In the States, there is only one word for some of the TV adverts that promote drugs and medicine.
Maybe you’ve witnessed these commercials; full of people smiling, having fun and generally communicating everything that says life is good. However, if you listen to the voice-over (that’s just it, most people don’t) you hear a narrative that describes potential side effects that can include death, organ damage and permanent paralysis.
One commercial for an anti-depressant admitted, “…taking this medication could increase the risk of suicidal thoughts.”
Advertising agencies are not charitable institutions, so if you see something on TV (even the most jaw-dropping infomercial) that means people are buying it, literally. Preoccupied by the images, large corporations know we are easily distracted, enough to miss the narrator’s warning about the reality of the situation.
He is not silent – we are not listening.
As bizarre as this is, there is a dangerous parallel when it comes to the problem of the human condition. God is THE narrator and he has warned us about the fact we are broken people living in a broken world. Our situation is critical. If we remain in this condition we face separation from him – for eternity.
This message has been proclaimed loud and clear – in the world, in God’s word and in the Word, Jesus Christ.
So why don’t more people get it?
Many are walking around smiling, having fun and generally communicating everything that says life is good. Preoccupied by the images that we find so distracting, it’s easy to miss God’s warning about the reality of the situation.
The problem is not that God needs to do more to get our attention. The problem is we fail to grasp the fact that God is already telling us everything we need to know.
He is not silent – we are not listening.
I remember when internet search-engines were relatively new and vying for our attention. Who remembers the likes of Webcrawler, Alta Vista and Ask Jeeves? Yahoo entered the scene and started to pull away from the competition, and then Google exploded – taking search-engines to another level.
Google is now part of the culture and part of the vernacular.
“You want to know the answer? Google it!”
Wow! That’s power!
Google processes over 40,000 search queries every second on average, which translates to over 3.5 billion searches per day and 1.2 trillion searches per year worldwide. (I found this on Google ;)
You’re looking for answers? Google is the gateway, which means Google decides how to direct you, where to direct you and who has the answer you’re looking for.
Google “abortion” and you may get 57,800,000 results but Google decides who gets the prime real estate (check it out for yourself). You pay for the privilege to headline the page – Ad’s get top-billing, but Google decides which Ad’s get top-billing, and it’s all based on Google’s complex formula.
I’m not suggesting there is a conspiracy - honest, since even IF the top searches reflect general popularity then Google is merely a reflection of who’s powerful and who’s popular. That still loads the game in the favor of the fortunate few.
Now, let me be clear. I “Google” like most people. It’s a terrific resource that accelerates access to vast quantities of information. I’m not attempting to scaremonger or drive people back into the dark ages (whatever that means). However, we do need to remind people to avoid passive engagement with this tool and temper our trust of Google’s ability to provide ultimate answers to life’s difficult questions.
Christians stand on the authority of God’s word - the Bible. It’s the first place we ought to turn in times of trouble. So the question really is: who is your source of ultimate authority?
Don’t Google the answer.
One more, for the record: Who was Jesus Christ?
Google’s second-top answer, click on the link provided by Mormon.org (Paid Ad’).
Picture the scene.
You pour your heart out to someone you care about, gently and respectfully sharing the reasons you believe we can have hope in this world – and beyond this world - through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The person shrugs their shoulders and walks away.
How do you feel? What are you thinking? Will you dare to share ever again?
It’s easy to experience this and feel like a failure - the temptation to pray this kind of prayer...
“Lord, I tried to share good reasons for this person to believe – to trust in you. Yet, the conversation resulted in one more person walking away. I’m so sorry I let you down. I apologize for messing it up. I must not have said enough. I must not have said it right. I guess I don’t have the gift. I think next time I won’t embarrass myself - embarrass you. Don’t worry, next time I’ll keep my mouth closed.”
Don’t believe the lie.
Think Screwtape (the classic character in CS Lewis's story about our spiritual enemy) and choose to stand on the truth by praying this kind of prayer...
“Lord, thank you for the opportunity to share my faith. I recognize every one is a divine appointment, sovereignly orchestrated by you. With your supernatural help and strength, I was able to share the reasons why I believe, with love, gentleness and respect. That’s all I’m responsible to do. It’s not my responsibility to make anyone believe anything – I can’t. It’s not my responsibility to share reasons that will make others believe. I’m only responsible to share the reasons why I believe we can have hope in this world through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I am responsible to pray - and I will, and I trust a seed was sown that will bear fruit in the future for your glory!”
