I was speaking to my son, Asher about the biblical account of creation. He was confused about the fact an animal in the garden could talk, so it was a good opportunity to address an important question. It represents a "grenade" some atheists believe they can toss in the direction of those who believe in God and take the Bible seriously. Think Bill Maher in Religilous: “How can you believe in a talking snake?”
I wanted Asher to understand how this puzzle piece fits into the big picture.
The real issue is not the nature of this creature. It's not even whether or not you hold a literal interpretation of the Bible, e.g., the book of Genesis. The issue is how do we make sense of the world?
Bill Maher can’t make sense of a talking snake? Many atheists believe the following: the universe came into existence from nothing, living things emerged from non-living matter, and human consciousness is a physical byproduct of brain chemistry. In terms of demonstrating a high level of credulity, this is already off the chart.
How do you get something from nothing?
How do you get life from non-life?
How do you get mind from matter?
How can people make sense of a talking snake?
Well, how can Maher et al. make sense of a talking anything?
There are a lot of things I like about Bill Maher – he asks a lot of the right questions. However, it’s dangerous to throw stones when you live in a glass house. A godless outlook on life cannot explain these things. What’s worse, it completely undermines them. Everything we learn about the natural world tells us you don’t get something from nothing - naturally, you don’t get life from non-life - naturally, and you don’t get mind from matter - naturally.
Naturalism is a worldview that comes crashing down, naturally.
Back to my conversation with Asher.
Christians can makes better sense of the world, others and ourselves. Why? We believe in an all powerful God who is able to create something out of nothing, breathe life into non-life, and make mind operate in relation to matter. We can explain a talking man, a talking serpent or even a talking donkey.
The Christian worldview stands strong, supernaturally.
My responsibility to my son, Asher is not to teach him to bash people over the head with the Bible. I need to share good reasons to believe the Christian worldview paints a true picture of this broken world. Rejecting the existence of God doesn’t answer life’s ultimate questions, it plunges us into greater confusion. That’s why Christians need to ask these questions, as well as answer them - with love, gentleness and respect.
The popular culture may present Christians are religilous, so we have a responsibility to communicate good reasons to believe we know the truth. That may sound like a bridge too far for some people, but that’s why I wrote A Jigsaw Guide to Making Sense of the World and A Jigsaw Guide to the Meaning of Life. These resources will help you (and your family) share your faith with confidence.
For more go to www.alexmclellan.com or contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Five years ago a New York collective of cultural commentators and innovators launched a “movement.” Harnessing the power of social media and the generosity of people, the goal was to serve as a catalyst for positive change in communities around the country – and around the world. And so #GivingTuesday was birthed to…“amplify small acts of kindness…sharing our capacity to care for and empower one another.” [www.givingtuesday.org]
I wouldn’t tell anyone to stop writing a check as an act of kindness. I’d never dare to obstruct someone’s capacity to show that they care. However, I would encourage people to stop and think: Why give on Giving Tuesday?
In a godless universe, where only the fittest survive, every act of altruism is a thinly disguised demonstration of egoism. We only give in the short term to get in the longer term: we are ready to give a little now, if it helps us get what we want later. In a popular culture where God has been air-brushed out of the big picture, scratch the surface and Giving Tuesday is not really about helping others. Giving Tuesday is really about helping ourselves.
"In a godless Universe...Giving Tuesday is really about helping ourselves."
Yet, switching to the Christian worldview we understand our responsibility toward those in need. Broken lives genuinely stir compassion, to the point we want to do something. The reason? Every person is special, made in God’s image and worthy of respect. Giving Tuesday is a great day to celebrate our social responsibility, but it shouldn’t be one day for random acts of kindness. It ought to be just one example of a wholehearted lifestyle of purpose-driven sacrificial service.
That’s why a New York think-tank will never change the world. People lack moral authority: any instruction to “do this!” can be met with the response, “…but why should I listen to you?” People are limited to influencing externals: changing our habits on the outside will never change our heart on the inside.
