...so (though the music-genre's not everyone's cup of tea) here's some awesome hip-hop
The former executive of M&S, Carl Oden, will share his story of how he came to faith in Jesus later in life at this February's 1stSunday@4 (Sun 7 Feb @ 4pm, Stoke Poges Village Centre, Social Club).
In his lecture, "the Extraordinary Simplicity of the Universe" (see YouTube), Director of the Perimeter Institute, Neil Turok (who certainly isn't defending belief in God!) says this about how extraordinarily "fine-tuned" our universe is:
"Huge puzzle for physics: how did the universe tune itself into this very delicate balance? Some people prefer the multiverse. This is called by some the end of physics. Basically, what they're saying is some things we'll never explain, so let's just postulate that there are an infinite number of possible universes and we happen to be in the one that came out like this...There's not much more to it than that."
Personally, I think there's a much more compelling explanation for why our extraordinary universe appears to be deliberately fine-tuned - it is.
'[God's] invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So [those who deny him] are without excuse' (The Bible, Romans 1:20).
A Muslim student, Hassan, from the local mosque in Fulmer interviewed me on the subject of how and why Jesus died (from a Christian perspective). I spend about 18 minutes towards the beginning of the video explaining why Jesus died according to the Bible and then respond to a number of questions and challenges posed by Hassan (Muslims do not believe that Jesus died). I've posted a comment on the Jonah question (which I wasn't able to answer very well on the spur of the moment!) below the video as it appears in YouTube itself.
...he called us to pray it.
Jon Bloom has written a book of 30 or so short meditations for Christians which addresses the human heart. The message isn't that the heart doesn't matter, on the contrary, it matters very much. The message is: our hearts were never made to be followed, but to be led - to be caught up in something greater than us, in the God without which our hearts will never be satisfied.
If you have a Kindle or similar, you can read it for free (file below) - for other formats, click here.
According to the Bible, Jesus died on the cross in agony for a reason: for you. This animation draws on various images used in the Bible to symbolically portray what was happening when Jesus died on the cross - how he was suffering the punishment from God we all deserve.
When I was very young, I imagined the Bible as a long list of rules - how different it is! The Bible contains, among other things, a fascinating, action-packed history of the early church (The Acts of the Apostles), a potentially life-changing biography of Jesus (The gospel of Mark), an erotic love poem (The Song of Songs), blisteringly honest, heartfelt songs (e.g., Psalm 44) and, yes, the odd list of laws. But even the laws of the Old Testament (which were given to govern the nation of Israel) are often quite different to what we imagine. I tend to think of the law as something very sombre - something the Israelites observed with very straight faces. How wrong I can be!
Take the practice of "tithing" (giving away a tenth of your produce to, among other things, support those whose job it was to look after God's temple in Jerusalem). Sombre, right? Nope!
This is what Moses says "You shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes from the field year by year. And before the LORD your God, in the place that he will choose, to make his name dwell there (i.e., Jerusalem) you shall eat the tithe of your grain, of your wine, and of your oil, and of the firstborn of your herd and flock" (Deuteronomy 14). They were to use their tithe to have a great big feast in God's presence! A very sombre, religious feast? Nope! Moses continues: "if the way (to Jerusalem) is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe... then you shall turn it into money... and go to the place that the LORD your God chooses (Jerusalem) and spend the money for whatever you desire - oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household." This 'law' was about celebrating - about roast beef, roast lamb, good wine, great beer, and time with family to rejoice together in God's presence! The only other 'rule' about tithing in Deuteronomy 14 is that they're to invite the poor (immigrants, widows, orphans, etc) to feast with them.
How different the Bible can be to how we imagine it! So let's read it, and (when it does seem strange to us) try to understand it. If you have questions, let me know. If you're new to the Bible, try reading "the gospel of Mark". It might just change your life!
This poem I wrote was inspired by Thomas Gray's famous poem Elegy in a Country Churchyard (thought to be set in St Giles church, Stoke Poges) and St Paul's words in Romans 1:18-20.
Seen in a Country Church-Yard (abridged)
Above the ground where Adam’s jar of clay
Lay broken and concealed in night beneath,
The day’s first rays of light and warmth now played
Upon each green and lightly frosted leaf.
The sun rose higher, casting ancient streams
Of light and life on all that it surveyed;
The world was woken from its former dream,
Its silence cut by sunlight's friendly blade.
A thousand living artworks stirred unseen
Amidst the solar-generated seas
Of grasses in the fields near by our scene
Where flowers gave their scent up to the breeze.
An icy puddle, sheltered in the shade
Of Adam’s marker, stirred a robin’s will
To peck the surface ‘till the glass gave way
And ice-cool water praised the worker’s skill.
What contrast with the jar of clay beneath:
Unanimated echoes of the soul
Who, while his frame still had the strength to breathe,
Professed no rhyme or reason to the whole.