“But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” 1 Peter 3:15
One of the hottest topics you can raise today is the issue of abortion. It’s so highly charged that people are terrified to talk about it, paranoid about posting it, and even leery of “liking” someone who dares to stand-up and speak-out.
In fact, you may be thinking about closing the window on this subject right now.
The popular culture has mandated that you can’t raise the question, have the discussion or share the facts of what actually happens during an abortion. Dare to do so and you face social isolation - maybe even some kind of persecution, but no debate should be won by silencing the opposition.
We need to have the conversation. When we do, the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing: When does the unborn baby become a person and qualify as a human being?
If the unborn is not a person who qualifies as a human being, we ought to support abortion. Indeed, we ought to encourage the harvesting of these cells for profit, as some within Planned Parenthood have sought to do. If the unborn baby is not a person who qualifies as a human being there really is no problem.
However, if the unborn baby is a person who qualifies as a human being, then every argument in favor of abortion only works if you can successfully substitute “fetus” with “two year old child.”
For example, if a mother decides the circumstances are not right to keep her “two year old child,” we don’t take the life. We protect the child, offer support and have the conversation about adoption. Steve Jobs was thankful he was not aborted in similar circumstances.
For example, if a child has a disability and the mother doesn’t want to raise this kind of “two year old,” we don’t take the life. We come alongside this precious child and give him or her as much support as we can. Andrew Bocelli is thankful he was not aborted in similar circumstances.
It’s not a question of location. Where we are does not determine what we are.
So be prepared to have the conversation, understanding the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. When does the unborn become a person and qualify as a human being?
However, in everything we do and say we need to treat the subject softly and sensitively. If the statistics are correct, most people have been touched by the tragedy of abortion, either directly or indirectly. It’s not a question of pointing the finger or shouting at the opposition. We ought to come alongside those who are hurting, extending God’s love and compassion. We need to share the message of God’s grace and forgiveness, since He is the only one able to heal the brokenhearted.
Much of the current, cultural debate on gender and sexuality revolves around the question of orientation. If you are oriented a certain way, your natural inclination is grounds for justifying your beliefs or your actions.
“Hey, I can’t argue with the way I’m wired!”
Certainly, this reassures anyone with homosexual inclinations, but it’s also good news for heterosexual inclinations (outwith God’s marital parameters), polyamorous inclinations, incenstual inclinations, paedophilic inclinations, or even an attraction to bestiality (you may be surprised to learn the latter is defended in academic circles today).
It’s worth pointing out this is NOT a slippery slope argument. This is simply being consistent across the board. There’s no reason to treat one particular inclination as a special case without betraying a serious bias, and it’s no surprise to learn that left to our own devices everyone’s moral parameters will suit themselves.
Listen to the book of Judges, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” When the nation of Israel rejected God as their source of absolute authority it created a moral vacuum. Like any vacuum, something else gets sucked in pretty quickly, and the question of moral authority becomes a defence of moral autonomy.
It’s not a question of orientation, it’s a question of authority.
Today the right thing to do is to do what seems right – in our own eyes. God’s authority has been silenced in the schools, manipulated in the media, purged in politics and compromised in many churches. When there is no recognized standard above and beyond us that applies to all of us, there is no way things ought to be.
Cue moral chaos.
However, the Bible says we can argue with the way we are wired – because our wiring is faulty. Everyone is born with a natural bias that points them in the wrong direction. This needs to be corrected. It’s important to know we can’t fix broken people living in a broken world, but we can shine and share the reason why there’s hope. It’s not a question of orientation, it’s a question of divine revelation and supernatural transformation.
“But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, ...but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:15
You buy some fresh meat. The next day you notice it’s not looking good. Are you shocked? Do you take it back to the seller and demand your money? Not if you’re living in the first century. You would not be shocked to see decay because meat is doing what meat does - without a preservative.
Two thousand years ago, salt was used to prevent meat from rotting. It interacted with the meat and stood in the way of decay. In this context, Jesus turned to his followers and said, “you are the salt of the earth!” The world is decaying – morally, spiritually and physically. Christians are called to interact with the culture, standing up for truth and standing in the way of decay.
Fast-forward two thousand years and we see the word of God removed from schools, public institutions, the media, and even some churches. We see Christians denied the right to speak-out about what followers of Jesus believe and why they believe it. Don’t be shocked to see decay because culture is doing what culture does – without a preservative.