"Only God can turn this world...the right way up."
That’s why only God can turn this world upside down, or more accurately, the right way up. Only he has the authority: God is above and beyond us, with the power and position to rule over us. Only he has access to the human heart: God changes us on the inside and that’s what makes a lasting difference on the outside.
Why give on Giving Tuesday?
Let Giving Tuesday be a celebration of a life of care and compassion toward others that’s not natural - it’s supernatural! Then use this day to invest in those who are shining and sharing this message across the country and around the world.
In a national political campaign it seems like anything goes as long as you cross the finishing line first. In the Olympic Games in Brazil, the debate was raging about athletes who have been willing to do whatever it takes to walk away with a gold medal. In sports arenas around the world there are players feigning injury, falling over and manipulating matches. Coaches tampering with things on the touchline. Officials accepting bribes to influence the outcome.
The philosophy: it’s all about winning – at all costs!
The Bible says this is too high a price to pay.
Most of us are familiar with Eric Liddell, the Christian athlete featured in the movie Chariots of Fire. Certainly he enjoyed great success on earth but he always knew his greater reward was in heaven. That’s why he elevated biblical priorities. A man of prayer and integrity, he was always committed to do his best – then trust the Lord to take care of the rest.
Liddell often shared this quote that inspired him: “In the dust of defeat, as well as the laurels of victory, there is glory to be found if one has done his best.”
Like Paul’s letter to the Philippians, our responsibility is to do our best – to press on toward the goal, to win the prize, for which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14). Every earthly pursuit ought to bear fruit from a heavenly perspective, but that means our success is measured by a different standard.
Did you know some look at certain aspects of Paul’s ministry and brand it a failure? For example, they look at his ministry in Athens and say, “where’s the fruit of his ministry? Paul didn’t start a church or make much of an impact! There’s no 1st and 2nd Athenians in the New Testament!”
Instead, I read these words and smile:
“…a few men became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus [Greek council in Athens], also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.” Acts 17:34
Demokratia was birthed as a title around the 5th century B.C. The Greek culture, particularly in Athens encouraged “the common people” (demos) to have “power to rule” (kratos) and modern Democracy was born. How any political theory is put into practice stirs endless debate, e.g., where do you draw boundaries of “people,” yet something resonates about the idea. Ordinary people ought to be respected and have their say. Empowerment is always preferable to impotence.
However, if you grew up thinking modern democracy is an idea where every voice is heard and respected - determining the will of the people and directing a nation, it’s time to think again. There’s a new democracy in town.
People in the West still have their say, but if they don’t get their way they just keep asking…. Democracy only works when democracy works for you, and there is little respect for the will of the people who disagree with you.
So what’s the underlying reason for this resistance?
Well, consider this parallel: A child who is immature may persist in asking the same question – over and over again. “No!” from the parent simply means, “try harder!” A parent who buckles under the pressure sets a dangerous precedent. It sends the wrong message and effectively hands over power and responsibility to the child. It’s not the child’s fault. The child is immature. It’s the fault of the parent for not providing the necessary guidance, instruction and discipline.
Now step back into society.
Is this nation truly led by those with the authority to rule or has power been handed over to those who shout loudest, individuals who are determined to keep asking the same question until they get the right answer? If so, it’s not society’s fault. It’s the fault of those who have held a “parenting” role. Responsible men and women across the country have not provided the necessary guidance, instruction and discipline. They buckled.
So we can throw our hands up in the air, or we can get to work – prayerfully and practically. Reason Why is equipping others to share ultimate truth with ordinary people. Together we can shine the light in the darkness. Clear up the confusion. Send the message - Christianity is not true because it works – it works because it’s true.
In many ways, a democracy is designed to give the majority of people what they want, but the Bible says this may not be what the people need. The book of 1 Samuel reminds us, with the appointment of King Saul, sometimes the worst thing God can do is give us what we ask for.