But Luther knew what Adam saw and scorned:
'If thou couldst understand a single grain
Of wheat' then 'thou wouldst die for wonder', awed
By all these witnesses against your claim.
The Bible seems to affirm that, yet also says they were too few to posses the promised land of Canaan in one go. What's going on? If you have a head for numbers, Colin Humphries presents a compelling case that the Biblical record - as originally written - really does add up.
Hast Thou No Scar
by Amy Carmichael
Hast thou no scar?
No hidden scar on foot, or side, or hand?
I hear thee sung as mighty in the land,
I hear them hail thy bright ascendant star,
Hast thou no scar?
Hast thou no wound?
Yet, I was wounded by the archers, spent.
Leaned me against the tree to die, and rent
By ravening beasts that compassed me, I swooned:
Hast thou no wound?
No wound? No scar?
Yet as the Master shall the servant be,
And pierced are the feet that follow Me;
But thine are whole. Can he have followed far
Who has no wound nor scar?
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me" Jesus Christ" (Luke 9:23).
If you missed the recent lecture exploring the fascinating subject of whether miracles really happen, it's now available online here.
As I see it, there are 3 basic ways of seeing the world from which we must decide which is true.
Option 1 - the ultimate reality behind everything that exists (the ultimate cause) is personal (e.g., a God of some kind). "Theists" hold this worldview.
Option 2 - the ultimate reality which explains everything else is impersonal (e.g., a force of some kind). "Atheists" hold this worldview.
Option 3 - we cannot know whether the ultimate reality which explains everything else is personal or impersonal. Many "Agnostics" hold this worldview.
As far as I can see, there isn't an obvious fourth option. Laying it out like this is helpful in a number of ways. Let me give two examples.
Firstly, atheists sometimes claim they don't have a positive belief (and therefore don't need to provide evidence for their atheism). But atheism is a positive belief: if you deny the claim that the ultimate reality behind everything else is personal (God) you are affirming that the ultimate cause of everything is impersonal.
In light of things like genuine personal consciousness (which can't easily be explained in terms of impersonal forces and impersonal matter alone), option 2 cannot simply be assumed (with rational integrity). Indeed, many argue (contrary to both option 2 and option 3) that various features of the Universe point unequivocally to a personal cause (as I do).
Secondly, atheists have sometimes challenged those who believe in God with the question: "who created God?" - as if that single-handedly demolishes their belief-system. What the three options above make clear is that the question is nonsensical. As one philosopher has put it, it effectively asks: "what caused the first uncaused cause?" The answer ("nothing, obviously") is self-evident.
Hard as it is to wrap your mind around, all worldviews have to accept there must be some ultimate explanation behind everything else - that's a given.
So we come back to our original question: is that ultimate reality personal or not?
In my view, the belief (I once professed) that ultimate reality is impersonal can't be squared with the evidence and ultimately stems from a very personal desire to turn away from God which makes the denial of his existence very attractive (see the quotation in my talk on Faith and Doubt).
But what if we've got God wrong? What if the suffering we see in the world is not evidence that he is evil, but of something else? What if God, for all his terrifying power, is good and glorious? What if turning away from him is the source of all our problems not the solution? What if he's the kind of God who loves us treasonous godless rebels so much he would become one of us and suffer the terrible punishment our treason deserves so that we can be forgiven and reconciled to him? What if Jesus, who in various ways claimed to be God in human form, really is what God is like? What then?
Then we'd have no more need to cling to options 2 and 3. Then we could embrace the God from whom every good thing comes - and find life.
A well-made video explaining the phenomenon and the three possible answers: necessity, chance and design.
A video-version of a short talk I gave recently on the theme of faith and doubt.
A simplified version of a talk I gave in February's 1stSunday@4. Thanks go to the Professor Emeritus of Egyptology at Liverpool University, Kenneth Kitchen, for many of the insights expressed here.
Killjoys is a new book edited by Marshall Segal "to help you treasure God and kill sin" - to be more like Christ by finding joy in God.
If you have a computer, Kindle or other e-reader you can can download a free copy here. Go for it!
For some excellent Bible-reading ideas to get you reading the Bible this year click here.
You can buy a hard copy, buy for Kindle or download as free PDF here.
...it's worth considering the admission of Franklin Harold (Professor Emeritus of Biochemistry at Colorado State University) that, though, in his view, "we should reject, as a matter of principle, the substitution of intelligent design for the dialogue of chance and necessity; we must concede that there are presently no detailed Darwinian accounts of the evolution of any biochemical or cellular system, only a variety of wishful speculations" (The Way of the Cell, Oxford University Press, 2001).
You may also find this article of interest.
Lewis is the Pastor at SPFC and lives in Stoke Poges with his wife, Kimberley, and their son, Samuel.