However, take heart. Jesus spoke to his followers against such a backdrop, a culture suffering serious moral, spiritual and physical decay. We’re not in a unique situation. We’re in good company. The Bible is still our guide to prayerfully and practically steer people in the right direction.
First, Christians need to love and respect those they disagree with. Someone said - wisely, that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
Second, our job is not to make anyone believe anything. We can’t. We shouldn’t try. However, we are responsible to stand-up and speak out with love, gentleness and respect. Be prepared to share where we came from, why we’re here and where we’re going. Explain the reason why we can make sense of this broken world, putting enough pieces together to show the big picture.
Third, Jesus said Christians are the light of the world. Don’t be surprised to see those without the light stumbling around in the darkness. Don’t expect those who don’t have Jesus to live like Jesus. Instead, be patient, prayerful and pro-active as you shine and share the good news of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Fourth and finally, there is hope!
If you read newspaper headlines generated by a recent (Pew Research Center) study, America’s Changing Religious Landscape, you may think it’s all over for Christianity. The Washington Post ran the story “Christianity faces sharp decline as Americans becoming even less affiliated with religion.”
Sounds like we’re almost ready to say, “…would the last Christian to leave America please turn off the lights!” However, the article tends to skew and sensationalise the situation. To be fair, the Washington Post ran an editorial a couple of weeks later that restored some of the balance.
For an even better summary of events (and a more accurate interpretation of the data) the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commissionposted the following article, “No, evangelicalism isn’t in decline.”
In summary, the Pew Research highlighted the fact that “mainline Christianity,” sometimes called nominal or liberal Christianity is in decline. Not as drastically as the headlines would suggest, but even taking this into account my sadness was tempered with a shrug of satisfaction. Why? Maybe we’re starting to see a more accurate picture of Christian faith in America.
Nominal Christianity is synonymous with luke-warm Christianity. As the culture is increasingly hostile to those who believe the Bible and follow Jesus Christ, individual Christian faith cranks up or cools down. Soon there will be no middle ground. When Christianity is luke-warm it’s always easier to spit-out. That’s why evangelical Christianity is holding steady or on the rise. These kinds of commitments are not borne out of religion or tradition. Ask evangelical Christians about the anchor for their faith and they’ll talk about a relationship with the living God – that’s not so easy to walk away from.
So when Christianity is described as “on the slippery slope into oblivion,” smile and remind people that Christian faith has outlived every individual – around the world and throughout history - who decided to write its obituary.
It was supposed to have been withered up at last in the dry light of the Age of Reason; it was supposed to have disappeared ultimately in the earthquake of the Age of Revolution. Science explained it away; and it was still there. History disinterred it in the past; and it appeared suddenly in the future. Today it stands once more in our path; and even as we watch it, it grows.
If I asked a Christian, “Do you believe it’s possible Jesus never rose again from the dead?” I could provoke a strong reaction, “No! It’s not possible!” Why? The resurrection is critical to Christianity. Lose this and you lose the foundation for your faith. Doubt is a door you dare not open. If you do, your whole belief will come crashing down.
Or maybe not!
My daughter Sophia was ten years old when she first held a copy of my book, “A Jigsaw Guide to Making Sense of the World.” Flipping through the pages she told me, “Dad that’s the first chapter I’m going to read.” It was chapter five: deal with doubt. I didn’t throw my hands up in the air. I didn’t cry about how I’ve failed as a father. I didn’t swear Sophia to secrecy, “Don’t tell anyone, my reputation could be ruined!” I gave her a hug and smiled. She was already thinking about her faith, digging deeper and being brave enough to ask the kind of questions that will make her faith her own.
American philosopher, Charles Pierce said “the action of thought is excited by the irritation of doubt,” and when doubt is the expression of a question that encourages reflection, it’s a good thing. The willingness to say “I could be wrong” doesn’t have to dismantle your faith and drag you down. It can be the first step toward thinking about all the reasons why you believe you are right.
In a way, the Apostle Paul was willing to say, “I could be wrong!” You probably wonder what I’m talking about. Well, the powerful passage in 1 Corinthians 15 contains the foundation for the Christian faith: the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul gives a tremendous defence for the resurrection, citing many eye-witnesses of this supernatural event – including himself, but that’s not all…
If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead…If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile.