“Now here is the king you have chosen, the one you asked for.” (1 Samuel 12:13)
Leadership is on everyone’s lips in the run-up to the US election and there’s great concern about what’s on offer. Whatever happens, we need to remember God sovereignly works through our leaders – with them or in spite of them, and Christians are instructed to pray for those in authority, whether or not we support them (those we don’t support need our prayers even more).
However, when a nation appoints a leader who refuses to respect God’s authority, it has serious consequences. As 19th Century politician, Lord Acton said:
“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely!”
In the 1980’s movie, Brewster’s Millions, Richard Pryor played the part of a wealthy individual who poured millions of dollars into a political campaign. No candidate was worthy of office, so he persuaded the majority to vote for “None of the Above!”
I’m not advocating people side step their responsibility in the upcoming election. The freedom to vote has been fought for – and died for, but there seems to be a real struggle to tick the right box. It suggests people are trying to decide which leader they dislike the least, not for the first time.
So if you’re feeling hopeless and helpless, concerned that God is about to give the people of America what they want, remember: sometimes it takes a Saul to prepare the way for a David, a man after God’s own heart.
We may not know what the future holds but we know who holds the future!
Have you faced difficult circumstances, waiting for God to show up, and the minutes keep ticking away until the clock is ready to strike midnight? If so, you’re in good company. As someone said: it seems like God is always nearly late. Not that God is ever late. He’s always exactly on time, but many times it seems like God’s not going to show up.
Why does God wait so long?
Well, when you’re stretched – to breaking point, everyone gets to see what you’re really made of.
We see this powerfully illustrated in the life of King Saul in 1 Samuel 13. Up to this point, God’s people experienced a dizzying sin-cycle through the time of the Judges, ultimately they rejected Samuel’s authority – which was really rejecting God’s authority, and they decided to appoint a king so they could be like everyone else.
God gave the people what they wanted, not what they needed (we need to be careful what we ask for) and Saul was appointed the first king of Israel – and put to the test. The nation was facing its old adversary, the Philistines, and the Israelites were greatly outnumbered. Samuel had earlier told Saul what to do - wait seven days until Samuel came and offered the sacrifice (1 Samuel 10:8) – but the clock was ticking and the people were getting restless.
As a priest and a Levite, Samuel was qualified to perform the sacrifice (1 Chronicles 6), but Saul was not. However, people were starting to drift away in fear of the Philistines, and it looked like this battle was over before it started. Saul was stretched - to breaking point, and he showed what he was really made of. He did what everyone knew he shouldn’t do: he performed the sacrifice.
In the very next verse we read, “…[then] Samuel arrived.”
God had been waiting…, and Saul’s leadership was found wanting.
Why does it seem like God is always nearly late?
To show everyone (including you) what you’re made of.
God rejected Saul, raised up David, and reminded us of the heavenly criteria for godly leadership and spiritual success.
“The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart!” (1 Samuel 16).
When students at the University of Washington said they’d be unwilling to say a short white man is wrong for believing he is a tall Asian woman (click and see), it highlighted a problem in popular culture: everyone ought to create their own boundaries for what’s right and wrong – we build our own fences!
The key to unmasking the insufficiency of a worldview gone wrong is to ask questions and tease out the absurd implications.
For example, one question posed was: what if an adult male believes he is 7 years old and wants to enroll in First Grade? Students stumbled and mumbled, unwilling to say this man is wrong, even leaning toward supporting his enrollment, …if he felt he needed this kind of interaction.
Obviously, this is nonsense. No student really supports this, at least not when we bring the matter closer to home. What if the student’s younger sister is enrolled in the same class? What if this little girl comes home and shares that her class has a new student – and she has a new boyfriend. It makes me feel queasy just writing this sentence, but the fact is we need to throw a bucket of cold water on those who are not living in the real world – hoping to shock them back into reality.
