.” My favourite for the week was entitled “What’s your end of life strategy?” The preacher highlights the fact that people buy car or house insurance without even knowing that they will crash or that their house will be burgled. Yet many make little or no preparation for death despite knowing with 100% certainty that they will die.

In Chester, we faced the usual range of reactions; people too busy shopping or heading to the races to pay much attention, people annoyed by our presence and people wanting to argue or debate. There were also some odd cults around, some had a leaflet with a list of items that they think should be included in “Satan’s Tool Box.” After reading the list which included Disney films, Christmas and the NIV Bible, I could totally understand why people think that anyone standing in the streets in the name of religion must be at least slightly mad.

Moving on to Llandudno, the team was smaller and the environment different due to it technically being the start of the beach missions for the summer, although the children had yet to break up from school. We started each day with a Bible study in James which had been faithfully prepared, and was well delivered, by our team leader who doubles as a Pastor.

Then, we were instructed to head down to the promenade in twos and engage people in Gospel conversations without props. This aspect of evangelism, that most people find extremely awkward, became even more difficult when local rules meant that we could no longer use leaflets as a conversation opener. We had to hook the fish without the bait.

Imagine the scene: an elderly couple on holiday, sitting on a bench, admiring the sea-view, are suddenly aware that they are sitting in the shadow of two comparatively young people. These people are introducing themselves, something about a mission of some sort, then asking them what they think about God! Not really something to be discussed with random strangers whilst relaxing on holiday…..especially not young ones with no life experience.

Thankfully, not all our conversations headed in this direction and we did have some profitable ones. I think we were all grateful, though, to see the presentation board up so that the focal point could be moved away from us in our clumsiness and inadequacy. I had to keep reminding myself that God uses us in our weakness so that He can get the glory.

The evenings were devoted to community hymn singing interspersed with preaching and testimonies. I was amazed by the number of non-believers willing to sing about what Jesus has done without acknowledging that He has done it for them. We met a fair number of church-goers who on closer acquaintance, sadly, were not yet saved. Most of these were willing to take leaflets and one lady said that she had a lot of thinking to do as a result of our discussion.

Only God ultimately knows the hearts that will be moved, but we had a long chat with an elderly couple one evening. The youngest member of our team, at sixteen, and I, had initially met them during our “cold calling” session earlier in the day. We were thrilled when they turned up for the singing that evening. The husband had devoted his whole life to religious activity and the wife was suffering as a result of his absence. Yet, the dear man admitted that he wasn’t fully able to trust the promises of Jesus for himself although he desperately wanted to. He pointed to a line in the famous hymn “To God be the Glory,” recognising that he was a vile sinner in God’s eyes but being unable to get beyond that. We spent a lot of time with this couple and I pray that their eyes may have been fully opened and their hearts awakened to God’s mercy and forgiveness.

I also spoke to a number of Roman Catholics including a couple from Malta. Then, I was forced to exercise my rusty Tagalog in a lengthy chat with a lonely Filipino lady having been summonsed by a fellow team member. I don’t know how much she actually understood as Filipinos tend to be extremely polite to foreigners!

Being involved in open-air work, apathy and indifference are definitely my biggest frustration. People seem to be gambling on the assumption that if they don’t think about something it won’t happen to them. Many have not even considered where they will go when they die, and others refuse to believe in an afterlife when God has made it plain to them both in their hearts and through creation that He exists.

Others are relying on safety in numbers. This means that a cultural trend away from God sweeps people along the broad path to Hell with little or no thought that the people surrounding them might also be in peril. The sheep following each other off a cliff analogy is relevant here or even the old computer game of Lemmings. I don’t intend to make light of this, it is tragic.

You might be wondering why we even bother with open-air evangelism in these days of such apathy and indifference. Isn’t forcing our beliefs on other people arrogant and intolerant? There is a simple reason, God gives us a clear command to tell people the truth before it is too late. Even if there had been no clear direction, could any of us that really believe the Bible’s teachings on the afterlife stand idly by and watch others heading to a place of eternal torment and unimaginable suffering?

Besides, for every ten or so people that reject the message, ignore us or get angry, there is one that shows a flicker of interest or accepts a Gospel leaflet. Then, there is the one in fifty or a hundred who is willing to stop and have a conversation, however brief it might be.