1 Corinthians 15:14-17
What? Paul acknowledges it’s a logical possibility that Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead – with painful consequences, but this doesn’t undermine his message. It creates a platform to share the many (many) reasons to believe Jesus was resurrected. Paul was willing to say, “I could be wrong…” but only so he could follow this up with “…but let me tell you the reasons why I believe I am right!”
If you’re a Christian don’t choke on the words “I could be wrong...” Dig deeper into your faith to know what you believe and the reason why you believe it. Then you can follow this up by saying, “… but let me tell you the reasons why I believe I am right!”
Jeremy Paxman is an English broadcaster who is regarded as something of a bulldog, a British bulldog if you like. You can watch the famous BBC clip of him locking-jaws with former British Home Secretary, Michael Howard. Determined to get a straight answer to a straight question he makes the same point over a dozen times, and his perserverance raises a smile – and earns your respect. (https://youtu.be/Uwlsd8RAoqI)
Fast-forward to his BBC interview with Richard Dawkins, talking about his book The Magic of Reality, and you would expect another rabid engagement. Watch the clip – and you’ll be disappointed. Surprisingly, Paxman chooses to roll over and act like a playful puppy. (https://youtu.be/3t5y0bdpA_c).
Why the soothing tones? Why the stroking of the ego?
The answer: Dawkins and Paxman look at the world the same way. When you bring two people together who share the same worldview, asking them to talk about things that really matter, don’t expect the fur to fly. Instead expect one of them to roll over. It’s hard to ask tough questions when the answers may threaten your life and how you live it. Worldviews run deep, which is why we often bleed when others criticize them.
The media regulary asks tough questions about Christianity – questions we ought to be prepared to answer. However, when people like Dawkins or Paxman point a mocking finger at a biblical outlook on life, we need to remind them about the four fingers pointing in the other direction. Removing God from the equation doesn’t solve the problem. It creates more chaos and confusion. For example, a godless outlook on life leaves no basis for rationality, morality, meaning, value, purpose or hope in life.
CS Lewis wrote an essay titled, “God in the Dock,” and every Christian needs to give an answer to everyone who asks us to give the reason for the hope that we have. Yet, we can ask questions as well as answer them. When someone puts you on the spot, be ready with the retort: “Thank you. I’d like to share how my Christian belief helps me deal with that, but based on how you see the world - how do you deal with the same question?”
Atheists like to throw stones despite the fact they live in glass houses. The interview I’m really waiting for is Paxman on Paxman, Dawkins on Dawkins, or perhaps my favourite would be Ricky Gervais on Ricky Gervais. It would be terrific to hear these people asking the tough questions, trying to defend their own godless worldview. That’s not going to happen, nor should it, because the Bible says it’s not their job. It’s ours.
So, remember this: the atheist’s bark is typically worse than his bite, and you are not responsible to make anyone believe anything. Just share the truth with love, gentleness and respect, and whatever happens – even if someone walks away - the Bible says you haven’t failed. You’ve been faithful.
1 Peter 3:15
But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.
“Forget the mechanical marvels of Top Gear, says Richard Hammond – it’s Mother Nature who’s the greatest designer of all.”
If you’re part of the international audience that enjoys the BBC’s long-running motor show, Top Gear, you’ll be familiar with Richard Hammond. Well known on the small screen, Hammond presents other BBC shows, and among them was a popular-level science show that caught my attention. The program highlighted the fact so much human design is merely a copy-cat of the wonders of the natural world. So credit where credit is due: Mother Nature (note the capitalisation) is the greatest designer of all.
However, there is a problem. On this (BBC) view, as popular atheist Richard Dawkins points out, Mother Nature is simply “blind physical forces and genetic replication” and “there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.” But how does blind, pitiless indifference explain the wonders of the natural world?
Another popular atheist, Ricky Gervais was asked to provide the answer, and he defaulted to the text book example: the modern giraffe. “Everyone uses the modern giraffe. A creature like the giraffe was born with a slightly longer neck, it could reach more leaves, it could pass on its genetic material for longer, it was more successful…”
So the reason for the genius of the giraffe was a mutated, slightly elongated animal? Simple. Or is it?
Does the genius of the giraffe really suggest it’s the product of no purpose and no design? It seems far more reasonable to conclude this animal points us in the direction of an intelligent designer. In other words, the genius of the giraffe points us in the direction of God, the greatest designer of them all.
Now that’s a top-tip you won’t hear on Top Gear!
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
 The Telegraph, 30 October 2012
Author and speaker.