If the knee-jerk response is: I mean, you can believe what you want, as long as you don’t hurt anyone else! Well, I deal with this in A Jigsaw Guide to Making Sense of the World. You can learn to handle, “the hurt clause.” People normally think “hurt” refers to physical injury, but dig a little deeper and people realize we must broaden the definition to include emotional, psychological and even spiritual damage (in fact, these injuries go deeper and can last longer).
We don’t want to live in a world without fences. Fences are not necessarily bad; fences are generally good. They are designed to preserve and protect! The world needs fences - we understand the implications of anarchy, but the question is this: who has a right to build them?
Countries, cultures and individuals build fences, and that’s acceptable, but each lacks absolute authority. These lines in the sand will always be subject to change. If we’re looking for an absolute standard, e.g., explaining why rape is always wrong, we need an absolute authority – something above and beyond us to rule over us.
Recognizing the Natural Law and Moral Law bring us back into the realm of God.
He’s the Creator behind the creation, he’s the designer behind the design, he’s the absolute moral authority behind absolute moral standards, and he’s the source of love that we’re looking for.
Looking around at the chaos and confusion in our culture, every Christian ought to be prepared to share the reason why biblical boundaries make sense, learning to respect the fences by respecting the One who put them there.
How can a public school dedicate one week to St. Patrick’s Day and totally miss out on Easter?
Talking to my children, I was surprised to learn their teachers focused on St. Patrick last month but Jesus Christ didn’t get a mention. I’m not suggesting preaching or proselytizing in the public school (can you imagine?), but shouldn’t one of the largest religious holidays in the world get a mention – in the interest of education?
In Scotland, I served as a chaplain in the local High School and I was delighted to share at this time of year. I didn’t bash students over the head with the Bible. I shared about a unique historical event that occurred two thousand years ago - still celebrated around the world. In the interest of education, the school respected the students enough to give them the information.
Easter requires an explanation, for many people. It makes no sense to celebrate the cross – an instrument of death and torture. Why hold up this as a sacred symbol? Popular atheist, Richard Dawkins rolls his eyes at Easter, suggesting that if Jesus died in modern times, Christians would be wearing little electric chairs around their necks.
So why do Christians focus on the cross?
Paul wrote to the Corinthians, highlighting that the cross makes no sense to the Jews – they are motivated by miracles. It leaves the Greeks scratching their heads – they are wowed by wisdom. Christians focus on what seems like foolishness to the world, yet for every believer it’s the greatest story ever told.
Remember, John 3:16 comes after 3:14-15…
“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life...”
In Numbers 21, God sent poisonous snakes among Israel, as a result of their disobedience. Yet God told Moses to fashion a bronze snake and put it on a pole, so that anyone who was bitten could look at it and live. God brought judgment on the people, but He graciously provided the antidote for anyone who was willing to turn to him.
The Bible makes a direct comparison: our sin brings us under God’s judgment – which leads to death, but God graciously provided the antidote for anyone who is willing to turn to him and trust in the power of Jesus’ death on the cross.
"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." (John 3:16)
For those who roll their eyes at Easter, Christians ought to be prepared to give an answer, explaining the reason why we focus on the cross – since information is education...
It’s a phrase you’ve probably heard before but it’s lost none of its application when you look at the world from a godless perspective.
The fact is, naturally speaking, whatever we do to try and make the world a better place (whatever that means), it doesn’t change the fact this ship is going down!
Entertainment, intoxication and denial cannot override the fact that….
Just one question: if this is natural, why doesn’t it come naturally?
The good news is we can make sense of the world, others and ourselves from a supernatural perspective, when we introduce a biblical outlook on life.
The Bible says this world is broken – like a ship that’s going down, but the good news is life is not about rearranging the deck chairs. Life is about discovering there’s a lifeboat ready to rescue us. Jesus came into the world two thousand years ago on a rescue mission, to seek and to save those who are lost (Luke 19:10), and salvation is available to everyone willing to climb onboard.
Alex McLellan, Snr. was born in Edinburgh on November 30th 1944.
The son of James and Rose McLellan. His Dad, James, or Jimmy as he was known, went into the navy straight from school and married Rose on his first leave. The couple were delighted to welcome little Alex into the world, their only child.