Some of the conversations lasted hours as people wrestled with God having been confronted with some uncomfortable truths. The results of these weeks may not be known until eternity, but we were encouraged when we heard that at least one person had returned a Chester leaflet having ticked all of the boxes on the back,( I have become a Christian, please send me more information etc….)

I enjoyed both missions and am looking forward to further opportunities in London with UBM in August, then Oxford, Manchester and Lincoln later in the year with OAM. Please remember to pray for the work or consider joining a team! If you are a Christian and are interested in getting involved for a week here and there or even just a few days then I’m happy to give you further details or you can visit the website for United Beach Missions.

 “The Gospel is only good news if it gets there in time”   Carl Henry

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Do You Love People Enough to Tell Them the Truth?

"I've always said that I don't respect people who don't proselytize. I don't respect that at all. If you believe that there's a heaven and a hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life, and you think that it's not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward—and atheists who think people shouldn't proselytize and who say just leave me alone and keep your religion to yourself—how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? I mean, if I believed, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that a truck was coming at you, and you didn't believe that truck was bearing down on you, there is a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that.” Penn Jillette (atheist) 

It's funny, or maybe a sad indictment, that a challenge like this should come from the mouth of a prominent atheist rather than a Christian. Ten years ago, I was “convicted into mission” by a similar quote from an anonymous atheist. We may not like reading the words of those who don’t share our beliefs—the authors may even be working against our fundamental convictions about life, faith and everything else, but the real question is: do they have a point?

I have just returned from my first week-long mission with the Open-Air Mission—we were based in London, arriving on the morning of the most recent terrorist atrocity. I thought it might be useful to give you a flavour of my experiences during the week and a reminder of the viewpoints that are prevalent in society today. 

Our team started each day with a short Bible study and prayer for the contacts from the previous day. We then hit popular tourist spots including Speaker’s Corner, Leicester Square, the National Gallery and Covent Garden. The men diligently carried the bulky display board and poles everywhere we went. Establishing ourselves in each location for several hours, the preachers took turns sharing the Gospel. 

The presentations were varied: the most memorable, from my perspective, was a simple statement posted in large letters: “Your sin will find you out!” The preacher then passionately exhorted people to ensure they were ready to stand before God when the time came. Others displays were more detailed and attempted to draw people in with cultural relevancy: posting pictures of famous people and asking the audience if they are good or bad people then explaining why none of us are good in the sight of God.

Regardless the style or words used, all the messages were Gospel centred and sought to make people think about eternal matters. Indeed, if people only paid attention to the first part of one message: STOP AND THINK, then that would be real progress in a world of never-ending distractions. 

On a slight side note, Christians often approached to encourage us and regularly commented that they hadn’t realised we were even allowed to do this. Christians take note that as long as you don’t block access routes, you can set up displays and preach the Gospel in any public space. Free speech is still protected, for now.

I attended the mission as a supporter. My role was to stand in the crowd and observe those who were listening. If they began to drift away during the talk, I was to move with them and attempt to get them into conversation about what they had heard or, if that failed, at least try to give them literature to take away. I could also give out Gospel tracts to passers-by.

I wanted to include details of the people I met during the week here, I have shortened their names to avoid identification:

  • D, male, late 50’s or early 60’s. Background as an evangelical Christian but switched to Russian Orthodox several decades ago. He planned to attend a Baptist church that afternoon with his wife. D seemed to find the message of salvation too easy and wanted to add something to it through mysticism or rituals that take place in church. He struggled with those who call themselves Christians but after conversion continue living worldly lives.
  • M, 82, Asian man. Didn’t believe in an afterlife and thought we would all just stay in the ground. Had lost his wife in recent years.
  • Refused name, man in his 50’s or 60’s. Militant Catholic wanting to go into all the history of the faith in minute detail and debate and argue with Evangelicals.
  • L, female, young Filipino student serving in a coffee shop that we used. Catholic without assurance of eternal destination. Stated that she hoped she would get to heaven.
  • Very old Jewish lady. Stated that her greatest need was health and that she didn’t believe Jesus even existed. Became angry and ended conversation.
  • C, female, 19, American student. Discovered after an hour of conversation that she was high on LSD. She admitted that she takes drugs because she feels empty inside and is searching for meaning in life.
  • L, male, 30’s, American but lives here. Turned away from faith due to serious problems in life—divorce, partner having abortions, debt and drug abuse. Was shaking throughout conversation. Stated that he would return to his Christian faith one day as he knew he needed to sort things out.
  • J, male, 30’s or 40’s, American just visiting. Part of a cult teaching the writings of Alice Bailey. Explained that he thought that faith needed to be more complex for people with greater intellectual capacity.
  • K, female, 40’s. American living in London. Appeared to be Christian on the surface but had significant doubts and had been investigating other religions. Possibly struggles with mental health problems as she started talking about sensing that she would be talking to random people later that evening.
  • J, female, 20’s. Lives in London with lesbian partner. Angry about the focus that Christians tend to place on homosexuality as the greatest sin. Lots of good questions about suffering, God, the Bible etc. Described herself as agnostic.
  • E, female, 50’s or 60’s. Living abroad and working as a doctor although schooled in England. Sceptical about the afterlife—had seen the uplifting effect of faith in those who are dying or suffering trials. Wanted to believe and felt the weight of her sin as she tried to reach God through good works/morality. Knew deep inside that it wasn’t enough and struggled everyday as she searched for peace.
  • A, male, 40’s, Muslim man working for prominent organisation. Wanted to chat for longer but on his way to work. Worried about lack of assurance of heaven and feels the weight of his sin. Trying to reach heaven through good works.
  • C, female, 20’s, Catholic lacking assurance of heaven and wanting to stay in contact.
  • Jewish couple, 40’s. Trying to rush off as wanting to photograph everything during their visit. Didn’t believe Jesus is Messiah and trying to get to heaven through good works.

These are most of the contacts that I had during the week. I haven’t included how I dealt with each person: what I said to them or how I tried to resolve their issues or questions. I hope instead that reading their basic details will cause you to think about how you might respond if confronted with these situations. 

You can see that the issues are wide ranging but that few people are confident in their atheism. Romans chapter 1 tells us that God created us with knowledge that He exists and the external evidence is in creation for all to see, that is why we are without excuse if we ignore Him and suppress that knowledge.

The majority of the people I spoke to took literature after the Gospel was explained. One person asked me “Why do Christians do this? Why do they go out on the street and try to persuade people of their viewpoint?” My simple answer was “Because I care about you.” There is no other answer—we are volunteers—we are not paid anything and give our time freely. We are not people who enjoy winning arguments for the sake of it or people who enjoy getting into awkward conflict. We are not rewarded for adding members to the church. We are not asking for donations or selling books. We love people enough to tell them the truth that unless they respond to the message of hope in Jesus, they are facing a lost eternity in hell, forever.

None of the people we spoke to made professions of faith on the spot—it may sound odd but I actually found it refreshing that we didn’t have any reported conversions during the week. Genuine conversion is a work of the Holy Spirit that takes place in the heart. It is rare that someone is ready to surrender their life to Jesus at the point when we first meet them. The Bible makes it clear that a person should count the cost before making the decision and that their understanding should not be in doubt. Our role is to plant the seed, we are not responsible for the growth.

My most profound moment was not during a conversation and may not seem to be significant at all. A few of our team had set up at a location that had not been tried before—just outside the Embankment tube station. A preacher was faithfully sharing the Gospel on the street corner. I was standing across the street listening and watching. People were milling around and heading in all directions. They mostly seemed to be in a hurry. Some were rushing in and out of shops or grabbing a coffee, others were hastening to catch a train or heading back to work. The preacher was ignored in the main with the odd grimace by some as they heard the name of Jesus or were reminded of their sin.

I was suddenly struck by the meaninglessness of the frenetic activity that was going on around me. People scurrying like ants in a whirlwind cycle of purposelessness—they obviously believed whatever they were doing was important. They had missed the fact that the only really important information was coming from the lone street preacher standing on the corner passionately proclaiming the truth about life and eternity. However, most of the people had probably dismissed him in their minds as another religious nutcase and didn’t give the incident another thought.

I wonder how many people will stand before God on Judgement Day pleading ignorance of the way of salvation when they had a clear opportunity to listen to that faithful preacher on the streets of London. I’m sure at this moment whatever it was that kept them so busily occupied will be a source of eternal regret. How tragic to be so caught up in trivial worldly things that don’t last when taking a few moments to STOP AND THINK may have saved your soul.

Although I quoted an atheist earlier, I prefer to make the message positive. Rather than asking how much we have to hate a person not to evangelise, my question to you is: Do you love people enough to tell them the truth?