As a young boy, Alex was known for riding his bike up and down the street (since not too many kids had bikes at that time) and every weekend he was playing football - captaining his local team. He played well into his adult years, cheering on his local team on Saturday afternoons, Edinburgh’s finest: Hibernian football club.
Alex grew up in Leith, close to the Docks on the east side of Edinburgh. He described his home as a “single-en’” (which basically means a single room) and he captivated his kids whenever he told them stories about the gas lighting and outside toilet.
Later the family moved to a larger, more modern flat in Drylaw in Edinburgh and this is the place he would call home. It was a childhood with lots of friends, lots of fun and lots of outdoor activities.
Alex left school at 15 – not unusual in those days - and started work as an electrician. He worked hard during the day and enjoyed the local dance scene on the weekends – this was the 60’s.
At a local dance club, he asked one pretty young lady to dance. Her name was June Smith. June had been a talented ballerina, and her form and features quickly caught Alex’s attention. So he offered to walk her home, not knowing that this lady would become June McLellan, my Mum – and this journey would continue for the next fifty years.
There was no Christian input or influence at this stage of Alex’s life. This is important to point out because of what happened later. He never grew up going to church – indeed he never gave it much thought. While he told us he was fearful of death, like many people he got too busy living to think about dying.
After a year’s engagement, Alex and June were married and the couple rented a small flat in Edinburgh. The next year a beautiful wee girl was on her way and the couple bought their first house – a small flat in Robertson Avenue. Alex loved music – he could remember the words to almost every song from the 60’s - and one popular hit inspired them to name their first child, Paula.
Within two years, the family of three grew to a family of four, and I made my appearance. June wanted to call her son, Andrew (after her brother) but Alex had other ideas, so when June was released from the hospital she discovered she was holding another Alex in her arms (thereafter called “Wee Alex”).
The bigger family needed a bigger house – on the ground floor, so Alex and June bought another property, a terraced house in Craiglockhart, a sought-after part of town. From the outside, the family seemed to be moving in the right direction. However, cracks had been appearing in the relationship for a long time. So just when things ought to have been settling down, they started falling apart.
In 1971, after six years of marriage, Alex and June got divorced.
Alex moved back in with his parents in Drylaw. June moved into a council flat in a new development on the opposite side of town. For the next six years, Alex went back to the life of a single man – working, playing football and going out with friends. He would still visit the kids on weekends - even taking them on holiday, but the family was broken beyond repair….
…or so it seemed.
On a visit to see the kids, Alex discovered that on 1st December 1974, June had become a Christian. He noticed a real change in her life – for the better – and this got his attention. He wanted to find out the reason so Alex started hanging around church. People got to know “the guy who would sit outside, on the steps” until he was brave enough to go inside.
Alex sat in church for one year, hearing the same message that June heard, one that for two thousand years has changed people’s lives around the world.
God does exist. He created this world – he created people in this world, and each person is created to know God, to live in a relationship with God and to spend eternity with God.
That’s the good news.
Then he heard the bad news.
This broken world is full of broken people and there’s nothing we can do to earn or deserve a relationship with a good and perfect God. There’s nothing we can do to reach up to him.
However, Alex heard something that would change his life forever, literally.
God loves broken people in this broken world, so much that he sent HIS son, Jesus into this world to die on a cross and to give his life for you and for me. We all know the idea of a substitute – someone standing in the gap and taking our place. Well, the Bible says, Jesus is our substitute. He stood in the gap and took our punishment on his shoulders.
So the price has been paid, Jesus is reaching out to each one of us, and we need to decide: are we willing to humble ourselves and take his hand, or will we choose to go our own way in life?
On 7th May 1977, Alex decided Jesus is the only way!
He took the step of faith to ask God for forgiveness, believing Jesus died on the cross for him, and that Jesus rose again to conquer death – which means Alex was welcomed into God’s family that day, beginning a relationship with the living God that would last forever.
Most people know Alex had a gentle spirit, but he was someone who used to party - hard. So those who knew him before were surprised to see the transformation into a godly man who stopped smoking and drinking and was committed to God and to his family.
Alex’s life was a wonderful example of the fact true Christianity is not something you do on the outside, to become the right kind of person on the inside – earning your way to heaven.
True Christianity is something God does on the inside – guaranteeing you a home in heaven, and then changing your life on the outside.
Christianity is not outside-in.
Christianity is inside-out.
Christianity is not about what you can do for God.
Christianity is about what God has done for you.
God loves you enough to send his son, Jesus to die for you, so you can be with him forever.
This message meant everything to Alex. It changed his life and through him, it has changed the lives of many others.
One of the biggest changes was in Alex’s relationship with June. It was amazing to see they were getting on better than ever, but even more amazing when they told the kids they were getting back together.
On June 3rd, 1978, Alex and June were remarried.
Paula and I got our Dad back.
Alex became involved in Wester Hailes Baptist Church. A popular youth leader, he had a sense of fun but also a deep wisdom, compassion and a listening ear. Later he served as a church elder, known to speak boldly yet sensitively whenever the church wrestled with difficult issues.
Alex and June moved to Holy Trinity, another church in Edinburgh, and Alex started a men’s ministry, served at the Christmas pensioner’s meal, taught Bible classes and worked with the youth. His gentleness and compassion won him a place in many people’s hearts.
One memorable moment was at a church party when Alex & June performed the ballet, Swan Lake, playing the roles made famous by Margot Fontayne and Rudolph Nureyev. It was all the more memorable because Alex played the part of the ballerina.
It was always a source of delight to Alex when he was able to spend time with his Grandchildren. He enjoyed making memories with Sophia, Moriah and Asher in Scotland, and then visiting them when they moved to America.
Alex worked for T.B. McKay Energy Services for 35 years, and as retirement approached, Alex and June were ready for a new season. They moved south to Burgess Hill, closer to Paula and her husband Mark, and the grandchildren, Sophie and Lewis.
Alex worked his final few years for a local electrical company and put down spiritual roots in their new church at The Point. The couple joined 345, a church home group, and this became a place to study the Bible, pray and support one another through life’s joys and trials.
Retirement came easily to Alex, giving him more time to spend with the Grandkids. He loved listening to Sophie sing and act, and he forged a special bond with Lewis, taking him to football every week. When he wasn’t with June or the Grandkids he was easy to find: drinking his coffee and reading his paper in one of the many coffee shops in Burgess Hill.
Normally enjoying good health, Alex began to experience some physical challenges last year. Admitted to hospital for a small surgery, the doctors discovered his heart was not in good shape. The next six months would prove extremely difficult, but June’s love and commitment to Alex shone through – caring for Alex in sickness and in health. Despite the difficulty of this time, God deepened their love and created many moments together that June will treasure.
For the last few months, Alex was in a lot of pain and on a lot of medication, yet his courage and faith stood strong - so strong that it wasn’t always easy to know how much he was really suffering.
Now, ten years since Alex moved to Burgess Hill - in his 72nd year, God has decided to call Alex home. He leaves a world where he was loved by many, and that means he’s left a big hole in many lives and in many hearts.
I want to close with a statement made by the great Christian leader, DL Moody, who said, “…one day you will hear that I have died. Don’t believe it because on that day I’ll be more alive than ever!”
For the Christian, this is not wishful thinking. This is concrete assurance based on the rock-solid promises of God. At this moment, Alex McLellan is enjoying the presence of Almighty God, and one day all those who have trusted in Jesus Christ can look forward to seeing him again.
I know what my Dad would want to say to you today.
Thank you for your love, friendship and encouragement over the years.
Thank you for your love, friendship and encouragement to my wife, June.
Finally, thank you, Jesus for your help and strength on this part of the journey, and now that I have finished well, I can see you face to face.
Author and speaker.